Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: Resident Evil: Retribution

I’m gonna shoot straight with you Cellmates, I’m not the biggest Resident Evil fan.  I haven’t been much of a gamer since my mid 90’s N64 days, and I never played anything past Resident Evil 2, so I don’t have that connection to the franchise that the long time players do.  I do remember being less than blown away by the first two film installments though.  They proved that a plot could somehow be incredibly thin and ridiculously convoluted simultaneously.  They had running zombies, which have always rubbed me the wrong way.  They featured everything I loathe about the way action sequences are shot these days.  While I didn’t hate those two flicks necessarily, I didn’t bother going to see Armageddon.
Then, when I went to see Afterlife, something weird happened.  I loved it! The series had completely dropped any pretense of being horror and gone balls to the wall into “Big Dumb Action Flick” territory.  I’ll be damned if it didn’t work a whole lot better that way.  That flick looked fantastic.  I’m not a huge proponent of 3D, but Afterlife has some of the best 3D action sequences I’ve ever seen.  It also maintained enough of a story to link those action scenes together.  So, when EC3 Daniel asked me if I wanted to go to the 3D IMAX midnight premiere of Resident Evil: Retribution, I was expecting another passable movie with badass visuals.  Unfortunately, what I got was a few badass visuals stuck into some of the most blatant filmmaking laziness I’ve ever seen.  I’m gonna go ahead and warn you now folks, this review is gonna have some spoilers.  That shouldn’t be a problem though, because no one in their right mind goes to a RE flick for the story, right?
I don’t remember exactly how the movie opened to tell you the truth.  I know that Milla Jovovich, fills us in on the story thus far.  Yes, it’s her floating head actually talking to the camera.  I halfway expected that “TV Guy” voice to chime in with “Previously on Resident Evil...” We also pick up right where we left off in Afterlife, with the battle scene on the ship being shown backwards in slow motion.  I honestly don’t remember which happened first.  That’s now mind-numb this flick left me.  Anyway, they then show the battle again, only forward at normal speed.  Not only was that completely unnecessary, but it drove home exactly what is right and wrong with 3D action flicks, and some sad truths about the current Hollywood product in general.  When the scene was shown in backwards slow-mo, it was brilliant.  Seriously, I was sporting cinephile wood.  Some of the shots were beautifully constructed to take full advantage of the depth of field allowed when you actually shoot in 3D.  Slowed down, you got a chance to enjoy these shots.  It was a visually interesting way of telling the story of the scene to have it unfold backwards.  It was different.  Different is good.  I’ll repeat that for the benefit of the major studios; different is good!  I was excited for the rest of the flick after seeing this scene.  Then my hopes, and my wood for that matter, deflated.  First of all, there was no reason to show the same scene again.  I just watched it.  It stopped the momentum of the flick cold.  To me, it smacks of the filmmakers and studio assuming that the audience wouldn’t be able to figure out what had just happened backwards.  Come on guys, give us a little credit.  If you require the audience to think a little, then everything doesn’t have to be so damn basic all the time.  What a concept!  Second of all, the effect of the 3D was completely nullified by the camera movement and editing being so damn fast that you missed all of the detail.  Slow the hell down for a second and let the audience take in all of the work you put into it.  Backwards, it was outstanding.  Forwards, it was just another scene to be forgotten as soon as the next one began.
