So once again we have survived.

Cabo Blanco

CABO BLANCO, or CABOBLANCO, or “Caboblanco – where legends are born…” as it actually says onscreen, is a 1980 kind-of-remake of CASABLANCA starring Charles Bronson. It’s his third collaboration with ST. IVES and WHITE BUFFALO director J. Lee Thompson (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, CAPE FEAR, CONQUEST OF/BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, THE EVIL THAT MEN DO, DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN), and in my opinion definitely not their best.

I guess the producer’s first choice to star was Paul Newman, who couldn’t do it so he suggested Steve McQueen, who was sick so he suggested Bronson. I guess if you have to have somebody fill in for Humphrey Bogart, it would be one of those guys, and Bronson might be the best for it. He plays the admirably named Giff Hoyt, who can’t return to the U.S. for unspecified reasons and instead runs a fancy hotel bar on the coast of Peru. (read the rest of this shit…)

Traitors

tn_traitorsTRAITORS is the story of Malika (Chaimae Ben Acha), a young Moroccan woman who fronts an all-female punk band called Traitors (no ‘The’). In the opening scene we see her looking like Joan Jett as they practice their song “I’m So Bored With Morocco.” Like any other nationality’s punk music she’s complaining about asshole cops beating and murdering people, the empty promises of politicians, living in poverty while part of the country is rich. But also roadblocks, having your papers checked, a General’s son getting away with running over a farmer.

We see that at least some of this comes from their daily life. Stopped at a roadblock, they get scared, but clearly they’ve been through this before. They know how to give the cop a bribe. Or more like a tax.

Despite this oppressive society they’re very creative people. They drive around in a van projecting footage of themselves onto things and filming that. She edits the footage on her laptop as they go. (read the rest of this shit…)

Barb Wire

“Do I look disenchanted to you?”

I think it’s important to be honest, so here it is: I saw BARB WIRE years before I ever saw CASABLANCA. So now that I’ve finally seen the Humphrey Bogart one I thought I should rewatch to find out if the Pamela Anderson one really is loosely based on it.

Actually, not that loosely! It’s kind of a sci-fi world, based on a little known comic book, and it’s gender-swapped: Barb Wire (Pamela Anderson, BORAT) is the Rick character, the supposedly not-taking-sides military veteran running a club where dangerous people congregate. Curly (Udo Kier, BLADE) is the waiter guy. Police Chief Willis (Xander Berkeley, WALKER) is the pain in the ass but sort of sympathetic cop raiding the club and kissing the ass of the visiting assholes. Instead of Nazis those guys are “Congressionals” from Washington DC. But their uniforms look like the Gestapo and their leader, Colonel Pryzer (Steve Railsback, LIFEFORCE) likes to torture people. (read the rest of this shit…)

Casablanca

You guys know about this CASABLANCA? 1942, hill of beans, they don’t really say “Play it again, Sam,” etc.? Yeah, well, until recently I’d never seen it. And that’s always intimidating, trying out an iconic classic way after the fact. You don’t want to find yourself very respectfully trying to enjoy it. But that wasn’t a problem here – I loved it. I won’t have to research why it was considered good at the time.

If you haven’t seen it either, it’s a story about love, heartbreak and duty in a limited, colorful location: Rick’s Cafe Americain, a popular “gin joint” in Casablanca, Morocco, the next-to-last stop on the trail of European refugees trying to flee the war and get to the Americas. It’s based on an unproduced play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison called Everybody Comes to Rick’s, and that title is accurate: Rick’s is a hangout for people of all backgrounds and proclivities. Club owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is a disillusioned ex-mercenary from the U.S. whose alleged neutrality makes him the perfect person to welcome Moroccans, French occupiers, immigrants, police, criminals, Nazis, the Resistance. They all come to this place where Rick discourages political arguments and police overlook (and enjoy) gambling. (read the rest of this shit…)

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER is a partly satisfying, partly frustrating ending to the epic billion-dollar-grossing sextology that people all around the world have been following for 15 years and that I have been following for about a month.

Writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson returns (he ended up directing all but parts 2 and 3) and follows many of the fun traditions of the series:

1. Starting off with a ludicrously long and convoluted narrated recap/revision of the story thus far

2. Sort of following up on the last cliffhanger, but in a way that suggests they abandoned the original idea they had when they made the last one. At the end of RETRIBUTION, the surviving characters were on top of the White House surrounded by millions of zombies and monsters, about to begin “the last battle to save humanity.” Now we CUT TO: Alice (Milla Jovovich) all alone in a completely destroyed and barren DC. Last time Wesker (Shawn Roberts) had just given her her powers back to fight this battle, now they tell us that was a trick and she actually doesn’t have powers. Huh? She keeps losing and regaining them without much consequence.

3. Giving it a different look and style from all the other installments. This one is very brown and smoky, everything is dirty and blown up or worn out. Even some of the areas of the Hive that they return to are weathered and grimy instead of smooth and sleek. (read the rest of this shit…)

Resident Evil: Retribution

Paul W.S. Anderson stays in the director’s chair for the fifth one, RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION. This one starts at the end of the action scene that starts right where AFTERLIFE left off. Then it shows us that scene in reverse, then regular, and narrator Alice (Milla Jovovich, ULTRAVIOLET) tries to summarize the convoluted events of parts 1, 2, 3 and 4. And then they remake the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, showing Alice as a suburban mom just going about her business when the zombie outbreak explodes into her life.

That’s the fun of this series: the unpredictable patchwork of set pieces and gimmicks, often playing with expectations, making it seem like the story (like a video game?) is starting over and everything is different, but things usually turn out to have a pretty good explanation.

Okay, the explanation is always clones. Clones are the reason Michelle Rodriguez and Oded Fehr, whose characters died in previous chapters, are suddenly back as different people. Multiple different people. For a while it seems like Rodriguez came back to the series after a ten year absence just for a comically brief cameo where she gives Alice a ride and then crashes 30 seconds later. Then Alice is killed by a zombie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Resident Evil: Afterlife

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE is part 4. Series writer-producer Paul W.S. Anderson returns as director for the first time since part 1. I really like how each chapter seems to be completely different from the previous ones, and this is no exception. The new style may be in part because Anderson hadn’t directed a RESIDENT EVIL in eight years (having only directed ALIEN VS. PREDATOR and DEATH RACE in the interim), but I think a huge part of it is that it was shot in 3D with the cameras developed for AVATAR. Not since STEP UP 3D have I so regretted not having seen a movie in 3D. It’s carefully composed with steady camera moves, lots of depth, with numerous scenes of acrobatic fight moves and projectiles coming toward the audience, many times in slow motion. Bullets, knives, swords, tentacles, people, raindrops, quarters, blood, pieces of bullet-ridden walls and shards of glass are among the things that fly out of the screen. You can just tell it would look really cool in 3D, and luckily this is a style that also looks good in 2D. Anderson has a reputation as a hack, but at least give him this: he is in a very small group of directors who actually put in elbow grease to use the 3D medium well.

As is the RESIDENT EVIL tradition, the opening is like a short film unto itself. There’s a security breach at the Umbrella Headquarters in Tokyo, which makes The Hive look like the FIRST BLOOD police station by comparison. A small army of security troops surround the elevator waiting for the intruder to emerge, a drawn out sequence playing with our anticipation for what Alice promised at the end of the last one. (read the rest of this shit…)

Resident Evil: Extinction

RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION is part 3. It takes place five years after part 2, APOCALYPSE, and was released five years after the first film in the series. It has a different style and tone, a little more serious, a little more grounded, but still pulpy, and it really works.

