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Posts Tagged ‘divine and radiant Michelle Rodriguez’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 25th July 2002:

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, if you’re a film director and your name is Paul Anderson. Paul Anderson is an auteur, responsible for my absolute favourite film of at least the last five years, Magnolia. Paul Anderson is also a derivative, unsubtle genre director who has carved out a gory niche for himself as a purveyor of deafening, blood-spattered cobblers.

Confused? Well, there’s two of them, isn’t there, and it seems that steps are now being taken to stop them sullying each other’s hard-won reputations. The reigning genius of American indie now goes under the name of PT Anderson, while on his latest offering, Resident Evil, the UK schlockmeister is billed as Paul WS Anderson. Phew, that’s that sorted out…

If only Resident Evil could be fixed so easily… This is a SF-action-horror pic based on a series of computer games (not that I’m familiar with them) and boy, it shows. It all kicks off with the escape of a virus at a top-security research centre, causing the central computer to lock all the doors and gas the trapped staff to death (thus probably disqualifying the owners from the Employer of the Year award). This is moderately well-staged, the only problem being that the audience doesn’t know who any of the characters are, making it difficult to care about them.

We then get to meet leggy supermodel Milla Jovovich, whose movie career to date has mostly been a trail of big-budget carnage, such is her unerring instinct for starring in rubbish. Milla (her character doesn’t appear to have a name) wakes up in the shower of a vast mansion with amnesia and some never-explained scars. No sooner has she slipped into a mini-dress and leather boots than the place is stormed by a bunch of lads and lasses in body armour waving automatic weapons. There’s a secret tube station under the mansion, y’see, and on the train is a guy who’s Milla’s pretend-husband who also has amnesia, and the train goes straight to the research centre from the start of the film…

Confusing? You betcha it is! It all gets explained eventually although even then it never makes much sense. It turns out Milla is some sort of secret agent who works for the corporation that runs the lab complex, and she and the guys with guns have to go in there and switch the central computer off, little realising that the computer is the one thing holding the disgruntled ex-employees (who are all now zombies) in check. Oh, and there’s this really badly animated monster in the basement that inevitably gets let out…

For all that it’s an adaptation of a video game; this is a very Paul (WS) Anderson movie. This is a bit odd as his other films have all been very derivative, his trademark style relying on pinching other people’s best bits, laying a deafening techno beat over them and indulging himself in his own uniquely sledgehammery kind of suspense cinema. This is very much Aliens meets Day of the Dead (with odd bits that are reminiscent of Anderson’s own Event Horizon), even down to the characters – Milla plays the Ripley-ish anti-corporate ballsy heroine, Colin Salmon plays the token coloured officer who might as well have ‘cannon fodder’ written across his chest, there’s a traitor, a nervous technician, etc, etc, all crayoned in great detail. The only one who transcends the by-the-numbers scripting is the delightfully sulky Michelle Rodriguez in the ‘butch hispanic gun-bunny’ role pioneered by Jenette Goldstein in Aliens.

Resident Evil has three main problems: it’s clichéd, it looks cheap and it’s very poorly scripted. I think the intention was to plunge the audience into a breathlessly kinetic roller coaster ride of a film, without wasting a lot of time on things like characterisation and background. This has the obvious drawback that without characterisation and background you’re left with a bunch of ciphers wandering around corridors, and the audience neither knows nor cares what’s going on1.

But it’s not like there aren’t some striking moments: Milla kickboxing a pack of rabid zombie Dobermans (still, of course, in her mini-dress and leather boots) has justly received a lot of attention. Well, actually, that’s the only striking moment that leaps to mind (there’s a nice bit of stuck-in-a-lift business near the start, I suppose), but most of the time I was captivated by the fact that one of the characters bore an uncanny resemblance to Brit tennis no-hoper Tim Henman. As Tim’s character’s presence in the film was not explained until very late on this brought a welcome air of mystery, not mention absurdity, to an otherwise predictable movie. Put together, Tim, Milla’s boots and Rodriguez’s sulk greased the pill enough to make this film an enjoyable piece of unintended comedy, rather than the piece of low-budget low-brain zero-script trash it by rights should have been.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 17th 2003:

As those who know me will happily confirm, there are few things I enjoy more than wriggling into my rubberised suit, breaking out the wax, and taking it to the extreme, no matter what the risk of personal injury. Or, failing that, going surfing. But, when I’m not hanging ten amidst the thunder of the briny deep, I do so also enjoy going to see surf movies (this is a lie, but I have to get the review started somehow). Unfortunately this has been a bit of a dead genre the last twenty years or so – the last surfing movie I can remember, Blue Juice, was not only set in Cornwall, but made so long ago that at the time Sean Pertwee was a bigger star than either Ewan McGregor or Catherine Zeta Jones. Ah, the good old days…

John Stockwell tries to do CPR on the corpse of the surf movie with Blue Crush, a film based on a magazine article by the noted journalist, drug addict and attempted murderer Susan Orlean (who’ll be living down the Kaufman brothers’ take on her in Adaptation. forever). It’s the story of Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth), most talented of a group of young female surfers living in Maui. Due to return to the competitive circuit following a nasty head-rock-water-lungs type accident, her life is complicated by the wilful antics of her little sister Penny (Mika Boorem), and her lousy job as a hotel maid. As if all this weren’t enough, she is distracted from her preparation for the upcoming Pipe Masters tournament by the arrival of a handsome young American footballer (Matthew Davis, one of the most boring actors to hit our screens in a long while) – much to the disgust of her sulky, snarling trainer Eden (the semi-divine entity that is Michelle Rodriguez). How complicated can one surfer-chick’s life get?

It would have been easy for Stockwell and scriptwriter Lizzy Weiss to go down the obvious route and turn out a succession of cheesecake sequences in which golden-tanned bikinied honeys effortlessly ride the waves, when not sprawled invitingly beneath the waving fronds of palm trees. Quite how they didn’t manage it I’ll never know, but let’s get over our disappointment and look at what they decided to put in their film instead of all that.

Blue Crush starts promisingly, with an unexpectedly psychedelic opening sequence, and then segues into a rather impressively naturalistic mode. It doesn’t attempt to make life as a surf-chick look like one long beach party, instead it focuses on the crappy jobs, and the expense, and the prejudice they have to put up with from the local dudes. The film doesn’t shy away from the arcane jargon of surfing, either, providing welcome verisimilitude. And, in a low-key way, this works – the contrast between the realism and the directorial flourishes Stockwell inserts, seemingly at random, gives the film some energy.

But all this goes rather by the wayside as the film proceeds and the romantic subplot between Bosworth and Davis gets going. The film seems to travel twenty years back in time, as nasty 80s-style graphic design rears its ugly head, over familiar teen-movie plot threads appear from nowhere, and Bananarama songs insidiously take over the soundtrack. The romance itself is really, really dull. Both the characters are blandly attractive but deeply uninteresting, and the personal dilemma – should I pursue this romance or go all out to surf that pipe? – is trite and predictable. It’s a pretty thin plot about pretty thin characters (played, and don’t all laugh at once, by pretty and thin actors).

The salvation of any surf movie is usually the actual sequences out on the boards. And this is to some degree true of Blue Crush as well – it is utterly impossible to stick a camera out in the middle of a cresting wave and get an unimpressive shot, the surge and thunder of the water see to that. And a lot of the surfing, particularly that done by (suspiciously butch) real-life surf-chicks playing themselves, is as graceful and awe-inspiring as one would expect. The stars of the movie do a pretty good job too, but – and I can hardly bring myself to make the allegation, so heinous is the crime – it did look to me like there was some surreptitious use of CGI going on in a lot of the shots. For shame, for shame.

I was kind of disappointed by Blue Crush for all of these reasons, but mostly because it makes very poor use of arguably its greatest asset. Surfing nonsense aside, I went to see this movie mainly because it had Michelle Rodriguez in it, an actor whose praises I have repeatedly sung in the past in this column. I had, of course, reckoned without the great racial hierarchy which commercial Hollywood movies swear by. Kate Bosworth is no great shakes as an actress, but she’s blonde and toned enough to appear in a film by Leni Riefenstahl. This ensures she gets the lead roles ahead of a less-Aryan performer like our ‘Chelle, despite the fact that Rodriguez has five times her acting ability and ten times her screen presence and charisma. Scowling, uncompromising, and actually a bit scary, Rodriguez is an electrifying performer and the one actor in this movie who makes any impression at all. With Resident Evil and this, she’s making a career out of being the best thing in turkeys – stick this girl in a lead role in a film with a decent script and a superstar will be born! (That said, she still comes out of this movie better than the African Americans it depicts, who are universally portrayed as grotesque lard-arses with squalid personal habits.)

