Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Paul Anderson (knuckledragging version)’

It’s that special time of the year when people all over the world settle down into their seats, help themselves to a handful of popcorn, and relax in anticipation of the latest movie to star the one and only Jason Statham. Regular readers will be fully aware of the genuine pleasure I derive from watching Mr S do his thing once or twice a year.

Which is why one of the banes of my life is the fact that the people in charge of booking films at the city centre multiplexes in my town more often than not flatly refuse to show Statham movies at all, at least not ones where he isn’t propping up some past-it action derelict or in some other way sharing the screen. Are Mr Statham’s vowels just not up to scratch for Oxford cinemas? Are straightforward action movies just not good enough for the bookers round here? It makes me want to bellow and run amuck behind the popcorn counter. Still, one must face facts and accept that I am simply unable to bring you a review of Mechanic: Resurrection this week.

So, to hell with it, this week I will be reviewing Death Race, a Jason Statham movie from 2008, not because it is any good or because he is particularly effective in it, but just because I want to review a Statham movie and I’m not going to let the prejudices of film-bookers against a certain kind of film get in my way. Yup, I’m not afraid to stand up and be counted when it comes to a matter of principle.

Anyway, Death Race sees Mr S teaming up with the king of boneheaded action cliches, Paul WS Anderson, in a remake of the classic 1975 film Death Race 2000. Well, sort of a remake, inasmuch as some of the characters have the same names and it features cars. The rest is…

deathrace

Well, the first dip into the Big Book of Cliches comes when we get a set of opening captions describing how the US economy imploded in 2012 (slightly ironic given this movie came out near the height of the financial crisis), all prisons were privatised, and gladiatorial combat between convicts became popular mass entertainment – especially Death Race, which involves putting dangerous inmates into heavily armed and armoured high-performance vehicles and letting them battle all the way to the finish line, or to death, whichever comes first.

As is fairly common with a 21st century Paul WS Anderson movie, you are instantly struck with an urgent sense of how utterly implausible all of this is, and how cobbled-together the premise feels. However, things progress and we meet good-guy steelworker Jensen Ames (Mr Statham), whose place of employment is being shut down, leading to a bit of industrial relations tension. This really has nothing to do with the plot, but does allow Mr S to do his ‘I’m incredibly angry and about to go nuts with a big stick’ face while grappling with several cops.

Slightly more relevant to the plot is the brutal murder of Mr S’s lovely wife, for which he is framed and sent to a maximum security prison, run by icy warden Joan Allen. Allen supervises the Death Race events, and she has a proposition for our man: top driver Frankenstein died after the last race, secretly, and she needs someone to carry on the persona and keep the ratings up. If Mr Statham agrees to pretend to be Frankenstein, he will be let out of prison and given custody of his baby daughter should he survive the race. (It transpires that, as well as being a devoted family man and good-guy steelworker, Mr Statham has also got stints as a prison hard man and top racing driver on his CV. Now that’s what I call an eclectic employment history.)

Naturally he agrees, and we are introduced to various other characters, including Frankenstein’s chief mechanic (Ian McShane), his hot navigator (Natalie Martinez) – yes, inmates from the womens’ prison up the road are the navigators, and like female convicts everywhere they all look like supermodels – and his deadly rival Machine Gun Joe (Tyrese Gibson). But Mr S is a smart cookie and realises just how lucky the warden is that a man of his special talents should arrive in the prison just at the moment. Could Allen know more about the conspiracy to murder Mr S’s wife than she’s letting on…?

I originally came across the existence of Death Race during the trailers preceding Wanted, when my considered opinion was that it looked like one of the greatest films ever made (I was perhaps somewhat influenced by the knowledge I would not be getting to see it at the cinema). Now, of course, I realise that it is not one of the greatest films ever made. It is not even the best film called Death Race ever made. It is trashy junk, or perhaps junky trash.

It does look good as a trailer, though. All of Paul WS Anderson’s films look pretty good in the trailer, it’s just when it comes to fleshing the trailer out to 90 minutes or more that things tend to get a bit problematical. So it is with Death Race: all of Anderson’s thought seems to have gone into the various action sequences and tableaux of automotive mayhem, and everything else is just dealt with on the most hackneyed, perfunctory level. There’s a trope referred to as ‘fridging’, which basically refers to introducing a female character solely to kill her off and provide the male protagonist with some motivation to avenge her death (so named due to the moment in an issue of Green Lantern when the hero came home to find his girlfriend’s corpse in the refrigerator), and the way in which Statham’s character is introduced in this film is fridging of the most blatant kind – it’s nothing more than connect the dots plotting, with his wife nothing more than some kind of adjunct.

