Tag Archives: Paul W. S. Anderson

Challenge Week 18: Mortal Kombat

When I first announced this challenge back in December, Ken Gagne was one of the first ones to lock in his choices – but he chose a week in May rather than January. So I’ve had quite a while to consider his choices, and I’mma be honest, when Mortal Kombat the movie was one of them, I had a moment of wondering if this whole idea had been a terrible mistake! Letting other people pick movies for me? Who knows what could happen? Well, what’s happened has been wonderful, and even the movies I haven’t been looking forward to have given me a lot of pleasure.

This is a video-game based movie made probably before video-game based movies got the bad rap they have now, adapting the long-running fighting game series to the screen. I’ve never played Mortal Kombat (I’m a gamer, but fighting games aren’t my thing), so I had to look up on Wikipedia whether the story here has any relationship to the game, and apparently it does – so strange to me that a fighting game would have this amount of lore, but there you go.

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Scorecard: July-October 2012

Four months at a whack here, but really, I haven’t been watching all that much, thanks to sleeping almost all of the time and lacking the attention span for more than 30-minute TV shows when I AM awake (see why here). Interestingly, all of my “loved” films this time around are 2012 films. That’s strange and weird to me, especially since I watched a few “unassailable” classics, but I’m being honest about how I felt about them at the time I watched them. Also, there’s a preponderance of new releases anyway since going to the theatre tends to keep me awake and engaged a bit more right now than watching films at home, so I’ve watched fewer films at home than usual.

What I Loved

Cloud Atlas

I’d heard everything from “mind-blowing masterpiece” to “vapid, messy drivel” about this film coming out of TIFF, so I had no idea what to expect when I went into it. As you may have guessed, I’m far closer to the “mind-blowing masterpiece” side of the scale; in fact, as of right now, it’s sitting atop my Top 2012 Films list. I read the book a couple of months ago in preparation, and I’m sure that affected how I received the film – I didn’t actually love the book, largely because I felt like it was more of an exercise in pastiche, more interested in proving David Mitchell’s chops at imitating different styles of writing and less interested in actually making meaningful connections between the different stories. The movie still has the different styles, but less pronounced (because it’s difficult to get such things as “19th century journal” and “epistolary novel” to translate to film stylistically), and the stories are all intercut with each other, a brilliant way to strengthen and highlight the thematic tissue connecting the stories. Putting the music of the Cloud Atlas Sextet front and center lends the film a symphonic quality heightened by the editing to create something that as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which is exactly what I was missing from the book. It’s rare to say, even for a non-book-purist like me, but in this case, the movie is easily better than the book – quite a statement especially for a book that many people have long considered unfilmable. Well done.

2012 USA. Directors: Andy & Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer. Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon.
Seen October 27 at AMC Burbank 16.

The Master

I came into The Master with some trepidation, since I’m just about the only person on earth who really disliked There Will Be Blood, and I wasn’t sure if PT Anderson could get back on my good side or not. Thankfully, he did, and while I would say I only “really liked” The Master when first leaving the theatre, thinking back on it and talking about it has raised it my estimation a LOT. I might still like Magnolia (see below) a bit better of PTA’s films, but it’s close, and so far The Master is probably the best movie of the year for me. The interplay between Phoenix and Hoffman is incredible – two actors at the top of their game, playing off their very different styles (and very different characters) against each other. Amy Adams holds her own as well, which I didn’t expect. And the jittery camerawork/focus underscores the story – really, the character study – perfectly. Images, lines, contrasts, outbursts, quiet moments – they’ve all come flooding back to me without warning over the weeks since I saw the movie, and that’s what I call a sign of a great film. Great enough I might be willing to give TWBB another chance. We’ll see.

2012 USA. Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams.
Seen September 15 at Arclight Hollywood.

Argo

With Argo, Ben Affleck cements his career as a director even further, proving that while many of us have lost faith with him as an actor, when he’s behind the camera, he can do little wrong. This time he’s in front of the camera as well, which worried me a little (I didn’t see The Town, which also had him as actor-director), but he comes through in both roles. Taking a side story from the Iran Hostage Crisis of six Americans who managed to escape the embassy and hide out in the Canadian ambassador’s house, Affleck plays an extraction expert whose crazy plan to get them out involves a fake movie for which they will be the fake scouting crew in Tehran. The film’s seemingly unwieldy combination of real-life political thriller (which is highly tense and dramatic) and Hollywood show biz story (which has a good deal of comedy) comes together perfectly, while Affleck and Co’s eye for period ’70s detail puts him right up there with Soderbergh. An old-fashioned thrill ride with a great cast.

2012 USA. Director: Ben Affleck. Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Victor Garber, Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Scoot McNairy.
Seen October 13 at AMC Burbank 16.