In the end, then, Blue Crush is really a bit Hawaii So-So. It’s not without its moments, but they’re few and far between. Not an offensively bad film, but hackneyed, old-fashioned, and deeply predictable.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published December 11th 2003:

Ambivalent though I invariably am when it comes to the Richard Curtis opus (Four Weddings, Notting Hill, et al), I do feel that he gets a bit of a raw deal sometimes. His films are regularly denounced for giving an entirely romanticised and unrealistic impression of what life in southern England is actually like – as if every other piece of cinematic entertainment could be entered for the documentary section of the Academy Awards without anyone rumbling to the fact.

This is not the case. Take, for example, the depiction of Los Angeles (and, more specifically, its law enforcement personnel) that we regularly get over here in the UK. I’ve never been to LA and don’t (as far as I know) know anyone who has. I know fairly little about real-world-LA. But I know an awful lot about movie-LA and the guys who police it. They are mostly dedicated and fiery mavericks who live for the job and will do whatever it takes to get their man. The only exceptions to this are those occasional dirty cops who sully the work of all the rest and are generally slimy individuals, and anyone in a position of authority. For some reason, the only people who get promoted are very-nearly-as-slimy politicians and career-minded apparatchiks unworthy of their positions. The heroic mavericks regularly get hauled into the captains’ office to be chewed out simply for doing their jobs. We naturally feel for the mavericks in this situation even though, were our neighbourhood coppers to behave the same way (blowing quite so much up), we would quickly denounce them as dangerous maniacs. Everyone is terribly loyal to each other and spends their spare time either hosting or attending barbeques with their workmates. It is best to stay single and childless as parents or people in long-term relationships are that little bit more likely to get shot in the third act.

It’s an all-too-familiar milieu and one in which Clark Johnson’s S.W.A.T exclusively takes place. This is a karaoke medley of a film – a collection of familiar scenes and characters you’ve seen done better somewhere else, assembled with no thought or imagination. Johnson must thank his lucky stars for being given a cast charismatic enough to make the result slightly less leaden than it could have been: Colin Farrell plays Jim Street, one of those fiery mavericks I was mentioning, who gets kicked out of the LA S.W.A.T (Special Weapons And Tactics – the special weapons apparently being machine guns and the tactics to run at the enemy howling and shooting from the hip) team for being just too loyal to his nutjob partner, Samuel L Jackson plays Sergeant Hondo, the bad-ass veteran who offers him a second chance on the team (either this role was written specifically for Jackson, or he’s just not bothering to act these days – it’s a moot point either way), LL Cool J plays a cop who’s married, and – be still my racing heart – the divine Michelle Rodriguez plays a cop who’s a single parent (uh oh).

And it’s watchable, just not especially involving. I wholeheartedly agree with everyone else who’s said this is basically just a TV series pilot with a $80 million budget. The setting-up-the-team bit of the story takes forever, leaving the actual plot, which revolves around transferring evil snail-munching jackanapes Alex Montel (played by Olivier Martinez, who apparently in real life does le jiggy-jiggy with Kylie Minogue) from one prison to another, underdeveloped in the extreme. The actors do their best, but they have very little to work with, and Rodriguez doesn’t get enough screen time (but she could be in every scene and I’d probably still say that).

The only mildly interesting thing about S.W.A.T is the way that it sometimes seems to be a heavily camouflaged war movie: the characters wear stormtrooper helmets and body armour and are forever abseiling out of helicopters. The ‘lions led by donkeys’ cliché I mentioned earlier ties into this as well. The villain is French, for Pierre’s sake. Like many a war movie, it’s essentially an action fantasy of blue-collar regular guy male bonding – one potential recruit is dismissed by Jackson for being a) too polite and b) a vegetarian (Michelle is allowed in as she is a sort of honorary guy, as in most of her films, despite all appearances to the contrary). And this seems to have done the film no harm at the US box office – but it really is utterly formulaic and undemanding stuff.

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Given the scenes of devastation still daily on my TV as I write, both in Libya and Japan (a country with a very special place in my heart), part of me is inclined to dismiss Jonathan Liebesman’s enthusiastically apocalyptic Battle: Los Angeles simply on the grounds of tastelessness. But that would hardly be fair, given that film-makers can hardly be expected to predict the future. Unfortunate timing aside, this film deserves as fair a crack of the whip as any other. 

