Thursday, October 18, 2012

It Came From The Cineplex: Resident Evil: Retribution, Dredd, Looper, Taken 2

Well, Fall's here, and along with the tons of leaves filling your yard and clogging your guttering, the cineplex is full of movies that weren't quite good enough to be summer blockbusters.

In the interest of looming personal deadlines, I will do my best to be brief.


Resident Evil: 
Paul W.S. Anderson gives his wife Milla Jovovich something to do once again, in the FIFTH Resident Evil movie.

Really? This is the fifth one? I honest to god couldn't remember and had to look it up to be sure. They're all starting to run together, especially since they insist on using the colon titles. You know, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Resident Evil: Afterlife, and on and on. I can't remember all those sub-titles and keep them straight. I got bills to pay.

There's a lengthy prologue at the beginning of this installment that explains what's gone before, for which I was grateful, as I couldn't remember what the hell happened last time.

This is probably the most video game-like of these movies yet-- it felt very much like I was watching someone play a game, without getting a chance at the controls.

I've liked these movies for the most part, but when researching them I noticed something: the ones I liked best (Apocalypse and Extinction) were the two that were not directed by auteur Paul W.S. Anderson. Whoops! Sorry Paul!

I liked the opening sequence, which was filmed backwards and in slow motion-- very cool and involving. I have to wonder though if it was influenced by the trailer for the Dead Island video game that came out a while back, which used the exact same technique?

One complaint I have about these movies-- they seem to always end where they ought to begin. I remember in the first movie they screwed around in some underground bunker for the entire running time, then the final scene the camera slowly pulled back to reveal Alice emerging into a Raccoon City overrun by hordes of zombies. That was the movie I wanted to see! That's where it should have begun.

This one ends the same way. They're fighting their way out of yet another underground complex, and at the end they're on the lawn of the White House, as the camera once again slowly pulls back to reveal they're surrounded by a Hellscape full of zombies, demons and flying monsters. It looked infinitely more interesting than the previous 90 minutes. Why do these movies always end right at the good part?

Once again I was forced into seeing a movie in despicable 3D. OK, no one held a gun to my head, but there was no 2D option at my cineplex, so if I wanted to see it, it was in 3D or not at all. That seems to be a growing trend in these parts, and I don't like it. Not a bit. I loathe 3D with a white hot passion and wish it would hurry up and go the way of the dodo and Jersey Shore. No 2D option? That's just not right. There was definitely nothing about the 3D worth paying an extra $3.

The Plot: Another Alice clone fights zombies. That's pretty much it. 

• Nice to finally see Ada Wong in the movies.

• Motorcycle riding zombies!

• Interesting opening sequence (if a little derivative).

• The always welcome return of Michelle Rodriguez. Unfortunately even though she's playing two of the same character (don't ask), she doesn't really have much to do.

• Paper thin plot.

• Unnecessary 3D (is there any other kind?).

I give it a C.

Dredd 3D
Forget all about the cheesy Sylvester Stallone version from the 1990s. Forget it. Immediately. Let us never speak of it again.

Now this is the way to make a Judge Dredd movie! Violent, gory and way, way over the top, just like the comic.

Karl Urban is the perfect Dredd: grim, intimidating and uncompromising, he's everything the character should be. 

In the comic there's a running joke that Judge Dredd never takes off his helmet. Surprisingly, Urban stays true to this trait, leaving it on throughout the entire movie (except for a few seconds before he dons it at the very beginning). The helmet obscures his entire face, save for his mouth and jaw, which probably made it a challenge to act in it.

One thing I noticed about the design of his helmet-- there are two red prongs that intersect right about where his eye line should be. I wonder if it was hard to see with those prongs in the way?

The movie's very true to the spirit of the comics, with minimal changes for once. All the familiar trappings are here: the telepathic Judge Anderson, Dredd's multifunction "Lawgiver" gun, his "Lawmaster" motorcycle, and of course, MegaCity One and the Cursed Earth. 

