QUICKIE: La boulangère de Monceau (Éric Rohmer, 1963)

Éric, you really got me now. You got me so I don't know... how long your movies are? La boulangère de Monceau is in many ways a practical joke on its protagonist - a very funny one, at that. Inadvertently, though, Rohmer has pulled a very similar joke on me. See, relatively fresh off varying levels of admiration for the moral tales' latter installments, I made the obvious decision to explore the formers under the presumption they, too, were feature length. I have a habit, you see, of avoiding promotional descriptions in hopes of preserving an element of surprise. In this case I also wound up avoiding the fact that La boulangère is actually a short film. I delayed and delayed, wanting to have a proper chunk of evening time carved out for maximum appreciation potential. A week of dancing around passed before that time struck. I had at least two hours to relax, let cinematic morality wash over me and-- wait, is it really over already? I couldn't help laughing at myself. Still can't.

As occurred with both La collectionneuse and with resounding power on multiple viewings of L'amour, l'aprés-midi (and to a slightly lesser extent with Le genou de Claire), I was swept up in Rohmer's decidedly objective view of his protagonist. This young man seems a compound of specific qualities Rohmer would later explore in the aforementioned films. He acts entitled, behaves imposingly, falls prey to his own impatient impulses and is just as self-absorbed as any of his successors. We find him strolling a Paris street day after day, hoping to bump into Sylvie, a woman he regularly sees and has become attracted to. When she doesn't appear for some time, he enacts private revenge by flirting with a local bakery clerk. Once one course to romance is in motion, however, it becomes punctuated by a hilariously appropriate revelation.

Basically, in my own selfish story, La boulangère de Monceau is my Sylvie. I suppose all the horror movies I've been watching while strolling the streets of Netflix Instant Watch have been my bakery clerks. Don't get me wrong - I have not complaint for the excellent film's length. I just have this ironic tale.


HORRORTHON '10: The Angry Red Planet (Ib Melchior, 1959)

Forgive the Captain Obvious cameo here, but over the years the standards for easy abandon at the cinema have skyrocketed. SyFy Channel Originals are essentially the modern, at-home equivalent of '50s and '60s creature features, only without any of the ingenuity and only a fraction of the imagination. It can be refreshing to visit an age when MGM and American International populated nickelodeons, and that's where The Angry Red Planet (also known as Invasion of Mars or Journey to Planet Four) elbows its way in.

The film's stake in cinema history is in being the first (of only two, if I'm not mistaken, the other being The Three Stooges in Orbit) to use CineMagic. In a time not so foreign anymore what with IMAX and 3D so prevalent today, when showy gimmicks such as Cinerama and the many promotions of William Castle (The Tingler, anyone?) coaxed butts into seats, frequent Three Stooges collaborator (and husband to Stooge Moe Howard's daughter Joan) Norman Maurer and the father of color 3D Sidney W. Pink developed CineMagic. The idea was to make cheap backdrops appear more realistic behind live actors by blowing out the contrast (through a post-production process involving positive and negative prints of the film) and dying the image red, resulting in a cartoonish appearance for both the actors and their surroundings. It reminds me of how matted-in stop motion creatures appeared better-integrated in black and white films like King Kong or The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms as opposed to their full color brethren (which are still incredibly awesome, regardless).

History lesson aside, the accomplished effect works wonderfully for me as a vision of a daunting new planet. It takes me back to a time before I was born; before Mariner 4 took the first close-up photographs of Mars and possibilities for our celestial neighbor seemed as limitless as our imaginations. The high, tinted contrast does look strange, but, as the filmmakers surely wanted it to be, it's a strange world.

A downside could be how much expository, straight-forwardly shot blabber must be sifted through before the CineMagic gets rolling. This exposition is to be expected from films of this ilk, though, so it doesn't bother me much. I consider it an endearing signature of the relative shoestring this stuff was produced on, back when the "B" in "B movie" still stood for "budget". And if The Angry Red Planet has a signature to call its own, it's the highly memorable cheese-fest of a cautionary finale. When the martians boom their omnipotent message I can feel the 5-year-old in me cower... and froth.

But does The Angry Red Planet fit into this horrorthon's parameters? It's a stretch, but I'm going with "yes" (obviously, otherwise all this text wouldn't exist). It's deeply rooted on the science fiction side of the genre-verse, but monstrous creatures and a persistent threat of other-worldly demise tip the scale just enough. Besides, sometimes it takes the cojones of a horror movie to attempt something as visually drastic as CineMagic. When boiled down, cheap science fiction fare of the '50s and '60s seems to come from a mentality very similar to that of horror. Similarly, I'm not sure how much of a "review" this has been as opposed to a "what I learned when I watched/Googled The Angry Red Planet" session (although I didn't wind up finding a place to squeeze in tidbits about director Ib Melchior regarding his having written stories like Hitler's Werewolves and The Racer, the latter of which was adapted into Roger Corman's Death Race 2000, or the fact that he co-wrote Robinson Crusoe of Mars... oh wait, there we go), but hopefully it takes a cue from the angry Martians and tips the scale just enough.


HORRORTHON '10: The Devil's Rain (Robert Fuest, 1975)

Rarely do I find myself so much as budged by righteous Christian symbolism on film. The use of a crucifix to hamper a vampire's approach, or worse - the last-minute invoking of Jesus Christ to save us as though we're a nearly defeated Megazord and he's our heavenly Power Sword? Congrats, you just took me right out of the picture. The forces opposing that righteousness, though... the threat of a shrouded demon world ruled by Satan? In spite of my lack of regard for the Gospel of the Lord, the antithesis of that Gospel literally freezes me with terror. Rosemary's Baby and The Devil Rides Out may hold a slight quality edge, but The Devil's Rain is an ultimate in cinematic Satanism. Sympathetic protagonists do take spotlight and good-versus-evil themes are very much present, but the duly motivated, sinister overtones are merciless. The film often seems an evil entity in and of itself.

Before we thrust into a bloody thick of generational mystery surrounding dark family secrets, we open with credits laid over segments from the Last Judgement panel of Hieronymous Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights triptych (my favorite work of fine art, incidentally). These consistently breathtaking images in this case serve as warning for what lay beyond should we not accept Satan as our lord. An ambience of desperate, lethargic voices calls out for release from an unseen prison, establishing dread that refuses to yield as the film mounts. From this point forward in my viewing, I dared not extend a limb from my personal bubble for fear I may be snatched away.

