Resident Evil (2002, Paul W.S. Anderson)

I have a mild affection for Paul W.S. Anderson–or, at least, I think he gets a bad rap. I’ve never been able to easy prove it before, but Resident Evil certainly helps my argument for Anderson’s effectiveness as a director. The film opens with a nine or so minute tease, establishing the situation, then goes into a disoriented and, we soon learn, amnesiac Milla Jovovich waking up in a big empty house and walking about in various states of half-dress. In these scenes–which are spooky–Anderson does a fantastic job; his composition is a nice (really, nice, nice is the word I’m using) mix of Carpenter and Kubrick. Just before the sequence ends (or, more accurately, further develops), he’s got this spooky shot of leaves twirling around. It’s beautifully done and when it turns out to be a helicopter landing, well, something about that ruse is quite good.

Unfortunately, Anderson made some bad decisions with actors. Not casting in all circumstances (all but one, really), but in forcing his mostly English cast to adopt “American” accents. Nothing really happens for the first half hour of Resident Evil, some teases at scariness and a little expository dialogue; even the first big action scene is lackluster, because it’s just churning. You can practically hear the movie spinning up… zombie movies do not have big casts and until Resident Evil gets itself manageable, it doesn’t really get going. During the twenty or so minutes, after the opening tease and before the ignition’s started, Michelle Rodriguez really manages to annoy beyond any reasonable conception of the term. She’s terrible. Awful. When, at the end of the film, her character is sympathetic, there’s the proof for Anderson as an effective action film director. I didn’t know if I could get through her “acting.” The scenes with her and Pasquale Aleardi, who has the excuse of not being a native English speaker for his terrible line-delivery, are among the more painful moments ever filmed. Also unfortunate is Colin Salmon, who fails when it comes to his American accent–fails terribly. Salmon’s usually good too and he’s an Anderson regular, so the misuse is surprising. James Purefoy is okay for most of the film, only losing the accent at the end, but I think he’s quiet for a lot of his scenes. Martin Crewes is another accent faker, but he’s good. Eric Mabius is fine, maybe even good in most of his scenes, but he’s got a silly haircut. The shock of Resident Evil is Milla Jovovich. At first, I thought her good performance was due to the amnesia… but then she kept going and being good, which was unbelievable.

Anderson’s template for Resident Evil isn’t so much any zombie movie, but instead Aliens; just imagine it towards the end when most of the cast are gone and the aliens are everywhere. There’s some really stupid stuff–it is a Paul W.S. Anderson movie after all–like the soldiers not going for head shots off the bat, none of the characters being introduced, so their names always come as a surprise–I don’t think Jovovich is ever clearly named in the film, which is kind of silly, since there’s some sort of Alice in Wonderland reference going on. The music’s annoying, but occasionally it works rather well.

When, towards the end, Anderson actually manages to wrap up his amnesia thing, his monster on the loose thing, two revelations and some other stuff–all while actually making the characters’ plight vibrate–it’s when Resident Evil works the best. Oddly, the predictable ending isn’t even annoying, instead it’s gratifying, because of the film’s self-confidence.

I’m actually not completely surprised by Resident Evil, as I figured it’d be watchable (as Anderson tends to be), but I’m at least seventy-percent surprised, since the whole thing hinges on Jovovich and she pulled it off.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; written by Anderson, from a story by Alan McElroy and Anderson, based on the Capcom computer game series; director of photography, David Johnson; edited by Alexander Berner; music by Marco Beltrami and Marilyn Manson; production designer, Richard Bridgland; produced by Bernd Eichinger, Samuel Hadida, Jeremy Bolt and Anderson; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Milla Jovovich (Alice), Michelle Rodriguez (Rain), Eric Mabius (Matt), James Purefoy (Spence), Martin Crewes (Kaplan), Pasquale Aleardi (J.D.) and Colin Salmon (One).