Supposedly the entire film was made for only $45 million! That's incredibly cheap these days. Heck, romantic comedies with no special effects cost more than that. Sadly, the film hasn't performed well at the box office, grossing just over $13 million. At this point a sequel looks unlikely, which is too bad.

So what went wrong? Is it because the character of Judge Dredd, a British creation, is virtually unknown here in the States? Or is the horrifying specter of the Stallone version still, after all these years, casting a grim shadow over the cineplex and tainting the production? I vote for the latter.

I suppose that when one goes to a movie with "3D" in the title, one shouldn't be surprised that it is only offered in three dimensions and not in two. That doesn't mean I have to like it though. As I've stated many times before, I don't like being forced to see 3D movies.

My biggest gripe about the 3D in this film, besides the fact that it plucked an extra $3 from my wallet, is that it was pretty much nonexistent. There are a few set pieces in which characters take "Slo-mo," a drug which slows down a person's perception of time, which feature some nice 3D effects, but the rest of the time? The movie's as flat as a pancake. In fact there were long stretches in which I forgot it was supposed to be in 3D at all.

What's even more curious about it is that this wasn't some "shot in 2D and post-converted to 3D" thing. It was filmed with 3D cameras! So why all the flat, barely perceptible depth? It doesn't make any sense. Pointless and worthless technology.

The Plot:
It's the future, and humanity lives in vast, crime-filled MegaCities. In order to maintain order, the Judges, who act as police, judge, jury and executioner all in one, roam the streets fighting crime.

Judge Dredd is given the task of training the telepathic rookie Judge Anderson. Their first mission: to investigate a series of murders in Peach Trees Block, a vast housing project. Once inside, Ma-Ma, a cruel and vicious drug dealer, seals off the Block, trapping the Judges inside. Dredd decides the only way to survive is to climb several hundred levels to the top of the Block and rid the world of Ma-Ma.

• Faithful to the comic character.

• Minimal changes to the source material for once.

• Lots o'blood and violence.

• Horrible, horrible, worthless, practically nonexistent 3D.

• The plot is very derivative of the 2011 Indonesian movie The Raid: Redemption, in which a police officer has to make his way up a tower filled with thugs to reach a drug dealer on the top floor.

• Could have used a bit more of the weirder elements of the comics (which feature mutants and killer robots).

I give it a B.

Wow, an honest to goodness thought-provoking and original piece of sci-fi. What a novel concept.

In the film Bruce Willis plays the older version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. For some reason director Rian Johnson felt it was necessary to use facial appliances to make Gordon-Levitt more closely resemble Willis. 

The prosthetic makeup used on Gordon-Levitt was somewhat successful. They managed to make his nose look just like Willis,' but at other times the prosthetics just made him look like he'd had bad plastic surgery. And what was up with the eyebrows? It looked like they drew in crude, almost Vulcan-like eyebrows on Gordon-Levitt, and looked nothing like Willis.'

Personally I don't think any makeup was necessary. The two actors look enough alike that I wouldn't have had a problem believing they were supposed to be the same person, but what do I know?

There's a subplot in the film involving telekinesis which I will not speak of further. I will say that it came as a total surprise and changed the entire direction of the movie from what I was expecting. Kudos to the filmmakers for not mentioning this subplot in any of the trailers, so that it would remain a pleasant surprise.

A small part of the movie takes place in Shanghai, China. Supposedly Chinese production company DMG Enterprises requested the filmmakers shoot additional scenes set in Shanghai (not seen in the American version) to more easily sell the film to Chinese audiences. Wow. So not only is America several skillion dollars in debt to China, now we're tailoring our movies to them!

Many people around the interwebs have this theory that the character of "Kid Blue" in the film is the younger version of Abe, Joe's boss from the future. All I can say is that thought never once crossed my mind. I don't think it's true, but if it is, it wasn't presented very well.