Oh, one more thing about that boat battle scene; where in the green hell are Claire and Chris?  When we left them at the end of Afterlife, they were standing with Alice on the deck of the Arcadia watching the helicopters approach.  Now, when we pick up with the helicopters arriving, they’re nowhere to be found.  At no point in this flick do they even bother to try to explain where they went either.  They just vanished.  That’s lazy writing.  If those actors don’t wanna come back for this one, which would be understandable if they read the script, at least find a way to write them off instead of just pretending like they never existed.  Come up with something.  I was looking forward to some Ali Larter in this flick too.  She’s real purty.
After all of that we see Alice waking up in suburbia.  Apparently she now has a husband and child.  Um, ok.  For the next few minutes Alice, Rain (Michelle Rodriguez), and the little girl, Becky, run from the zombies.  This was a pretty good zombie sequence.  Yes, it had running undead, but I can forgive that.  It reminded me of the first few minutes of the Dawn of the Dead remake.  Good stuff.  Then, Alice wakes up in an Umbrella Corp Facility.
Ok, hold on a sec.  Is Milla Jovovich is going for some kind of record for the whole “waking up nearly naked not knowing where she is” thing? Is it in her contract that she has to do this at least once in every movie?  How many times can one woman wake up wearing next to nothing with that “I have no idea where I am or how I got here” look?  I mean, I used to do that sometimes, but who didn’t in their college years?  She does it in almost every movie she’s in!  Doesn’t that call for an intervention or something?   How’s that for something to be known for?  We need a chick to wake up wearing a napkin and some string looking confused as hell for this flick.  Why don’t we call up Milla?  No one pulls off the combination of blackout, sideboob, and amnesia like her!
Anyway, someone helps her escape, and through the most awkward and contrived exposition humanly possible, she discovers that she is in an underwater facility.  We then see the map of all of the levels she has to beat to get to the end.  Yes, I know that this is a movie based on a video game, but that doesn’t mean that the story of the movie has to be constructed like one.  Seriously, the rest of the movie consists of advancing through the levels, complete with boss fights.  There are a couple of cool enemies though, like communist zombies (Combies?) that look suspiciously like the Nazi zombies in Dead Snow and a gigantic Licker.   Mmmmmmm, gigantic liquor…
The problem is that we aren’t seeing anything innovative or different.  It’s just “more of the same.”  How many shootouts can we see where all of the bad guys, who really ought to turn aim-assist back on, shoot thousands of rounds without hitting a damn thing while the good guys have a “one shot, one kill” ratio?  How many times are we gonna rehash the Matrix “bullet time” gimmick?  They use it about 10 times in this flick.  That “slow down the punch until right before the moment of impact, then speed it way up” crap is played out.  I’ve also had enough of that “x-ray view of the punch landing and the bone breaking” crap.  Hell, Sherlock Holmes did it better than it’s done here.  Milla is the undisputed queen of green screen wire fighting, but that “back-flip kick while shooting something “ trick is only cool so many times.  All of the action just feels like a pedestrian retread of clich├ęs that have been done better elsewhere.  There’s a scene with two of the giant executioners on a city street that’s nowhere near as good as the scene from the last film with one in a bathroom.  It’s not good when a franchise that relies solely on its cool action doesn’t deliver in that category.  Some of it is undeniably cool looking, but nothing is fresh or really engaging.