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The Canary Murder Case (1929, Malcolm St. Clair and Frank Tuttle)

As an example of a transitional sound film–Canary Murder Case was filmed as a silent, then reconfigured as a talkie–the film’s very interesting. It’s an early talkie (1929) so there’s no sound design–there’s rarely any noise besides the talking and few sound effects, the actors aren’t ready for talking (for the most part), and the direction, even of the talkie-specific scenes, is awkward and paced for a silent film. People say their line, wait a few seconds, either for a title card or a cut, then someone else says his or her line. It’s disjointed, which surprised me, since I figured I’d just get used to it.

William Powell’s fine in the “lead,” except, while the film’s a “Philo Vance mystery,” Powell has very little to do in the film. He’s an accessory to the police and his single solo scene is a summary sequence of him up all night figuring out the solution. I too figured out the solution and had Philo Vance read more, specifically Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, he wouldn’t have had to stay up all night. The only other amusing actor is Eugene Pallette, who was in the other Powell Vance film I’ve seen too, and even he’s having trouble finding his footing in the talkie atmosphere. He does have some funny moments, which is an achievement, since all the other attempts in the film fall completely flat.

As the titular canary, Louise Brooks leaves little impression. I wasn’t paying attention during the opening titles or something and, since I’ve never actually seen any of her other films, it took me a second to realize who she was when she showed up (I thought the female lead was going to be Jean Arthur, who’s a brunette in the film and barely in it). The greatest impression Brooks’s character does leave, however, is she’s a crook… and when the film’s conclusion is her murder’s justified (agreeing with what the audience already thinks), it makes the whole thing a somewhat pointless experience.

The direction, compositionally, is boring, so there’s little driving the film. Past the long set-up, which I suppose is supposed to be interesting because of Brooks’s presence, there’s almost nothing going on. It’s a very long eighty minutes, though the section where the detective decides a poker game is the best way to discover a murderer is nice and there is one excellent plot development, which in a different film (a better one) would give the characters some real angst. But not so in this one.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Malcolm St. Clair and Frank Tuttle; screenplay by Albert S. Le Vino, Florence Ryerson and S.S. Van Dine, based on Van Dine’s novel; directors of photography, Cliff Blackstone and Harry Fischbeck; edited by William Shea; music by Karl Hajos; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring William Powell (Philo Vance), Louise Brooks (Margaret Odell), Jean Arthur (Alys LaFosse), James Hall (Jimmy Spotswoode), Charles Lane (Charles Spotswoode), Eugene Pallete (Sgt. Heath), Gustav von Seyffertitz (Dr. Ambrose Lindquist), Lawrence Grant (Charles Cleaver), Ned Sparks (Tony Sheel), Louis John Bartels (Louis Mannix) and E.H. Calvert (District Attorney Markham).


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Parole, Inc. (1948, Alfred Zeisler)

I enjoy old b-movies. They tend to be harmless and occasionally amusing. Parole, Inc. might be a c-movie, however, since it’s not from a studio (I wonder if direct-to-DVD will ever, since real studios are now making them, raise to a b-movie quality level). Parole, Inc. isn’t really amusing. It’s a heavy-handed looked at parole board corruption and there’s even scrolling text at the beginning to inform the audience it’s a serious problem in the United States. I thought the scroll was funny, but then the first scene is someone dictating a report with exactly the same information, but Parole, Inc.‘s got a lot of superfluous little things. It’s a competent seventy minutes, but it’s not artfully made by any stretch.