Filmed for only $30 million, which is nothing short of amazing these days. Heck, some films spend more than that on their craft service!

The Plot:
Time travel is invented in 2074 and immediately outlawed. You know what they say though, when time travel's outlawed, only outlaws will have time travel. Because personal microchips make it tough to kill a person without getting caught, criminal organizations send bodies of people they want whacked back to 2044, to have agents known as "Loopers" do the whacking. They're sending people back into the past to be killed so there's no evidence in the future.

Joe, our hero (so to speak) is a Looper, and makes a pretty good living at it, until one day his future, older self is sent back for him to kill. When Young Joe hesitates, Old Joe escapes. Whoops! Now Young Joe has to hunt down his older self and kill him before his bosses find out and kill him for not killing himself. Confused?

• An original script, something you don't see much these days.

• Lots of ideas and concepts thrown at the audience (maybe a little too many).

• Another great performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

• Nice background details (for example, solar panels and other contraptions on cars, indicating they no longer run on fossil fuels).

• A trailer that doesn't give away every plot point in the movie.

• Some of the time-travel science is a bit wonky, but that's pretty much par for the course in any movie involving the subject.

• The Levitt-Willis makeup worked better in some scenes than in others.

• My usual gripe: the story takes place in 2044, far too close to the present day for the level of technology on display in the film.

I give it an A.

Taken 2
The original Taken took the box office by surprise back in 2008. Liam Neeson was an uncompromising badass who shot first and didn't even bother with the questions later as he searched the globe for his kidnapped daughter.

Sadly, everything that made the first movie good is largely absent here. Taken 2 is pretty much a remake of the first film, but lacks the surprises, energy and style.

Most of the cast of the first film returns here, although why they even bothered to include Brian's (Neeson) crew of ex-CIA agents is beyond me, as they had literally 30 seconds of screen time.

Famke Janssen once again plays Brian's wife Lenore, and this time is the one who's Taken (they actually say "Taken" many times throughout the movie, and each time they say it like it should be capitalized). She's OK in the first half of the film, but once she's kidnapped she pretty much becomes a sack of laundry that moans now and then to let us know she's still alive. 

Maggie Grace is back as Brian's daughter Kim. Thankfully she doesn't get Taken this time, and actually helps move the plot along, daintily kicking a tiny bit of ass alongside her father.

The action's not as good this time around, which could be because of the patented Blurry Shaky Cam™ used in all the fight scenes. Honestly the camera was jerking around so much I had no idea what was happening most of the time, and had to wait until the end of the fights to find out who won (Surprise! It was Brian!).

There's a lot of unbelievable action this time. OK, all action movies are pretty unbelievable, but this one ramps it up past eleven. Kim throws a live grenade out the window of her hotel room onto an adjacent roof, an action totally ignored by security. Later she and her dad drive through a U.S. Embassy checkpoint without getting shot (despite the heavy gunfire aimed in their direction) and somehow walk away without being detained in Guantanamo for the rest of their natural lives.

The most ridiculous sequence involves Kim-- who hasn't yet passed her driving test-- speeding through the streets of Turkey while Brian shoots at their pursuers from the passenger seat. Bear in mind that this is a young woman who doesn't know how to drive, but somehow careens and drifts around sharp corners as she outruns the bad guys. 

The Plot:
Pretty much the same as the first, except this time the wife gets Taken instead of the daughter. Oh, and it's not as good.

• Liam Neeson is great as always.

• Blurry Shaky Cam™ makes it difficult to figure out what's going on in the action scenes.

• Cardboard villain with a silly moral code ("You killed my son! My beloved son who was a despicable slave trader and human trafficker! For that I'm going to kill you!").

• Ridiculous chase scene, made all the more amazing as it's performed by a young woman who doesn't have a license.

• Maggie Grace is 29. She's playing a character who is apparently 18. I know it's a time honored Hollywood tradition for actors to "play young" but it always bugs me no end.

I give it a C.

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