If you’re going to fall down in the action category, you’ve at least gotta have good acting and story, right?  Not in the least.  The plot is non-existent even by Resident Evil standards.  Retribution seems more like the product of someone having to quickly come up with a way to get from the end of Afterlife to the beginning of Resident Evil 6 than a movie with a story of its own.  The acting is awful.  Milla, who actually gets more gorgeous the older she gets (how does that work?), seems bored here.  You can tell Michelle Rodiguez (also sexy as hell) has some fun playing different versions of the Rain character, but everything is so badly written that she can’t do much with it.  The dialog is especially bad.  I can’t really blame the cast for taking one look at the script and deciding to half-ass it. It’s like Paul Anderson filmed a dress rehearsal when everyone was going through the motions at half energy and decided “Eh, good enough.  We’ll just add some CGI and use that.”  Whoever that blond playing Jill was, she should never shoot a gun in a film.  That weird gunslinger hip pose/dance thing she was doing looked just plain stupid. 
The only person who put in a really good performance was 11-year-old Aryana Engineer as Newt, er, I mean Becky.  You might remember her as the younger sister from Orphan.  She’s awesome.  Her character, however, was just that old “adding a kid for the hero to take care of counts as character development, right?” chestnut.  With only minutes left to go until the whole place blows up, Alice has to go free Becky, who may not be her child but she feels responsible for her dammit, from the weird pod that the huge monster has   encased her in.  Hmmm, where have I heard this one before?  I guess if you’re gonna lift a story whole cloth for your heroine, you could do much worse than stealing from Aliens.
RANDOM THOUGHT #1:  The flick ended with one last kick in the nuts; dubstep over the closing credits.  Jebus jumping Christmas shit, I HATE DUBSTEP!
 RANDOM THOUGHT #2:  Why is this movie called “Retribution?”  No one gets retribution for anything.  Retribution isn’t even a major part of the plot. 
RANDOM THOUGHT #3:  The rule about not wearing a band’s shirt to their concert to avoid being “That Guy” applies to movies too.  Yes, dude in the Umbrella Corp. shirt, I’m talking to you. 
Colleen, a Netherspawn that I ran into at the theater, called Resident Evil: Retribution “action porn.”  As much as I’m hesitant to use that expression due to my hatred for the term “torture porn,” I can see what she means.  You’re not there for the quality acting or story; you’re just there to get off on the visuals.  To extend the porn analogy though, if the stars were still hot but the sex was lacking, then it wouldn’t wow you enough to ignore the other, more expected shortcomings.  I realize that I sound like I’m expecting too much from this kind of flick.  I’m really not.  I don’t have a problem with style over substance sometimes.  These kinds of flicks all sizzle and no steak, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  If you’re gonna do that though, you better have some killer sizzle, not just stuff we’ve seen done before and better…in THIS franchise no less.  Basically, it’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.  Wow, I just quoted Shakespeare in a review for a Resident Evil flick.  I better wrap this up before I sound any more pretentious.  One half severed thumb up.  If you get a chance to see it in 3D IMAX, there’s enough cool stuff going on visually for Nathan to say check it out.  Otherwise, don’t bother.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: The Collective Vol. 4