Not that the rest of the film exactly distinguishes itself when it comes to its gender politics. There is perhaps a flicker of self-awareness when someone admits that the only reason the female navigators are included is to keep the audience interested, but the rest of the time… well, every time most of the women characters make an entrance the soundtrack starts playing a song with the lyric (I paraphrase) ‘Look at me, I’m so incredibly sexy’.

There are times when Death Race kind of resembles a messed-up version of one of the Fast and Furious films – it was made at the point at which that franchise seemed to have terminally lost its way, between F&F 3 and 4 – but watching it really does remind you of what makes that franchise a little bit distinctive. Those films may be occasionally dumb and superficial, but they’re not utterly hopeless when it comes to gender politics, nor are they casually murderous. (There’s a – hmm – running joke about the sexual orientation of Gibson’s character that probably wouldn’t be given house-room in a F&F movie, either.)

In fact, the big mystery about this film is just how it managed to snag a serious actress like Joan Allen to appear in it (stranger things have happened, I suppose: Imelda Staunton once did a Steven Seagal film). A fairly pre-fame Jason Clarke appears as a sadistic prison guard, too. Allen was fairly fresh from the Bourne movies at the time, which may have something to do with it, and it is entirely possibly she was expecting something a little less knuckle-dragging, given the Death Race name.

The 1975 version of Death Race is… well, it’s not high art, by any means, but it has a kind of crazy energy and unhinged intelligence about it. It is ridiculous and absurd, but that’s kind of the point and it allows the film to engage in all kinds of OTT satire about American culture and society. The new Death Race is equally ridiculous and absurd, but it’s only interested in hollow carnage and prison movie cliches. Not a highlight of Jason Statham’s career, by any means – he has done many better films since, and I’m sure Mechanic: Resurrection has much more to offer the discerning viewer. But unfortunately I can’t be sure.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Normally, I like to eat healthily, as befits a man of my age and lifestyle – but that doesn’t mean that once in a while I don’t get a craving for a fat-saturated nastyburger with shrapnel fries washed down by a tooth-dissolving carbonated beverage. And once in a while I indulge this craving, because, you know, it is only once in a while. The same applies in other areas of my life as well.

Looking back it did occur to me that there’d been a preponderance of quite serious and/or worthy new releases discussed here or hereabouts of late (that’s certainly how it’s felt) and that it might very well be time for a jolly good old-fashioned piece of check-your-brain-at-the-door escapist entertainment. With this in mind, like a lamb to the slaughter I trotted along to see The Three Musketeers, directed by Paul W.S Anderson – had this film been shown solely in the stereoscopic format, they could’ve called it The 3-D Musketeers. But it isn’t (thankfully) so they can’t.

The original novel is, of course, a classic of swashbuckling high adventure, written by the renowned author Alexandre Dumas. But you know, all Dumas ever did was write books, which hardly puts him in the same league as the creative genius who (let us not forget) both wrote and directed Resident Evil, Alien Vs Predator and Death Race. Paul W.S. Anderson has cast his eye of wisdom over the original text and spotted those areas in which Dumas’ writing was sadly deficient: most notably air-to-air combat, flamethrowers, and women in basques doing somersaults.

From the very beginning of the film, when lead musketeer Athos (Matthew Macfadyen) emerges from a Venetian canal rather like a ninja with an aqualung, it becomes clear that Anderson is making a few little tweaks and amendments to the story you may think you know. Well, actually, he just takes a massive dump on the original plot of the book.

Bits you may recognise do occasionally struggle to the surface – eventually we meet young adventurer D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman), who’s off to Paris to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Musketeer, with said parent’s blessing and a special gift: ‘The weapon of a musketeer!’ marvels D’Artagnan as he gazes upon it. Unfortunately, the gift in question is a sword, which to me just suggests that either he or Anderson hasn’t thought the whole ‘musketeer’ concept through properly.

Even the bits which survive get mightily slapped about – the chunk of plot wherein our hero meets the titular trio by inadvertantly challenging them all to duels makes it in, but his pretext for fighting Aramis (Luke Evans) is basically that the musketeer has given his horse a parking ticket. By this point my jaw was beginning to sag open somewhat.

