Tag Archives: David Johnson

Orphan (2009, Jaume Collet-Serra)

Orphan‘s a peculiar failure. The script isn’t particularly good; it’s layered with foreshadowing upon foreshadowing and some very predictable turns. But it has these occasionally strong dialogue scenes between Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard. It runs out of them after a while, but they leave a positive memory.

Then there’s director Collet-Serra. He really likes crane shots in what should be enclosed spaces and he likes to use handheld when he should have a track. Orphan feels like an inexperienced director who got the opportunity to do a lot of things just because he could. Collet-Serra can’t do the two simple things Orphan needs him to do.

First, it needs him to tie a children’s story–Aryana Engineer and Jimmy Bennett get an adopted sister–to an adult’s story–Farmiga and Sarsgaard are new adoptive parents. Both of these stories (more Farmiga and Sarsgaard because of their fine acting, Farmiga in particular) have some strong moments. Scared kids is a classic, cheap movie standard and Collet-Serra can’t pull it off. It’s sort of embarrassing, because he doesn’t even seem to get it.

Second, he needs to give the family’s house a personality. He can’t. Some of it is lousy production design courtesy Tom Meyer, some of it is Collet-Serra’s incompetence.

As the film’s bad seed, Isabelle Fuhrman is mediocre. She can’t hold her accent and she’s never believable in hindsight after the big reveal.

Orphan‘s a boring thriller with bad direction and an excellent Farmiga performance.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra; screenplay by David Johnson, based on a story by Alex Mace; director of photography, Jeff Cutter; edited by Timothy Alverson; music by John Ottman; production designer, Tom Meyer; produced by Joel Silver, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Susan Downey and Leonardo DiCaprio; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Vera Farmiga (Kate), Peter Sarsgaard (John), Isabelle Fuhrman (Esther), CCH Pounder (Sister Abigail), Jimmy Bennett (Daniel), Margo Martindale (Dr. Browning), Karel Roden (Dr. Varava), Rosemary Dunsmore (Grandma Barbara) and Aryana Engineer (Max).


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Resident Evil: Extinction (2007, Russell Mulcahy)

I wonder how Paul W.S. Anderson writes his screenplays. Does he actually write in all the references–think The Birds here, or a tanker like in The Road Warrior or even the Statue of Liberty shot out of Planet of the Apes–or do they come up later? Resident Evil: Extinction is an amalgam of, I imagine, as many films Anderson could rip from or reference to (it’s never homage) in ninety-five minutes. But, like the earlier ones and for the same basic reasons, Extinction is a success.

The prevalent reason for success is Milla Jovovich. Jovovich is barely in movies anymore, but she’s great as the action hero. Extinction adds another element–along with malicious tentacles, Anderson cribs pyrokinesis (I can’t believe I knew that “word,” since Oxford apparently does not) from Japanese anime–giving Jovovich superpowers and a burden along with them. Anderson also gives her some character stuff, hints at romantic longing, and some comedy moments towards the end. It really works out, since she can switch from a Mad Max Road Warrior impression to vulnerable instantaneously. Every time–and it’s not often since she’s in so little–I see Jovovich, I can’t help but think Woody Allen would be able to do something great with her.

The other reason Extinction works is because Anderson is–as screenwriter and producer–once again completely comfortable making schlock. It’s well-produced schlock, whatever–oh, he steals from Undead too–but it’s absolutely unpretentious. There’s no pretending. It’s just ninety-five minutes gone.

Still, Extinction is a really hurried film. It’s supposedly the last film in the series, which is silly because the setup at the end suggests the next one would be a lot of fun, and that condition hangs over the movie. Starting out where the first film started, ending where the first film started… it’s all very neat in terms of conclusions, but the pace is terrible.

For a lot of the film, Jovovich isn’t even the main character. Instead, Anderson tracks a group of survivors (The Road Warrior rejects) lead by Ali Larter, who is awful. There’s some blah acting in the movie, but Larter’s is the only performance near ruining it. Once Jovovich is the firm center, it’s almost over. Anderson also spends a lot of time with the scientists, setting up the big ending. The script feels rushed, the movie feels rushed….

As far as the other performances go, Oded Fehr is good, Mike Epps is better than last time, and Linden Ashby is wasted as a cowboy.

Russell Mulcahy does an okay job directing. The editing is particularly good, but Extinction is short on action set-pieces, but the big one is worth the wait. The musical score, amusing, borrows a lot from the Terminator theme.

The Resident Evil movies are also of note because they aren’t particularly expensive, so they use CG and special effects in ways to enable storytelling, a trend Extinction continues.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; written by Paul W.S. Anderson, based on the Capcom computer game series; director of photography, David Johnson; edited by Niven Howie; music by Charlie Clouser; production designer, Eugenio Caballero; produced by Bernd Eichinger, Samuel Hadida, Robert Kulzer, Jeremy Bolt and Anderson; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Milla Jovovich (Alice), Oded Fehr (Carlos Olivera), Ali Larter (Claire Redfield), Iain Glen (Dr. Isaacs), Ashanti (Betty), Christopher Egan (Mikey), Spencer Locke (K-Mart), Matthew Marsden (Slater), Linden Ashby (Chase), Jason O’Mara (Albert Wesker) and Mike Epps (L.J.).


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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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