First of all, I have to apologize to Jason Hoover and JABB pictures for taking so long to get this review done. Life gets in the way sometimes…
The Collective is back, and this time they’re getting in touch with their emotions. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean we’re going the Lifetime/Hallmark route. No, what we’ve got here is an exploration of the darker side of the emotional spectrum. For those of you who are new to the Collective series (you can read my reviews of Vol. 1,2, and 3 HERE, HERE, and HERE), I’ll explain the format. 10 different filmmakers are given a central theme. They then each produce a 10-minute (approx) short film giving their take on the concept. This one is a little different. Instead of having one central idea, like “10 Minutes to Live” or an object like “The Box” that everyone had to incorporate, JABB left the concept more open. Each film focuses on a different emotion. So, how did Vol. 4 stack up against the first three installments? Let’s break ‘em down one by one, shall we?
1. Untitled – JABB Pictures
Emotion: Grief
This was a killer way to start the show. A couple finds themselves in a dimly lit basement; tied to chairs and being menaced by two men hell bent on vengeance…but for what? The unique thing about this short is that it was filmed in one continuous take, and consists of one continuous circular dolly shot. The use of shadow is perfect. It obscures the physical violence at times, leaving the screams to tell the story. The only issue is that the villains are sometimes hard to understand, but it doesn’t really hurt the overall effect. There was one little detail that I absolutely loved. **SPOILER ALERT** One of the things that people often don’t handle well in movies is strangulation. It drives me nuts. They make it too quick. It takes a while to strangle someone. Here, when one of the characters is strangled, they keep gasping for air for a good long time after the initial struggle. It was the best strangulation I’ve seen in ages. **END SPOILER ALERT** JABB comes through as usual.
2. Contrition – 3 O’Clock Productions
Emotion: Regret
A scientist must fight for her family when an experiment goes awry. This entry was about as technically sound as it gets. It looks great. The acting was on point. The only thing I can call it on technically is a nitpick; when someone says “You son of a…” they should be cut off, not just stop talking. It was extremely well directed, but I wish it had been a little more visceral, or a little more suspenseful, or a little more…well, anything. As Leah put it, it needed “more umph.” There is a lot of well-done dialog, but the action needed to hit a little harder to balance it. I did enjoy the little nod to Psycho at the end though. Not bad by any means, just a little flat. It was written and directed by Jim Dougherty, who I met at Days of the Dead Atlanta. He gave me a copy of Leach, a movie that he starred in that I really dug. It’s a small world after all.
3. Flash of Wire – Winged Dolphin Pictures
Emotion: Schadenfreude
Yeah, I had to look it up too. Apparently Schadenfreude means “pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.” It would have been nice of them to explain that. If they didn’t want you to know during the movie, at least put it in the credits. Anyway, this one is all about a man who goes to his friendly local Hypnotist/Dream Interpreter/Taxidermist to discuss his recurring nightmares. I love the look of this one. The dream sequences were shot in Naxos, Greece, and the exotic locale lends a lot to the atmosphere of these scenes. Our main actor gives a very unnatural and awkward performance. I’m gonna go ahead and assume that was an artistic choice and not just bad acting. Dr. Thanatopolis is a brilliant character. I would love to see more of him. In fact, just like the DJ in Vol. 1, the good doctor would be perfect as the wraparound story of an anthology. Another winner.
4. Epidemic – Dustin Mills Productions
Emotion: Trust
Is trust really an emotion? Whatever, I’m not gonna get technical about it. Bring on some body horror! Poor Brandon. It seems he’s got that virus that’s going around. You know, the one that makes you puke blood and your skin to meltoff. The voice on the phone is telling him that help is on the way, and he can trust them…right? This one was a lot of fun. Much of the credit goes to Brandon Salkil as, um, Brandon. He’s the only person onscreen for most of the proceedings, and if his performance had been subpar, it would have sunk the whole affair. Luckily, he kills it. He manages to be both sympathetic and comedic. The gross-out physical effects are excellent. I know in the past I’ve gotten on some of the Collective entries for poor sound editing, but this was the exact opposite. The sound was used for dramatic effect better than I see in most major motion pictures. This one was funny, splatterific, and unsettling all at the same time.
5. Death Do Us Part – Liberty or Death Productions
Emotion: Lust
Ok, just for the record, lust is NOT an emotion. But, if I’ll let trust slide, I guess lust can too. Anyway, in Death Do Us Part we follow a paranormal investigator as she ventures alone into a house inhabited by the horny spirit of a groom who lost his bride on their wedding night. Normally, ghost stories are not my thing at all, but this managed to keep my interest. I think using the sepia filter as a way to distinguish between the “real world” and “spirit world” was a great idea. It gave it that “old photograph” feel. Plus, we got our first boobs in a Collective flick, and that’s always a good thing. I didn’t hate a “ghost hunter” movie, and that’s saying something.