Star William Shatner, acting on hiatus between the original Star Trek series and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, delivers the ham as only he can. He and Ernest Borgnine clash with the fires of their characters' respective faiths roiling behind their eyes. Things do gear down in act two when Tom Skerritt takes the stage, wandering 'neath dauntingly photographed Satanic symbols (and at one point facing down a pre-fame John Travolta, who is concealed by makeup but still recognizable for his lips), but get going again once a climactic sacrificial ritual to end all sacrificial rituals commences and encompasses act three.

It's truly a pity The Devil's Rain, my movie to beat in this still-young horrorthon, was so detrimentally received upon its release, but that seems the way it goes for many a film I personally consider monumental. Director Robert Fuest's (of Dr. Phibes phame) silver screen career was essentially crushed by Rain's critical failure. The film is topped with a historical cherry, though, as the empty-eyed makeup worn by Shatner (as well as the supporting cast's majority) inspired a holiday costume that eventually became the iconic Michael Myers mask in John Carpenter's legendary Halloween.


HORRORTHON '10: The Burning (Tony Maylam, 1981)

There seems some confusion regarding this one's timing. Many report it was filmed and released prior to Sean Cunningham's 1980 Friday the 13th and it was one of Cunningham's many inspirations. My own research (so, basically, my visits to Wikipedia and IMDb) shows that it was in fact produced soon after that premiere bloodbath at Crystal Lake, bearing a blatant lack of originality (and, as much as I adore it, Friday the 13th has precious little to boast in the originality department to begin with). What's worse, The Burning somehow managed to weasel the incomparable Tom Savini and his bottomless bag of magical makeup effects away from Friday the 13th: Part 2, only to shaft him with a detrimentally miniscule budget and less than a week to work his wonders.

The Weinstein Brothers had just started Miramax and, desperate to cash in on the American slasher craze before it was yesterday's news, Harvey produced Bob's own slapdash script about a dopey summer camp janitor named Cropsy (presumably after the Staten Island legend of the Cropsey killer the Weinsteins likely grew up fearing) who becomes severely burned in a cruel prank gone awry. This Cropsy returns from five years of medical treatment to seek revenge against... well, whoever he can find, I guess, seeing as his first victim is a prostitute and the perpetrators of his injury are long gone. He makes his way back to camp and begins to terrorize campers and counselors, shredding a few with his signature shears.

Admittedly, some of the death scenes are pretty decent. The shot of a silhouetted Cropsy raising his weapon is just about iconic. The film's key downfall, though, is that it wastes too much time building to false scares, where a pair of feet or a suspicious point of view turns out to simply be that of a randy tween. The scant nature of Bob's script is sorely apparent through all the lengthy drawing out required to attain a feature length. Simple as kindergarten though its premise may be, it falls to scattered narrative, the central conflict of which (potential victims feeling stranded and hopelessly river-locked, thereby fish in a barrel for the killer, after taking a mere stroll through the woods) is just one giant gap in logic.

Seinfeld fans will enjoy Jason Alexander in a supporting role, looking like a thirty-something George Costanza even at age 21, but apart from a few fleeting moments of bright, bloody quality, he may be the only thing to enjoy. Even the climactic reveal of Cropsy's disfigurement is yawn-worthy due to the short shoestring Savini was forced to design and create it on.

HORRORTHON '10: The Video Dead (Robert Scott, 1987)

Television can be our portal to the outside world, but what if it becomes the outside world's portal to us? And what if that outside world is crawling with the living dead? Siblings Jeff and Zoe find out exactly "what if" when they discover a strange television in the attic of the neighborhood "death house" (referred to as such due to its previous tenant having gruesomely died there).

Though lesser known, lower budget '80s fare tends to be a few rungs below the same from the '50s-'70s, The Video Dead borrows mentalities from predecessors like Al Adamson, Herschell Gordon-Lewis and, in particular, Ted V. Mikels. The cinematography is in no danger of being labeled "extraordinary", but the sense for sexiness and scariness is highly reminiscent of Mikels' 1968 The Astro-Zombies. And while the main appeal is the so-bad-it's-good factor, The Video Dead actually is intermittently sexy and scary, and some of its (intentional) gags do indeed inspire a chuckle!

If anything, the detractor here is a scant crew of expendables. Primarily we follow the geeky, insecure Jeff even though the ripe, bubbly Zoe appears better-suited for the lead, and rarely do we deviate to check out any neighbors' grisly misfortunes. A character named "The Garbage Man" (who, by his own words, disposes of human garbage) makes up for some of this lost ground by mentoring Jeff and dispatching rat-infested zombies with a chainsaw, bringing somewhat of a Rowsdower-from-The-Final-Sacrifice feel to the proceedings.

The Video Dead isn't quite Troll 2... and for fans of that notoriously so-dreadful-it's-amazing flick, it doesn't come anywhere close... but for what it's worth, I preferred the haunted television to the goblin feast. At the very least it will satiate your run-of-the-mill horror makeup/gore fiends.

HORRORTHON '10: Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary (Guy Maddin, 2002)

When replicating styles and technologies of cinematic generations past, there comes the question of stylistic authenticity versus newly realized potential. Is the goal to tell a story as it may have been told by the target generation's methods, or is it to adopt that older way of thinking and create a modern vision from vintage mentality? Perhaps Pages From a Virgin's Diary's goal isn't necessarily one or the other, but whatever its aim, it seems confused - lost somewhere between the two notions.

Certain in-camera or post production effects executed to attain the look of a 1920s silent film - slightly accelerated camera speed, choppy cuts and moments of over-exposure - are spot-on. Others, though, come across like a far sloppier, far lazier version of Mark Romanek's video for Nine Inch Nails' Closer. On top of a questionable use of extreme close-ups and overly frequent fades, filters are placed over shots creating obtrusive, computerized blur-halos or color screens a la Mighty Joe Young's climactic fire rescue. The artistic motivations behind this random, rapid-fire barrage? I can't begin to guess them.

Neither can I answer for the film's pace. Admittedly, much of the proceedings are well-conceived and impressive to behold, but each shot barrels past at such an unheard-of rate it's near impossible to appreciate it all without some serious pause button abuse. Combined with the fifty-three minute runtime, the fast pacing does at least make for an endurably brief experience.

So this movie... it's a ballet. Now, the few times I've been to live ballets, I've actually found myself enraptured by the beauty of dance's open-ended meanings. Here, however, the dancing stands to represent very little. There are exceptions, like most of what the charismatic Dracula himself puts on, but for the most part it's a mere kick 'n' wave show.

In attempt to be complimentary, it is interesting how Dracula here is made out to be sympathetic while Van Helsing is villainized. This is not a new concept, but a compelling one nevertheless. And those demonic-looking vampires? They were genuinely frightening. Oh, and those title cards - with textual scenario aids like "Manly temptation!" and "Cuckold's counterblow!" they seemed like Transylvanian versions of "Pow!" or "Zocko!" from the 1960s Batman series.

More than anything, though, Pages From a Virgin's Diary just made me want to revisit other, better takes on the Dracula tale from the Hammer Studios... or from the wacky minds of Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey.


REVIEW: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Oliver Stone, 2010)

Word on the street is that for years Oliver Stone, who has never before sequelized his work, refused to sign on for a part two to his 1987 Wall Street. The director, with his near-constant desire to create politically relevant films, wasn't swayed until writers Stephen Schiff and Allan Loeb drafted the return of conniving investor Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) around 2008's stock market crash.

Audiences' waits are now over and what does the moment of truth prove? Stone did damn well to hold out. The finished film is a carefully crafted combination of poignant commentary and continued character development. In the relevance department, it trades far higher than World Trade Center and W. combined. Through community-friendly cinematography it's certainly more concerned with the American people than that former slice of patriotic pie. This isn't just a return after two dreadful-to-satisfactory offerings. This is signature Stone.

Money Never Sleeps is a story about aging in a youthfully accelerated world. As newcomer Jacob (Shia LaBeouf) climbs trader ranks, Gekko emerges from his eight-year prison sentence an outsider. As the film progresses, it seems to age along with the alienated antihero. It calms... becomes more rational. This almost reverse pacing may strike odd to those amped up by the opening act's financial head-rush, but it ultimately makes every bit of sense. In fact, it is ultimately more optimistic a yarn than Stone typically weaves. In an exclusive world ruled by the almighty dollar, how does one begin to weigh one's true and lasting worth?

Douglas slips back into his role like he might a comfortable pair of old blüchers. He is Gordon Gekko and he is just as intellectually seductive as ever. And sure enough, it is finally time to take Shia "The Beef" LaBeouf seriously. After headlining DJ Caruso and Michael Bay blockbusters, this is a mature step and he owns it. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the young actor smoothly and surely maneuver through the type of character Charlie Sheen delivered so well in 1987. This leading duo is supported by the tender Carey Mulligan as Gekko's estranged daughter, Josh Brolin as a mirror of Gekko's former self and Frank Langella, whose relatively brief part is powerful enough to fuel the entire piece.

Many parallels are drawn to the original film - an aspiring trader protagonist with an erudite but crestfallen father figure, an apparent longshot stock no one believes in, etcetera - but Money Never Sleeps never once suffers from a "been there, done that" feeling. On the contrary, the aged perspective makes surface-level changes to the global financial landscape all the more interesting when put through territory similar to its predecessor's.

Technically this is the most impressive Stone has been since his work on my unpopular darling, Alexander. His knack for blocking conversations, photographing various urban environments and skylines and orchestrating flow between scenes brings Money Never Sleeps to the top tier of his achievements thus far. For their cherry, the impressive and highly entertaining proceedings are accompanied by several unexpected yet supremely suitable tracks from prolific musician Brian Eno (of Roxy Music fame) and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.

Money Never Sleeps is New York City. It is Arturo Di Modica's Charging Bull fresh off opening bell, seeing red in the form of crumbling stock numbers. It is the hustle and the bustle and it will run you over if you're not prepared. Welcome back, Mr. Stone.


HORRORTHON '10 INTRO: All the Colours of a Blood-Soaked Screen

This year, to celebrate the month leading up to Halloween, I've been invited to participate in a thread of horror movie reviews on The Corrierino with Rdog, Anton, kiddo in space and Trevor-Trevor. The thread's banner (above) was made by none other than Birdie Num Nums. The complete thread and my fellow participants' contributions can be followed in the thread itself but for posterity I will be posting my contributions to We Told You What to Dream as well.

For starters, an introductory blurb describing in brief why I love horror:

Frankenstein's monster! Mr. Hyde!! Jason Voorhees!!! Your marrow will broil... your blood curdle... if you dare enter the house of a thousand screams!! Well... heh... honestly, I haven't always been a horror fan. Sure, The Shining petrified me, a couple spare slashers passed for adequate entertainment on rare occasion and I even found love for William Malone's remake of House on Haunted Hill along with other flukes such as Rob Zombie's outings with the Firefly Family, but the genre at large remained mostly taboo until recent years. Dare I confess... I would generally look down my nose at most relevant offerings. It seems odd in retrospect, what with several of my own shorts being highly derivative of '80s genre icons. I don't anymore recall specifically what turned me around... but I fondly remember an introduction to Hammer's Dracula films, a comprehensive Friday the 13th marathon and a brief but momentous conversation with the great Tom Savini and imagine these three events have much to do with what is now a great admiration of the horror universe. But what, then, is horror to me? Horror is raw, unrestrained creativity. It barrels straight to our human reactor cores. It is a genre playing by its own rules in defiance of its cinematic peers. A good horror film will keep you on guard, perhaps with an occasional sick grin, and make you wonder aloud, "How'd they do that!?" And sometimes... if you're lucky enough to survive the gruesome aesthetic onslaught... the film you select may... just may... provide a cleverly veiled exploration of poignant social matters... or perversions...


LIST: Resident Evil So Far...

Lately I haven't been able to get enough of Paul W.S. Anderson's Resident Evil movies. They're sleek, intense and - most importantly - fun. They earn these adjectives through methods which, by comparison, embarrass most other films attempting the same. I've always liked the series, but over the past week and a half I've watched each installment twice as part of a pseudo-marathon brought on by my enthusiasm for the now-playing, glowingly reviewed Afterlife (which I'm trying - ineffectively - to resist dropping money on a third time). I figured I'd indulge my obsession with semi-formulated gush-reviews for each film, ranked in order of preference (preference determined by the re-watches and confirmed by the re-re-watches).

Alexander Witt, 2004

Had I been asked just two weeks ago, I would have proudly declared Apocalypse, the only existing member of this list I missed in theaters, as my favorite Resident Evil and, furthermore, one of my favorite action movies in general. I do still love it, but viewings in such close proximity to its fellows have pegged it as the apparent weaker link.

Basically, this sophomore chapter is a series of delicious moments with passable, often energetic filler (and some painfully choppy zombie slow-motion) in between. These moments, heralds for more action-focused content to come, are dynamic stunt pieces. Alice's (Milla Jovovich) hurdle from an exploding police car, her camera-spinning flip dismount from a motorcycle she just wheelied through a wall of stained glass and several others make for a more than worthy experience in the face of everything else being at a "B" level (in the contemporary sense of the term, not the proper, financially referential sense, which I prefer).

Jovovich herself is probably at her series-best here as recurring protagonist Alice. She looks better than ever in perhaps the coolest costume she's yet boasted while enjoying a great deal of signature breathless moments. She also gets to come out of the shell created by the first film's amnesiac, featherweight Alice. She's now been experimented on by the sinister Umbrella corporation as a potential bionic weapon, making for the first time we see her as she exists in current public consciousness - a badass daredevil out for revenge and the salvation of humanity, or at least of her surviving friends.

Now, it might be mentioned before I get too far that I'm not really familiar with the video game source material. When I was 13 I played Resident Evil 2 on my N64 and loved it, but I've hardly peeked at another of the franchise's titles since. For the most part, I don't stand to pick up on the movies' winks to the games, but I feel this is a benefit to my reaction as subsequently I don't stand to be disappointed when one of the winks doesn't live up to some kind of expectation. Anderson has said from the beginning he was trying to create a new experience for fans as opposed to translating something previously traversed into a new medium (as he did, successfully, with Mortal Kombat), and through this mentality the films have become their own entity, separate from their source.

All that said, though, I can absolutely appreciate a decently accomplished cross-media wink when I do catch it. In this case, Apocalypse's version of the Nemesis monster from Resident Evil 2 is executed with appropriate menace and apt craftsmanship. Though zombies remain a consistent threat, each film highlights a mutated result of an Umbrella experiment, but where the first film's Licker was primarily computer-generated, here Nemesis is entirely practical and all the more impressive for it (though, admittedly, the franchise's use of CG overall is perfectly acceptable and, more importantly, scarcely distracting).

Finally, I'd be remiss not to mention the new supporting cast members. Resident Evil movies are merciless, never hesitating to pick off their darlings, so companion slots get re-stocked each outing. This time we get the highly likable Carlos Olivera (Mummy actor Oded Fehr), L.J. (stand-up comedian Mike Epps) and Jill Valentine (former model Sienna Guillory). These people, like their counterparts in the other movies are development-lite, their characteristics readily comprehensible. As with a spritely anime series, any attachment we feel is likely due to Alice's own relations. Though it may sound it, this is far from a complaint - Resident Evil's goals are certainly not to create compelling, dialogue-driven narratives, and I'd hazard its use of characters is on par with other action-oriented successes like Aliens.

Russell Mulcahy, 2007

Again, had I been asked two weeks ago, this one's placement would be a different story. As referenced in my Afterlife review, I did not care for Extinction when I saw it in in theaters. In fact, I cared for it so little I didn't return to it until just this past weekend. I think I've determined why I had a negative reaction upon that initial viewing, and it actually has little to do with the awful scene in the radio station toward the beginning (very easily the series' lowest low point) or how fast and easy it plays with the dispatching of even more central protagonists, or how it pulls a Return of the Jedi Death Star reconstruction with little holographic computer girls and deadly laser rooms (I actually like that it did that).

See, where Apocalypse attains awesomeness through its series of moments, Extinction is more evenly spread. It has moments - Alice vs. the crows, Alice hunts down Dr. Isaacs' tent - but they're less exclamation points and more full sentences. I believe I had been feverishly anticipating an extension of the Apocalypse as opposed to a whole new tone, and only within the past year or so (to my embarrassment) have I gotten better at setting expectations aside in favor of film purity. More than obviously, there's nothing wrong with full sentences... I simply wasn't prepared for them at first.

Revisiting Extinction has proven it to me as the most ambitiously narrative of the series. Where events thus far have been restricted to the fictional Raccoon City (which is supposed to be in... the mountains of Pennsylvania?), this third film brings the events to a world we can relate to through product placement and location recognition. When Alice enters an abandoned convenience store, we see Jeff Gordon's "24" plastered on the door, presumably advertising his short-lived (but delicious) energy drink. She also passes a large Pepsi banner (come to think of it, Pepsi actually produced that "24" beverage - clearly a promotional tie-in, but a respectable one as it is only used realistically and non-exploitatively and doesn't extend past this one scene). Later, a convoy led by Claire Redfield (Ali Larter in a welcome return to the big screen) plows into frame blasting Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida - the only non-score music in a Resident Evil movie so far - before referencing American states and cities and even venturing into a desert-devoured Las Vegas. For the first time, Umbrella's cell re-animating T-Virus infection threatens the world we know and love.

The world being almost entirely ravaged by the T-Virus brings another first - the exploration of survival tactics. One of the more interesting scenes involves the handing out of single cans of food to convoy members as part of a break on their quest from gas stations to grocery stores to motels in search of supplies and other survivors. It's somewhat reminiscent of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead. What's more, it flips RE into ER, as in Easy Rider. Alice on a motorcycle, cruising through the desert, getting by on what precious little she can? Now there's a fresh - and highly pleasing - aesthetic. All we need is some Holy Modal Rounders.

Perhaps the boldest distinction though, is the antagonist, Dr. Isaacs. Thus far we've known of Umbrella as a somewhat ambiguous corporation and even met some of its personnel in Apocalypse, but Isaacs is a renegade with his own agenda. He rebels against the newly introduced Chairman Albert Wesker, abusing a position of power and conducting selfish experiments. He may lack an entirely compelling nature due to Anderson's fun-first, plot-later writing but he's uniquely sympathetic in Resident Evil's villain universe.

Resident Evil
Paul W.S. Anderson, 2002

You know, usually I don't write my lists in order, but this time I started with Apocalypse and I'm moving directly forward... and already I feel bad for ranking my beloved Resident Evil sequel lowest as it really does bring some of the series' purest fun. It just doesn't pack the creativity of Extinction or the non-stop, heart-pounding intensity of this premiere entry.

Yeah, I said "heart-pounding". I may be guilty of cliché more often than I'd like to admit, but in the case of most Paul W.S. Anderson movies and particularly in the case of this franchise's installments he actually directed (as opposed to wrote/produced as he did for Apocalypse and Extinction), review clichés like "heart-pounding" and "thrill ride" fit like a [insert remainder of cliché here (and try not to be dirty)]. Anderson coins these popular phrases. The potency of Resident Evil permeates from opening minutes to cliffhanger finale. I would even go as far as to declare this film an iconic - yep, iconic - demonstration of what it means to be a solid thriller in the 2000s. Even if you dislike what you see here, I defy you to forget it.

Apart from constant thrills (which are aided by Marilyn Manson's hard electro-rock score), it is marvelous to see Anderson's passion for his craft translate so well into finished product. His penchant for low-angle establishing shots is put to likely its most beautiful use (the main hall of the mansion in particular, with its lovely ceiling, stands out) while he adds zesty punctuation with close-ups on objects completing brief motion (a la the shard of reinforced glass from the opening sequence in the Hive or the empty shell from Alice's pistol... or even, in a slightly different sense, the close-up on Alice as she delivers a killing blow with a hatchet). The underground laboratory setting's claustrophobic nature never once lets up as our characters prowl its depths. There broils an effervescent fervor in every frame.

One of my favorite things about Anderson is a knack for inspiring sick chuckles from his audience. Even when bad things happen to good people (and especially when they happen to bad ones), he rarely fails to coax a cruel grin across my captivated mug. Showing yet again he's right at home in a world of monstrous genetic mutations and the sub-machines that dimple their hides, Anderson elicits the twisted chuckles most effectively here in Resident Evil-ville. Sometimes his characters share the pleasure.

And how about all the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland references? Well, I don't really know why they're there apart from the "Oh, hey, we have a story that takes place in a mysterious underground world" factor, but they work! Most obviously our curious and lost main character's name is "Alice". Toss in a white rabbit-inspired realization and a homicidal (with noble intention) computer system in command of the Hive named the Red Queen and--wait... homicidal computer system in charge? That sounds familiar. Okay, yes, it's very HAL-9000... but in my opinion the Red Queen is distinct and overt (overtly creepy, that is) enough that comparisons to HAL only stick from an objective, backseat perspective.

Did I just gush about Resident Evil without once mentioning the infamous laser room? Well, I'd like to think I mentioned it... indirectly. It's the film's pinnacle of relentless ferocity.

Paul W.S. Anderson, 2010

No-brainer here (bonus points for catching all three meanings)! Any recurring readers of mine (all two and a half of them) already know my unwavering adoration for this film, perhaps to the point they're pleading "Enough already!" Well, since I did already review this mother proper, I'll make sure not to retread too much ground (more bonus points if you didn't mind all three shameless review links).

Resident Evil has always been about girl power, what with its recurring main character, the first film's reconnaissance operative Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), Jill Valentine and even K-Mart (Spencer Locke), but Afterlife's combination of Alice and a now convoy-less Claire Redfield brings that power to new grounds of formidability. Both of these women are staying strong in spite of emotional wounds. Claire has lost everyone she was trying to save, Alice is constantly having potential post-apocalyptic romances gruesomely torn away and neither of them can be sure who to trust. I cheer for Larter and Jovovich more as a pair than I think I have for any of their respective solo efforts (I.E. Larter's Sara from one of my favorite horrors, William Malone's House on Haunted Hill, or Jovovich's title character in Kurt Wimmer's intriguing experiment, Ultraviolet). Claire even gets to break out of the sidekick role with a one-on-one showdown against the Axeman - easily a highlight.

One of the main reasons I love that Axeman showdown actually has little to do with Claire finally taking center stage - it's the use of water. As he does with rain and super slow-motion so powerfully in the opening scene my adrenaline is pumping just thinking of it, Anderson uses spraying water from broken shower pipes to flood the 3D depth of field. With James Cameron's three-camera PACE system at his disposal, the falling drops of water make you distinctly aware of the set's every possible plane. It's like peering into a shoebox diorama... just one-hundred times cooler.

For being only the second director to use PACE for a wide release feature, Anderson doesn't seem afraid to test the system's limits or try daring new things with it. Almost every shot is composed with PACE's capabilities in mind. If 2D cinematography does well to obey the rule of thirds, Anderson here is playing by a rule of twenty-sevenths while keeping his sick chuckle well intact through expert tempo and Jovovich's own genuine expressions.

All said, Afterlife is a revelation in action filmmaking, and a true spectacle to behold. It takes full advantage of its young format and proves 3D's new wave can indeed be worth a hot damn.

Rebirth (?)
Paul W.S. Anderson (hopefully), 2012 (hopefully)

Alright, being extra-optimistic here. We have no idea yet what a fifth installment would encompass apart from what was hinted in the fourth's final moments. Anderson has gone on record stating he only works one film at a time, never wanting to assume he'll get a whack at a sequel thereby pulling punches and not allowing his passion to create what it wants in the moment. He always tacks on exciting cliffhangers, though, so much like with the '80s' Friday the 13th sequels, there's always room for more should the audience demand it.

If Anderson does direct (barring previous engagements like Alien Vs. Predator and Death Race, the projects that kept him out of the cheese chair on Apocalypse and Extinction), he'll be coming to the table with PACE experience from Afterlife and Three Musketeers. Presumably, he'll be able to execute even newer, more creative ideas due to familiarity with the system.

Returning to the aforementioned idea that these movies have always been for the fans... once Afterlife hit the United States with a runaway opening weekend and became the number one taker worldwide, Jovovich spoke with New York Magazine about reaching out via Twitter to see what fans want for the next chapter.

So, what would I want in a fifth? Well, I wouldn't want too many more survivors biting the dust. Unless martyrs are to be made of certain players, I'd like to think characters like K-Mart and Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) have been through enough that they are no longer expendable. Hopefully they'll even steal a couple more spotlights as with Luther's rooftop "slam dunk" in Afterlife. I'd also like to see Jill Valentine brought back from her brainwash (after a showdown with Alice and a flashback explaining her good-to-evil transition, naturally), possibly through a scene detailing the extraction of Umbrella's new toy - those mechanical spiders.