The opening tricked me. It begins so much like the first film – Milla Jovovich as Alice waking up naked and confused in the mansion, putting on the red dress and boots – that I thought I might’ve rented the wrong one. But she explores the place and ends up in a hallway in the Hive with the lasers and booby traps and one of them shoots and… gulp… kills her. Then some guys in biohazard suits appear, take the body up to the surface and throw it in a ditch. The camera pulls out to show a whole pile of dead Alices. And by the way, they’re all wearing that same outfit. I don’t know if that makes sense that they would have duplicate outfits to give these clones they keep testing, but if not it’s better than making sense. Nobody wants to see them wearing different outfits. (read the rest of this shit…)

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALPYSE is the second one. Part 1’s Paul W.S. Anderson scripted it, but handed directing duties over to Alexander Witt (the second unit director for SPEED and the train heist in FAST FIVE) while he himself focused on ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, and it reminds me a little bit of the sequel to Anderson’s MORTAL KOMBAT: it’s way less like a real movie, but therefore kind of more fun. This sequel looks much more expensive than the original – there are huge crowd scenes, explosions and shootouts, it’s not all confined to some underground tunnels. It’s a chaotic mish-mash of styles (normal movie, shaky news footage, blurred frames) and crazy shit happening, often without much regard to rhythm, flow, or logic.

It starts out with a couple minutes of Alice (Milla Jovovich, HE GOT GAME) narrating exposition over flashy computer graphics, but as soon as the title comes up it ditches her and we go back to the day before in happy suburban Raccoon City while the T-virus crisis is going on underground. A menacing procession of identical Umbrella Corp SUVs plow through the streets to bring important scientists to safety. But Dr. Ashford (Jared Harris, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, THE BOXTROLLS)’s daughter Angie (Sophie Vavasseur) is in a vehicle that crashes, and she gets stranded above.

We meet Raccoon City’s militarized police force as well as a special unit called S.T.A.R.S. (“Special Tactics and Rescue Squad. They’re the best”). These are cops who do things like rappel from a helicopter facing straight down firing two machine guns accompanied by rockin electric guitar soundtrack. The kind of people you want, I guess, in a movie version of a video game version of a zombie outbreak. The most memorable of these characters is a wonderfully ludicrous one called Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory, HIGH-RISE), an edgy suspended cop who looks like a model but luckily switches from stilettos to combat boots when she learns about the zombies from the news and goes into action. She spends the movie wearing a turquoise tube top, mini-skirt and holsters. There’s nothing wrong with that, but everyone else looks like they’re wearing movie costumes, and she looks like a cosplayer.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Resident Evil

The RESIDENT EVIL movie series is sort of a zombie in its own right – a dead thing leftover from another time, somehow still walking the earth. When the first one came out in 2002, movies based on video games were still a novel concept that had only really been done successfully by this same director, Paul Anderson, with MORTAL KOMBAT (1995). According to a chart I found, the video game industry itself made $48.29 billion in 2002. That’s a bunch of money, but it also says that as of three years ago they were making $76 billion. And I’m sure it’s still going up.

I don’t know of any charts for this, but I bet the revenue from zombie related entertainment has increased tenfold during that period. This may be hard for the youths to imagine, but zombie movies were a genre that had been fallow for nearly two decades, and only horror people obsessed with DAWN OF THE DEAD ever thought about them. This complicated the reception of RESIDENT EVIL for people like me. On one hand, it was exciting to see any take on this type of monster. On the other hand, we were still holding out for a comeback for George A. Romero, who had not yet done LAND OF THE DEAD (or DIARY OF THE DEAD or SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD). We knew because of internetting that he’d shot a series of Japanese commercials for the Resident Evil video game, and had been hired to write and direct the movie until the company didn’t like his script and replaced him.

So it was interesting to watch RESIDENT EVIL again in 2016, remembering that I hated it when it came out, but not much remembering why (here’s the dumb review I wrote almost 15 years ago). At the very least there’s a good opening sequence that I had no memory of. Employees of the Umbrella Corporation in Raccoon City, Wherever arrive one morning at their underground lab work place known as “The Hive,” having no idea that the shit is floating mid-air in a cool MATRIX style slo-mo flight toward the fan, because somebody broke open a vial of the deadly experimental T-virus. (read the rest of this shit…)