6. Myctophobia – Freakwolf Productions
Emotion: Fear
A woman with Myctophobia (fear of the dark) is left home alone when her husband goes away on a business trip. What’s the worst that can happen? This one feels a lot like an EC comics story, which is a template that works phenomenally for short films. A good central performance by Kitsie Duncan anchors the whole thing. It was so good that it almost made me forgive those “why the hell is the camera wobbling for no reason” shots that I hate so much. Almost. There’s a very well done false scare, and the CGI that is used is kept simple, so it is actually effective. The climax takes the film in a completely unexpected direction that I didn’t see coming at all. I like it when a movie can surprise me.
7. Luke 1:71: A Story of Hate – Red Panic Button Films
Emotion: Hate
“That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us.” – Luke 1:71. The boy wonder, Dakota Meyer, is back with his best work yet. We follow a day in the life of Luke, a young man who hates everything and everyone. This is less a narrative than it is a portrait of a character, and it is outstanding. The use of the soundtrack, the locations, the editing, Ben Peck’s powerful performance, and even the way the credits are written all come together perfectly into a true tour de force piece of filmmaking. It doesn’t fit into the horror genre per se’. The horror comes from the fact that we have all known a Luke, and perhaps been a Luke, at some point in our lives. At only 14, Meyer has created the most potent look at the raw nihilism of youth since Kids. Hell, maybe since Romper Stomper. I had professors in film school that would cream their corduroys over this one.
8. Untitled. No, that’s not the title, I mean there’s no title. Now I’m getting confused. You know what I’m saying, right? – Spiral Filmworks
Emotion: Denial
As usual, Spiral Filmworks (aka Jason Hoover) gives us the most unconventional film of the bunch. In this one we are treated to haunting images of a once idyllic looking but now very much abandoned small town as a narrator recounts the tale of a series of grisly murders that occurred there. I’ve said for years that oral storytelling is becoming a lost art, but this was a great example of how it can be done right. The scenery gives the tale that extra little bit of kick to make it really work. A cool change of pace.
9. Another one with no title…kinda – Over Analyzed Productions
Emotion: Envy
There was a moment during this one where it dawned on me that I had a notebook in hand and was jotting down notes for a review of a film by a company called Over Analyzed productions. I suddenly felt like a parody of myself. Well-played guys. Anyway, a whore’s geeky roommate gets way more than she bargained for when she decides to try her hand as a call girl. They set up the characters quickly, simply, and effectively. The tension builds to a complete change of tone at the climax. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it gets wacky. There are some fun moments, along with some truly horrible CGI. I mean HORRIBLE. As it ended, I looked over at Leah and said “That would have been a great start to a longer movie.” Then, low and behold…
10. Bloody Hooker Bang Bang: A Love Story – Cinephreak Productions
Emotion: Rage
…the story continues! Now we follow our heroines of ill repute and their pimp as they fight for their lives. This is one of those over the top “grindhouse” style parodies, and it’s a blast. Unbelievably awesome lines, some hilarious gags, ridiculous characters, and nearly non-stop action are the order of the day. The god-awful CGI continues, along with some pointless shaky-cam, but I was too busy laughing to get mad at these usual deal breakers. I really wish someone would give these guys the budget to make a feature length version of Bloody Hooker Bang Bang. This was damn good. With more time to build the story and some decent practical effects, this could be something great.
Great Moments In Dialog Continuity: Geek tells whore “You left your phone, I answered…” when explaining how she got into her situation. The phone that she answered was a big ass, old school rotary phone. Of course she left it. It’s a landline. Duh.
Overall, Volume 4 is probably the most consistently high quality of all of the Collective presentations to date. The filmmaking is as solid as you’re ever gonna find in an indie shorts collection. At its weakest it’s good. At its best it’s brilliant. I do have one issue however. This is probably my least favorite theme thus far. It’s too broad. A lot of the fun of the first three Collectives was seeing how each group of filmmakers interpreted one statement or object. Here, they each have a different emotion to tackle. The fact that there’s such a wide array of choices means that the unifying factor doesn’t really shine through. While this is definitely my favorite Collective so far, I would like to see them return to a tighter, more cohesive theme in the future.
If you want a good look at the kind of killer work the current crop of indie horror filmmakers have to offer, look no further than The Collective Vol. 4. From gore to grindhouse to ghosts; this collection has something to scratch everyone’s particular macabre itch. I had my doubts as to whether they could maintain the momentum of the first three, and JABB did so with flying colors…particularly red. Vol. 5 is close on the horizon, and I couldn’t be more excited. Two severed thumbs up. Nathan says check it out.

Friday, September 7, 2012

RIP Joe Roberts, aka Where I've Been For The Last Month

Hey there Cellmates. Yes, I’m still in the land of the living, and yes, SOC is getting back in gear. As I’m sure you noticed, I haven’t been around a lot lately. In fact, this is my first post in a month. Some of you know where I’ve been during my hiatus, and I’m sure some of you just think I’ve been being lazy, so I’m just gonna lay it all out there and let you know what’s been going down. I warn you, some heavy shit has been happening, and it’s gonna get personal and probably a little emotional, but that’s just how it goes.

This is Joe Roberts. Some off you knew him personally. Some of you just knew him through his involvement in SOC. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (or checked out the archives), you’ll remember EC3. Joe, Daniel, and I did group reviews of The Vomit Gore Trilogy, Subconscious Cruelty, and Anthropophagus. Unfortunately, it’s been tough to get all 3 of our schedules together lately, so we haven’t done an EC3 in what feels like forever. Joe was a major part of the inner circle of SOC. He was one of the people who encouraged me to start the blog. Actually, he always told me I was a f**king idiot for not starting one sooner. His nocturnal hours and acerbic wit made him the perfect late night screener-watching partner. Close to half of the movies I’ve reviewed on this site I watched with him.

He wasn’t just a part of this project though. I considered him my little brother. We met when I was a junior in high school and he was a freshman. Over the years we watched countless movies together, were in bands together, did a lot of stupid shit together, grew up and learned about life together, competed over who could build the coolest collection of bizarre artifacts and horror/Halloween memorabilia, helped each other through dark times, laughed about the past and talked about the future, went on road trips together, and generally were closer than most blood kin. He was probably the one person I could most freely share my thoughts and feelings with. Most of the best times I’ve ever had somehow involved him. Six years ago, when I lost my actual blood little brother to a drug overdose, I started to think of him even more in that role.

Well, for close to a year he’s been struggling with a lot of medical issues. I’m not gonna go into a lot of details. Suffice it to say, he was in rough shape. He’s been in and out of the hospital, seen god knows how many doctors, and was in a lot of pain. Watching him deteriorate over the past year has been a very sad experience, but he kept it lighthearted most of the time. There was this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I might be watching one of my best friends dying, but I always pushed that to the side. There were still treatments to try and tests to run; and for a while it actually looked like he was making progress towards getting better. Then, at the beginning of August, his parents found him unresponsive in his chair. They took him to Emory, which is the best hospital in the Southeast. There they basically told him that his liver and kidneys had shut down and that there was nothing they could do. He opted to return home and die there.
I’ll spare you the play by play of his final 2 weeks. I stayed there with him, both because the nurses needed the extra muscle (due to his extreme adema, he was hard to move around) and because I promised him that I would stay with him ‘til the end. A handful of his other friends were also there a much as humanly possible. The Pack is an amazing group of people. It was a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching time. Without going into specifics, things were very complicated. There were quite a few moments when each of us broke down, but there were also some powerful, very deeply moving moments. It was kinda profound in a way. Watching Joe go through the phases, watching The Pack gather around him, and seeing how each person dealt with it in a different way showed me a lot of things about the human spirit and condition. He had always said that he wanted me to conduct his funeral, but we never actually thought of that as a reality. He still maintained that I was to do it at the end, though, so I did. That sucked. Hell, the whole experience sucked. Bad.

So that’s where I’ve been for the last little while. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy, and there’s nothing I want more in this world right now than to have Joe back, but life has to go on. Joe was always a huge believer in the fact that I could make this blog and (in the bigger picture) my writing/editing career a success. The best way I can think of to honor his memory is to keep on keeping on and make Son of Celluloid everything it can be. I’ll be honest with you folks, my head is still pretty discombobulated. I love that word. Anyway, at the moment it’s hard to wrap my mind around a flick and concentrate enough to write, so getting started again might be a bit of a slow process. Just know that I’m gonna work through it, we’re gonna get back to what we do ‘round these parts, and I’ve got some big plans for the next few months. I’ve especially got something cool in the works for October.

One bright spot in all of this is the discovery that I still have all of the recordings from EC3. 12 hours of Joe, Daniel, and I bullshitting about gore flicks and giving them the MST3K treatment. There is even a Human Centipede 2 edition that was never published. I’ll get that written up as soon as I can handle listening to it. I can’t do it yet. I was also hanging on to a flick called Philosophy of a Knife to be the next edition. If and when I will do that one remains to be seen. The future of the series is up in the air. Daniel and I will decide what to do eventually.

I want to take a minute to thank all of you who posted on the Facebook page, messaged and emailed me, and sent well wishes and support. You guys have no idea how much that means to me. I’ve said it before, but I’ve never meant it more; the Cellmates are the greatest group of readers a writer could ask for. I’m sorry if this whole thing was too maudlin and sentimental, but it’s a long road back to normalcy. Life will go on, horror will go on, and dammit, Son of Celluloid will go on. Joe, buddy, you’re forever gonna be my inspiration to keep this SOC thing going. I love you bitch. I’ll see you on the other side.

Bear with me folks, Son of Celluloid is on the way back…

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