Speaking of Umbrella... how do they now function without a chairman and dwindling resources? What are the corporation's post-apocalyptic values sans leader? Perhaps those spiders could be emblematic of Umbrella's new goals... and perhaps during an exploration of the arachnoid brainwash project we could see an easter egg suggesting the Axeman's origin?

And would it be too much to try and incorporate Apocalypse's Angie Ashford (Sophie Vavasseur)? As with Jill, there are loose ends involving that character's vanishing in the transition from second movie to third (and it is never confirmed that she is, as it would seem anyway, the girl the Red Queen was based on... daughter of the Queen's inventor, daughter of the T-Virus inventor... same person?). Perhaps her and Jill formed a mother/daughter bond and took off, pre-Extinction... and maybe - just maybe - there would be an opening in there to bring popular video game character Leon Kennedy (to be played by Jared Padalecki?) back from the presumed dead? Could indeed be too much... but that really depends on what direction the overall piece takes. Here's what I'm thinking: in flashback, Jill and Angie reunite with Leon. Their surrogate family carries on until Umbrella apprehends and brainwashes Jill, a skirmish from which Leon and Angie manage to escape. Then, once Jill is de-spidered and her memory returns (and all the Umbrella soldiers are done away with... not sure how in the world they're getting out of that one...), she and the rest of the good guy gang go on a reconnaissance mission to find Leon and Angie.

More than anything, I just want to marvel at more killer 3D involving the exploits of treacherous trio Alice, Claire and Jill. The story, while perfectly serviceable and even, at times, worthy of further discussion, is secondary. Bring on the fireworks!!


REVIEW: Resident Evil: Afterlife (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2010)

Her name is Alice. She was head of security at The Umbrella Corporation's underground laboratory. She remembers everything, and now she's back to kick your ass in Paul W.S. Anderson's second directorial effort and fourth overall installment in the undead exploitation opera that is the Resident Evil film series (Alexander Witt and Russell Mulcahy directed Apocalypse and Extinction, respectively, while Anderson, who is to Roger Corman as Rob Zombie is to Alice Cooper, wrote and produced).

2002's initial film was marrow-chilling fun while it lasted, but it wasn't until '04's bombastic sequel I really perked up to take note. Extinction, unfortunately, was more fun to anticipate than actually experience, but all that and far more is forgiven here in the Afterlife.

The inherent horror zombies bring to the table is not entirely out the window, but as Apocalypse accomplished with bravado, this new piece is all about sleek action, sexy aesthetic and the "woah" factor. Imagine Keanu's monosyllabic moment of marvel from The Matrix, mix in a racing pulse, gaping grin and a single sneaky tear of bliss and you've basically pictured me for Afterlife's entire ninety-seven-minute runtime (though admittedly I wasn't having as good a hair day as Keanu was on that rooftop). Only two times before do I recall exiting a theater shaking with excitement from what I had just seen. This makes three.

Let's just talk about the first act. Forgive my hyperbole, but the fifteen-twenty minute sequence is a masterpiece of action - one of the greatest I've seen. It embraces a stark and stylized production design (as does all to follow), coins the descriptor "jaw-dropping" and smacks strongly of Æon Flux' dynamic (and characteristically ambiguous) pilot short for Liquid Television in which the seemingly unstoppable title femme plows through hordes of henchmen. If this opening were a short in and of itself, it would still warrant full accolades. Anderson & Co. should be damn proud.

For all the characters picked off or left behind by the Extinction, the Afterlife proves bountiful with lovable new protagonists and love-to-hate-'ems, including a sniveling movie producer - likely Anderson's critique of Hollywood money men who've shafted him in the past. Of course a few familiar faces are back, along with a thrilling surprise appearance from one thought lost (hint, hint, tease, tease). If Sylvester Stallone's new crew is The Expendables, the ever-electrifying Milla Jovovich as Alice and the much-missed Ali Larter as Claire form a duo of "Expendablettes". The two women, formidable as they are gorgeous, tear up scenery with a trove of automatic weapons and equally deadly smirks of sick pleasure for each baddie they topple. As for villainy's chief executor this time 'round, he may be the cheesiest cheeseball since Blade: Trinity's take on Dracula (excuse me... "Drake"), but his firmly gelled hair and contrivedly bemused demeanor hardly matter in the face of their literally breathtaking surroundings. Besides, 'tween our heroes' cleanly shaved heads and perfectly groomed beards, the macho malefactor is far from alone in holding personal preening before post-apocalyptic survival.

I fondly recollect discussing Marilyn Manson's score for the original Resident Evil with Miami Rhapsody composer Carlos Hernandez. Carlos quipped something to the effect of, "It sounds as though hammer-toting apes were set loose in a kitchen". Funny and memorable though his observation may have been, I have to disagree. That first film's hard electronic backing signified its companion scenes, making for a taught and occasionally terrifying experience. Tomandandy's (a pair of composers named - go figure - Tom and Andy) avant-garde score for this latest installment brings back the pounding, experimental techno with hard guitar edge. Even the least imposing scenes meet you halfway, beckoning further with powerful and seductive electro-rock.

All considered, this film may be the boldest an actioner has been since '05's Doom went berserk in first-person-shooter mode, and it's thanks in no small part to the third dimension. I've gone back and forth regarding the spatial technology's resurgence, but now I've been field-goal-kicked from the fifty, scoring a critical two pointer for Team Triple-D. Afterlife embodies precisely how I feel 3D should be used in the realm of entertainment while exploring creative new executions. Honestly, I shudder at the prospect for at-home re-watches in 2D since here the 3D is so deeply woven.

Throughout Resident Evil: Afterlife, I hardly wanted to blink for strong desire to bask in every last morsel of audio/visual awesomenosity. Had nature called, it would have heard a busy signal for I wasn't about to budge. Never before have I enjoyed a movie so rabidly. Seriously. Please. Bring on the fifth. Resident Evil: Rebirth?


REVIEW: Date Night (Shawn Levy, 2010)

Is it strange to wish a film was made 70 years ago? Maybe not so strange if it's a single film, I suppose, but I find myself feeling this way about a handful of Hollywood's recent offerings. Most recently Knight & Day made me long for a Cary Grant take on its material - and that's not intended as a crack on Knight's real leading man - I love the Cruiser and think he's unfairly receiving the brunt of criticism for his latest film's underperformance, which seems more likely blamed on a confused marketing campaign and director James Mangold's apprehension to commit to an original theme. Now, I like Steve Carell and Tina Fey as much as the next person. They've always been hilarious and deserving of the high profiles they've attained. With this popular hilarity, though, shouldn't their pairing as a married couple haplessly tossed in the thick of a political mafia battle be a more potent concoction? For much of the proceedings I desperately tried to hear William Powell and Mirna Loy snappily firing back at one another in place of the sadly diluted late night comedy stars actually on screen.

Perhaps a stronger reason behind my foolish wish is sterile directing. In the screwball comedy's heyday, great directors like Billy Wilder and Frank Capra helmed such excellent films as The Seven-Year Itch and It Happened One Night, respectively. Now we have the Night at the Museum guy. Shawn Levy plays puppet to script, and in this case the dialogue relies on star power while neglecting to give that power anything to work with.

Of course, as suggested by my initial invocation, the script doesn't entirely suck. Aside from a few pratfalls too ridiculous even for the purposefully preposterous scenario, it works. Well, it works in theory. With bolder direction and an on-screen talent time-warp, we could have a good flick on our hands. Sounds a rather broad statement boiled down like that - applicable to a great many films.

Another of Date Night's aspects a wide number of contemporaries could easily be tagged with - and about as fair as the aforementioned Cruise-bashing - is that all its best bits are spoiled in its trailer. This criticism is unfair since, obviously, marketing campaigns  are separate artistic entities from their advertised films (at least in a traditional sense, so this is not to consider the viral craze which more enhances a product). Fact is, though, there are only two memorable moments put forth in the genuine article that weren't drilled into my head by previews. Apart from those moments, I remained unamused throughout. It's hard to say what the case would be had I gone in blind, but with the inconsistent tone created by Date Night's tendency for awkwardly placed moments of anger or sentimentality, I'd wager the best gags are lost in unevenness.

So if it's a date night, I'd recommend avoiding Date Night. Pull the trailer up on YouTube instead - it's much funnier. If anything at all positive is taken from the experience, it's a welcome reminder that Mark Wahlberg possesses a fantastic body.


ARTICLE: "Twilight" Star Kristen Stewart

As published in the Fall 2010 issue of Bayfront Magazine.

What follows are EXCERPTS. For the full article and more entertainment and fashion expertise, visit Bayfront Magazine then follow the Magazine tab, or subscribe.

-Los Angeles native Kristen Jaymes Stewart is undoubtedly best known for playing Isabella Swan, lip-nibbling vampire lover in the "Twilight Saga" phenomenon, but what might we have missed or, perhaps, not given a chance?

-Opting to complete much of her education outside a traditional school setting, "KStew" focused her adolescence on acting - a bold decision easily attributable to her oft-complimented, mature-beyond-her-years disposition.

-Not afraid to venture further through tense subject matter, Stewart moved on to appear in Showtime's emotionally demanding feature, "Speak". Her portrayal therein, of a verbally shut down rape victim, attained critical acclaim for its careful nuance and unconventionally caustic levity.

-Between full-steam "Twilight" productions, Stewart has continued to explore provocative, independent cinema. Last year she took the mic sporting legendary rocker Joan Jett's duds, 'do and delivery in "The Runaways" alongside worthy child sensation and "Twilight Saga" co-star Dakota Fanning. This year, her performance in "Welcome to the Rileys" buzzed throughout the Sundance Film Festival, touted by USA Today as "fearless" while Roger Ebert declared, "I'm discovering an important new actress."

-Considering the internet's probing social outlets, today's is a culture of open exposure and, subsequently, vulnerability. Stewart shamelessly embodies the mentality behind that vulnerability in aspects of her public life, further implementing it professionally to signify her film roles.

UPDATE: Since posting these excerpts I've been alerted that MillionGossips, Gossip_Dance, Robsten Dreams, Twilight Saga Obsessed PeopleDw*world and more have also posted the below image to their blogs. Thank you, folks!

ARTICLE: Tribute to Brittany Murphy

As published in the Fall 2010 issue of Bayfront Magazine.

What follows are EXCERPTS. For the full article and more entertainment and fashion expertise, visit Bayfront Magazine then follow the Magazine tab, or subscribe.

-It was with [the humble role of Tai in "Clueless"] we began to see ourselves in Murphy - a reflection that rarely faded throughout her catalogue.

-[Across her body of work, there] would always be something about the star's relative outsider demeanor we could empathize with.

-In '96 she recorded an informational piece on Angeles National Forest's Wildlife Waystation, enthusiastically promoting animal rights and educating about the unique facility.

-She impressed troops during a USO tour for which she was lauded as a fun, caring individual who was there for the right reasons.

-Famous friends and collaborators of Murphy's recall her as "unique and electric" ("8 Mile" director Curtis Hanson), "effervescent" ("Shrinking Charlotte" co-star Matthew Lillard) and "a little piece of sunshine" ("Just Married" co-star and ex-boyfriend Ashton Kutcher).


REVIEW: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Stephen Sommers, 2009)

It's all here: Secret Desert Headquarters Playset, Underwater Ice Base Battle Station... Super-Suit Ripcord, Underwater Ice Base Outfitted Duke... complete, of course, with life-like hair and a kung-fu grip. And none of that's to mention all the crazy cross-terrain vehicles! Stephen Sommers' image has been hurting since The Mummy Returns and Van Helsing farted through multiplexes, but with the famous Government Issue Joes in his bag of tricks, he's repairing his reputation.

What we have here is a grown man in touch with boyhood playing with a very expensive set of action figures. Our characters unashamedly parade through explosion-ridden war zones in gaudy, helmet-free get-ups or low-cut leathers. Their durability is tested as they fly from nowhere as if on reserve in a plastic lunchbox next to a PB&J to slam and crush or be slammed and crushed. They'll even somewhat randomly smooch, as boys are apt to make their figures do.