I found the movie through Evelyn Ankers, who made Parole, Inc. after her Universal contract was up, and she plays a female mobster named Jojo. Somehow, while she doesn’t pull it off in any way, she doesn’t embarrass herself (another benefit of b-movie brevity, actors don’t have too much to do). Around halfway through, I realized the lead (the cop on the inside of the gang) Michael O’Shea, was doing a good job. But he’s unappealing in some awkward way, one I won’t even bother trying to describe, but the film’s so concisely plotted–it takes place over a month or so and, while there are a lot of characters, the mob henchmen are all one blob so they don’t get confusing. Charles Bradstreet is sometimes bad, but he’s in it for the first half and he’s appealing. When he goes and O’Shea doesn’t have a response, the lack of any concern really puts Parole, Inc.‘s genre apart–it’s unthinkable O’Shea wouldn’t respond, but maybe that lack of any depth is what makes Parole, Inc. watchable. It doesn’t try and it doesn’t fail.

There is one interesting aspect, structurally, about the film–we know at the beginning O’Shea gets badly injured while solving the case. The successful pursuit of the criminals isn’t in question. Except, nothing’s done with that structure, it’s not taken advantage of in any way. There’s no suspense to Parole, Inc., which there should be, but somehow the filmmakers were fully convinced their paint-by-the-numbers, no subtext story was compelling. And it is, which is weird.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Zeisler; screenplay by Sherman L. Lowe, from a story by Lowe and Royal K. Cole; director of photography, Gilbert Warrenton; edited by John Faure; music by Alexander Laszlo; produced by Constantin J. David; released by Equity Pictures Corporation.

Starring Michael O’Shea (Richard Hendricks), Turhan Bey (Barney Rodescu), Evelyn Ankers (Jojo Dumont), Virginia Lee (Glenda Palmer), Charles Bradstreet (Harry Palmer) and Lyle Talbot (Hughes).


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Apartment Zero (1988, Martin Donovan)

Starting Apartment Zero, I couldn’t remember why I’d wanted to see the film. I had a feeling it was going to be something I’d since dismissed and it was–Apartment Zero is David Koepp’s first screenwriting credit. He co-wrote the film. Koepp’s an odd person to look for, since his writing is so vanilla and indistinct, regardless of quality, it’d be like looking for William Goldman. There’s actually a lot of personality to Apartment Zero, but I imagine it came from the director (who co-wrote with Koepp). There’s very little to say in terms of the writing. While there’s some funny stuff, most of its success comes from the direction (the director’s name is Martin Donovan). Donovan has decent composition, but does great work with movement–both moving subjects and moving cameras. There’s a hilarious chase scene and then there’s some other good, fast camera work. The humor in the script tends to fail–except maybe the characters lifted from “Fawlty Towers.” Near the end, most of the humor is in the dialogue and it all falls flat.

Besides the direction, the film looks fantastic. Buenos Aires is apparently a wonderful place to shoot a movie. It looks warm and foreign, but still somehow familiar. The cinematography is perfect, with the low budget, grainy film stock creating a mood. Also on the technical end is the sound design. Apartment Zero has great sound.

As for the performances, Colin Firth and Hart Bochner… Bochner’s visibly familiar since he’s the jerk in Die Hard, but his performance in Apartment Zero is actually quite good for much of the film. Firth is not any good, but it’s barely his fault. His character–and the film in general (at the beginning, it reminded me–ha ha–of Delicatessen)–has no depth. It’s absurd, in the waste of time sense of the word. It’s also one of those wonderful films where, once it finds its below average level, it still manages to get worse in the last five minutes. It doesn’t exactly have a surprise ending, but it’s got something close. Whatever it’s called, it’s damn lame.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Martin Donovan; screenplay by Donovan and David Koepp, story by Donovan; director of photography, Miguel Rodriguez; edited by Conrad M. Gonzalez; music by Elia Cmiral; production designer, Miguel Angel Lumaldo; produced by Donovan and Koepp; released by Skouras Pictures.

Starring Hart Bochner (Jack Carney), Colin Firth (Adrian LeDuc), Dora Bryan (Margaret McKinney), Liz Smith (Louise McKinney), Fabrizio Bentivoglio (Carlos Sanchez-Verne), James Tefler (Vanessa) and Mirella D’Angelo (Laura Werpachowsky).


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