Looper

This has been my most-anticipated film ever since I first heard about it more than a year ago, thanks to my abiding love for Rian Johnson films (I loved Brick more than The Brothers Bloom, but they’re both really good), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and time travel. I successfully avoided almost all the marketing for it, so I went in pretty cold, and I’m glad I did. The story is more about Gordon-Levitt’s character development (thanks to the incursion of his future self in the form of Bruce Willis) than time travel itself – in fact, Johnson actually wisely refrains from getting into the nitty-gritty of the time travel, which keeps the focus squarely on the characters, and I liked that. There are a few plot holes if you analyze the time travel too deeply, but I don’t think they ultimately matter in terms of the character-focused story, and the combination of character drama and action flick with just a touch of sci-fi works really well.

2012 USA. Director: Rian Johnson. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo.
Seen September 29 at AMC Burbank.

Premium Rush

Bike messenger Joseph Gordon-Levitt rides his bike around NYC at breakneck speeds, trying to deliver a life-or-death package, avoid the dirty cop trying to catch him, the real bicycle cop he pissed off, and fight a rival bike messenger for the affections of his girlfriend. And it’s pretty much non-stop adrenaline from start to finish. That’s about all you need to know. This is an old-fashioned B-level genre movie, and it hits every note right. Sure, it’s got nothing deep going on, but it doesn’t try to be any more than it is and for 85 minutes of pure fun, this kind of thing is hard to beat for me. And Michael Shannon is awesome in this kind of no-holds-barred role (he’s always awesome, but he’s all kinds of fun when he really lets loose).

2012 USA. Director: David Koepp. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, Sean Kennedy.
Seen August 8 at AMC Burbank.

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Review: Resident Evil: Afterlife

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[Rating:2.5/5]

originally posted on Row Three

It’s a little bit pointless to review Resident Evil: Afterlife, which is why I didn’t even bother seeking out the Rotten Tomatoes score or any other reviews before rushing off to see it opening night. I mean, this is the fourth Resident Evil movie, with basically the same team behind all of them, though directors have changed a few times. You pretty much know what you’re getting into when you buy a ticket for this. If you expect much more than Milla Jovovich and Ali Larter looking hot and kicking zombie ass while spouting ridiculous dialogue in a series of loosely tied together scenes, you’ll probably be disappointed. If not, enjoy it for the even sillier-than-most B movie it is.

Resident Evil: Extinction ended with classic sequel bait, with Alice (Milla Jovovich) promising to find Umbrella Corp bossman Wesker in his underground Tokyo lair and wipe him out, with the help of the army of clones Umbrella had been building to try to find a cure for the T-virus. Resident Evil: Afterlife picks up the story right there, with an all-out attack on Umbrella Tokyo. But Wesker gets away, destroying the facility behind him, and Alice (re-humanized by an injection that neutralizes the T-virus in her) sets off to find the rest of the Extinction group who had left to find Arcadia, a promised infection-free haven. Things don’t go as planned, Alice and Claire (an awesomer-than-I-expected Ali Larter, almost upstaging Milla a time or two) end up with another small group of survivors and eventually face off with Wesker again.

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It’s all pretty standard go-here-do-this, wait-do-this-other-thing-first storytelling that betrays both its video game roots and the rather unimaginative writing of Paul W.S. Anderson, but we’re not here for story. Which is good, because a lot of it is really dumb. I mean, there’s a radio transmission promising a place with no infection, where there is safety, food, and water, and it doesn’t even OCCUR to anyone in the group that this could be a trap? Not to mention all the times that things happen without explanation, motivation, or logic. (Where did the giant hammer-wielding monster come from? One can only assume an offshoot of the Nemesis project from Resident Evil: Apocalypse, but there’s no real basis within the film for that assumption.) Or all the times when they’ve been working toward one thing and then just move on to some completely different plan. But there’s a point at which such earnest silliness in storytelling ceases to matter and almost makes the film more fun. I’m not putting Resident Evil among the class of films like Plan 9 From Outer Space or Troll 2, but I will say that it makes it a lot more fun to think of it that way when you’re watching it.

I do wish the action sequences, since that’s what I was there for, had been a little more intense and extensive – there were very few sequences that felt like they had any stakes, only a couple of Alice fighting her way hand-to-hand through a zombie onslaught, and most of them had too little build-up and were over too quickly. I think part of this might have been because of the 3D, actually – the fight choreography wasn’t nearly as intricate even as in the earlier films in the series. I watched it in 2D, so I can’t vouch for the 3D, but based on 3D films I have seen, fast-moving action scenes with lots of choreography might not work as well since it’s so much harder to focus quickly. (And yes, I will quite possibly go back to see it in 3D next week sometime.)

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So yeah, it’s not a very good movie, but if you’re a fan of the series, or of Milla Jovovich, it’s not going to matter. You’re going to see it, and you’re probably going to enjoy it. If you’re not a fan of either of those things, you’re better off spending your money on many other things. If the screencaps and trailer alone are enough to get you pumped, this is a movie for you. If not, don’t bother reading my words. This is not a movie about words. Personally, I had a great time watching it, and will watch it again, but I can also pick apart what was wrong or could’ve been better about almost every scene. It’s a critical conundrum, but one I’ll live with.