With crazy effects in at least 90% of the shots and nary a chance to breathe between hi-octane action sequences, Sommers is right at home and G.I. Joe is easily the best he's done since The Mummy. I do prefer my action a bit more kinetic a la the Wachowskis' work on the Matrix trilogy and Speed Racer, but I can still pay Joe far more compliments than most actioners. For example, I can actually tell what's going on when things get hectic! Where many films will bungle a man-to-man confrontation with claustrophobic extreme close-ups, leaving the audience lost until a death blow lands, Joe manages complete coherence for the attentive even on preposterously grand scales. Not only will you have three sides to a battle with soldiers in ATVs, jets and on foot, you'll encounter myriads of intricate gadgetry - established, explained (often visually) and executed effectively and excitingly in a manner of seconds.

Furthermore, each of these major sequences distinguishes itself from its fellows through colorful set pieces and uniquely dynamic choreography. Some practical sets even look like they were lit by a student of Mario Bava's filmography (or at least someone who can't get enough of Bava's Ercole al centro della terra).

If Joe's super suit has an Achilles' heel, it's Channing Tatum. He may fit the "Real American Hero" mold, but through stilted delivery he's giving Sam Worthington a run for his money in the shoulda-just-cast-a-cardboard-box category. The rest of the star-speckled ensemble makes up for it, though, featuring goofball Marlon Wayans, charisma machine Joseph Gordon-Levitt, always-impressive Rachel Nichols and Dennis Quaid, who here delights in a mountain of overacting. There's even a surprising - but fitting - cameo to round things out.

The Rise of Cobra isn't going to change any adult lives, but for its runtime (and maybe a few re-watches) it's an exuberant blast. For someone like me who more or less stuck to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Star Wars when it came to toys (with a few Spider-Man or X-Men cameos), this true blue Joe movie made me want to revert to youth and bust out my guy-dolls!


REVIEW: Going the Distance (Nanette Burstein, 2010)

From my perspective, the romantic comedy process has been epitomized by the work of Marc Lawrence. Sadly that's not a compliment. From writing "Miss Congeniality" to auteuring a trio of painfully stilted Hugh Grant pictures (most recently "Did You Hear About the Morgans"), Lawrence - among others, of course - has stamped mainstream date movies with formula so transparent and redundant it's a wonder anyone manages to tell a "Two Weeks Notice" from a "Music & Lyrics". Burstein, however, approaches "Distance" with ideas beyond the simple meeting of a studio's quota. Her film joins the ranks of "The Sweetest Thing" and "Little Black Book" as romcoms with more than a couple pretty faces before a camera, obligated to fall in (what they call) love just because they got top billing on a poster.

Alright, so "Distance" isn't some barrier-busting masterwork. It hits emotional points expected from any of this ilk and leaves certain technicalities on the curb. Thing is, it charts its path with methods original enough to be distinguishable. First we have gender reversal. It is easily argued Garrett, coy and vulnerable, is the central relationship's "girl" where Erin, a brash jokester, is the "guy". Then, take into account the trials of living apart replacing the ever-tiresome trope of illusory infidelity. Toss in an Apatow-esque edge with troves of referential fan service for children of the '80s and yeah, "Distance" is indeed original enough.


REVIEW: Brooklyn's Finest (Antoine Fuqua, 2010)

It's tough to sum up precisely why I always have hope for Antoine Fuqua films. Sure, in spite of some misses in the director's filmography, Training Day was decent and I have a soft spot for King Arthur. My confidence in the guy, though, isn't exactly comparable to the confidence I have to a fault in, say, Oilver Stone. Stone, in spite of similar filmography inconsistencies Fuqua has endured, at least has some true greats to go by a la The Hand, Wall Street, The Doors, Any Given Sunday and Alexander. There's just something about Fuqua, though - even when he's under some summer-tentpole-lovin' studio exec's white knuckles - that brings me eagerly back for more, sure I'll eventually discover something truly fantastic. Well, "truly fantastic" though Brooklyn's Finest may not be, it did the trick for me and then some, becoming what is likely Fuqua's finest.

I can't say I wasn't a little worried going in. I had long anticipated the viewing with hopes high enough to work against the film were it not to deliver to expectation (whereas, naturally, lower expectations tend to yield better initial results). The opening few scenes were admittedly shaky, but I hung in, maintaining the excitement I had felt upon my first viewing of the trailer. Thankfully a stride is hit early on and from there it's a slow, often intense burn through bitter streets, reminiscent of Boogie Nights' third act. The donut shop... "On the Lookout"... "Sydney's Loop"... okay, well, there's hardly any matching all that, but the Paul Thomas Anderson influence from Boogie Nights and even Magnolia - particularly on the screenwriting and scoring ends - is palpable.

An acquaintance of mine humorously stated one could craft a drinking game around Brooklyn's Finest, where you'd take a shot for every cop movie cliché you catch. His punchline was you'd probably be wasted by the thirty-minute mark. An avid viewer of cop movies may certainly agree... and I've seen what I consider my share - but I don't feel this dragged anything down at all. In fact, the only cliché that really bothered (after engrossing in a 140-minute, Brooklyn-set film I almost typed "baw-dud") me was yet another instance of the ever-irksome jolting-up-out-of-bed thing.

Probably the biggest reason I was excited for Brooklyn's Finest was the cast. I am a fan of each headlining actor and here they are absolutely at their respective bests. Richard Gere treads darkness as a beat veteran with little to cling to apart from a death wish. Ethan Hawke seems to draw from two of my favorite performances - the mellow, brooding Al Pacino in The Godfather and the loose, wild Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon - as a conflicted Catholic at the end of his rope. Don Cheadle gets a rough deal, as the actors he shares the most screentime with are more stilted and generic than CSI: Miami (Wesley farkin' Snipes being the glowing exception, of course), but in true Cheadle fashion, he pulls through.

One could say - and I'm sure many have - Brooklyn's Finest is trying to be The Departed. The similarities are there in both the story itself and how that story is told visually with inspired dialogue in place of tedious exposition, but Brooklyn's Finest sets itself apart quite handily through tone and focus. It may be mostly predictable, but I don't think the predictability injures its impact. What's more, with a trio of Éric Rohmer's moral tales fresh in my memory, I can't help but see how the three protagonists here are treated similarly to Rohmer's male leads.

Before I open a monstrous can of Rohmer worms and keep us all here that much longer though, I'll quickly suffice to say the morals, actions and motivations of our three Brooklynite coppers could be discussed for hours, and that fact alone is enough to make what is already a really good movie into a really memorable one.