So, then. Battle: Los Angeles boldly breaks extremely well-trampled ground by being an alien invasion movie in which the military of the world must contend with a better-armed extraterrestrial foe. It has one of those slightly annoying openings which has a snippet of the action in full flow, before jumping back in time to establish how everything got to that point. (I don’t really see why this plot structure has become so popular – do directors think people are going to walk out of their movie just because it’s a slightly slow starter?)

Aaron Eckhart plays troubled USMC Staff Sergeant Nantz, who’s on the verge of quitting the forces on the grounds that a) he has personal issues to resolve and b) he’s past it. However, retirement plans are put on hold when peculiar meteorite showers landing off the shores of major cities herald the onslaught of another load of intergalactic metal gits dead set on taking possession of the Earth. (They’re after our water, hence the amphibious assault on coastal cities – although London is also apparently on the hit list. The aliens must have route-marched up the river – once again the Thames Barrier proves a massive white elephant.) Nantz finds himself under the command of an inexperienced new officer, taking a team into an enemy-held section of LA to evacuate civilians prior to a massive bombing operation. Suffice to say that not everything goes to plan.

If we’re going to make a go of this describing-films-in-terms-of-X-meets-Y business, then Battle: Los Angeles is quite clearly ‘Black Hawk Down meets Independence Day’. Fatally, however, it lacks the directorial precision of the former and the crowd-pleasing spectacle and sense of fun of the latter. It is, to be perfectly frank, really, really dull.

It’s not as if nothing happens: most of the film is the story of Nantz and his comrades battling their way to safety while trying to impede the enemy advance and keep some civilians safe. (The divine and radiant Michelle Rodriguez pops up as an Air Force techie they bump into – it’s getting to the point where I can’t think of a film where ‘Chelle doesn’t get to cut loose with a machine gun at some point. It’s not as if she doesn’t scrub up well, I have a collection of photos to prove it.) But it’s simply monotonous. Someone barks some orders. They walk down a street. Alien stuff flies overhead. Someone mutters something plot-related about the situation. Guns go off for a bit. Someone makes a heart-felt speech about their friends and family. They walk down the street. Someone barks orders. Aliens fly overhead. Repeat, for well over an hour.

This only really stops when the film pauses to do Character Stuff. This is not necessarily a good thing, as the film clearly wants to get to the alien invasion stuff in a hurry and the only character to be introduced in anything even approaching two dimensions is Nantz. Eckhart is pretty good, and seems to be trying a bit harder than the script probably deserves, but he’s still been much better in many other different films. Everyone else’s Character Stuff is just out of a trite and overfamiliar soap-opera.

The other problem is that – look, I don’t know any US Marines. They may indeed all be, as the film suggests, heroic, laudable, selfless individuals, simultaneously managing to be elite, fearless warriors and yet subtly flawed, identifiable human beings. This may be a qualification to get into the USMC; I’m not eligible and I can’t swim anyway, so I’ve never bothered to find out. However, even if this incredibly flattering depiction of them is spot-on accurate it doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting set of characters. They all look much the same (except for Eckhart and his chin) and tend to blur into each other, so identikit are they. Even Rodriguez doesn’t make much of an impression.

(The only moment when the Marines aren’t being selfless heroes comes when they happen upon a wounded alien, and – rules of war be damned! – cut it to pieces while still alive in an attempt to find any weak spots it may possess. More of this kind of morally-dubious pragmatism and fewer recruitment-ad platitudes might have made a better movie, but the USMC probably wouldn’t have been so keen to co-operate.)

And this film is almost wholly lacking in subtext. It doesn’t seem to really be about anything, except how wonderful the US military is. It’s a virtuoso piece, technically speaking, but it’s by no means the first film in this fake-verisimilitude style, most notably being beaten out of the traps by the somewhat-similarly-themed Skyline last Autumn.

The makers of Battle: Los Angeles and Skyline are, thrillingly, engaged in a court case claiming that the latter film ripped off material from the first. I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much if I suggest that this behind-the-scenes stuff is probably the most interesting thing about Battle: Los Angeles. (For the record, Skyline is eerily similar in some ways – and while it’s ultimately disappointing and almost wholly absurd, it’s still a more interesting movie than Battle: Los Angeles.)

Of course, I am frequently wrong about these things, and even though I think it’s a crashingly tedious and rather predictable film wasting the talents of two fine actors, Battle: Los Angeles may well go on to be a big hit. In which case no doubt a franchise will result in which our valiant human heroes will engage the alien menace in a variety of water-rich locations. Battle: Leamington Spa, anyone?

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