However, the arrival in Paris of nasty Englishman the Duke of Buckingham (Landy Bloom), by airship, really marked the spot at which my higher functions began to flatline. Any resemblence to any previous version of this story, from this point on, is marginal and quite possibly a coincidence. Okay, deep breath: Evil old so-and-so Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) wants to seize power in France (he basically runs the place already so it’s unclear why he’s bothered) and to do so he wants to foment war with England, by framing Buckingham and the French Queen for an inappropriate liaison (which has not actually taken place). This involves planting some of her jewellry in the Tower of London.

To stop the war (the ‘coming apocalypse’ according to a very silly voice-over) someone has to get the jewels back, and in the frame for this are D’Artagnan and his friends. Well, you may be thinking, none of this sounds too different. Oh, my friends! Do not be fooled! I promise you that Anderson’s interest in the plot of the book pales in comparison to his interest in airships.

Despite the idea of a gasbag-slung galleon being a self-evidently moronic one, this movie is full of them: the musketeers attack the Tower of London in one, there’s a mid-air battle between them, and towards the end one crashes into Notre Dame cathedral. The sensation of watching all this is rather as if the movie pins you back in your seat and beats you about the head with its own stupidity.

It is technically proficient but mindless in almost every way and horribly written and acted, with no attempt to make you believe this is any kind of seventeenth century. ‘Your outfit’s very retro,’ the Prime Minister of England tells the King of France. And the acting is like a compendium of woodenness from practically the entire cast. Logan Lerman plays the hero like an irritating jock, but nearly everyone else is just as bad. Special notice must be given to James Corden as the servant Planchet, a comic relief turn with all the actual comedy value of a bombed orphanage. I can’t really comprehend how anyone can be quite as unfunny as Corden is in this film. Every line falls flat, every gesture and expression is overdone to the point of mugging. I am shuddering even as I sit here and type.

That said – and this is the faintest of faint praise – Ray Stevenson is not too bad as Porthos, and Mads Mikkelson is reasonably effective as Rochefort. Nick Powell’s fencing choreography (though not up to William Hobbs’ standards) is perfectly acceptable too, when not obliterated by Anderson’s camera movement.

Ah, Paul W.S. Anderson (the slightly unwieldy name is to avoid confusion with – don’t laugh – the director of Magnolia and There Will Be Blood). I must confess that, while I didn’t think it was perfect, I did enjoy Anderson’s Event Horizon back in 1997 and thought the guy had potential. And yet every film of his I’ve seen since has, broadly speaking, been worse than the one before. His scripts are lacking in wit, originality, and atmosphere, and as a director he seems incapable of getting a good performance out of anyone, let alone people like Milla Jovovich (whose status as Mrs Anderson must explain why he keeps employing her) and Landy Bloom.

Ah, Landy Bloom. Back on the big screen again after what feels like quite a long break. Was it really worth coming back for this, Landy? Not content with giving yet another performance you could quite easily chop up and use to keep the fire going on a long winter night, Landy chooses to do it in one of the most startling hairstyles ever committed to posterity. A striking combination of goatee, quiff, and mullet, Landy resembles a minor rockabilly star in fancy dress. I can only imagine what it looks like in 3D.

Ah, 3D. As you may have gathered, my general policy is to avoid 3D whenever possible, so I can’t really comment on how it works in this movie’s case. It does show all the signs of having been designed for the format, which may be a point in its favour, but I doubt all the miniaturised airships floating past or swords jabbing labouredly at the camera will be enough of a distraction given the utterly horrible nature of the rest of it.

Paul W.S. Anderson, Orlando Bloom, gimmicky 3D. A film which has to contend with one of these things isn’t always going to necessarily be awful. One stuck with two of them is in pretty dire straits, though. And in the case of this film the three of them form some kind of dreadful astral conjunction, an alignment of horror which sucks all the fun and life and honesty out of this classic old adventure and transforms it into something actively offensive to the intelligence and spirit.

Can we please have The Three Musketeers ringfenced against this kind of vandalism in future? It’s almost impossible to imagine a better version than the one Richard Lester made nearly 40 years ago. And it would also take a broader and more twisted mind than mine to imagine an adaptation more misconceived than this one. Comfortably the worst film I’ve seen at the cinema in many years – and I’m thinking about giving up burgers, too.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »