Survivor (2015): Milla Jovovich Versus Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan is Nash, aka The Watchmaker
Directed byJames McTeigue from a screenplay by Philip Shelby, Survivor features a more than capable cast. Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, The Perfect Get Away), Pierce Brosnan, Robert Forster, Frances de la Tour (who recently featured as the giant in the 2014 Disney film Into the Woods) and a group of brilliant talent that included James D’Arcy, Dylan McDermottAntonia Thomas, to name but a few. Survivor could be seen as a sort of advertisement for anti-terrorism, a throwback to the days of McCarthy-ism perhaps, where all non-American’s are immediately suspect, and not a few US citizens are up to no good as well. 

Certainly the film does show the abject paranoia that has gripped the government since 9/11 and it also shows that regardless of whether you work for the British  or the US government, guilt is immediately presumed before it is proven. The film also shows just how slowly and ineffectually both government’s security departments move. Like a rusty wheel, the mechanism is stiff and hard to run.

Jovovich is the newest addition to the American Embassy in London, Kate Abbott. She is a high flying security officer who has a sterling reputation. Her immediate boss, Bill Talbot (Forster) is not overly pleased to have her on board but the “big boss” Sam Parker (McDermott) is glad that she is on his team. When one of the visa team flag a request from Dr. Emil Balan (Roger Rees) Kate steps in to investigate. Bill attempts to intervene but the visa is denied. 

Balan complains to his superiors who bring immediate pressure on the Embassy, Kate and Sam to clear the Doctor. Paul Anderson (D’Arcy) is an officious prig who tries to bully the Embassy into clearing the medico. As Abbott attempts to find out who is behind Balan, she discovers that Talbot has a record of passing dubious visa requests.

As the visa team go to celebrate Bill’s birthday, professional assassin “The Watchmaker” aka Nash (Brosnan) kills the team, but Kate survives. Thus begins the cat and mouse game where it seems that Nash’s side hold all the advantages and Kate’s paranoid and frightened bosses are all too ready to give their new security chief up.

Jovovich fills the shoes of a security chief with ease and shows just enough know-how and tenacity that her battles with the minions of terror all feel real and possible. Brosnan as bad guy works very well, taking a step back from his non-Bond spy in The November Man.  (And an even further one from his old Bond days or Remington Steele ones.)

Survivor will not set heart’s racing or cause the viewer’s adrenaline to surge, but the storyline is solid enough and there are enough twists and turns to make the film entertaining. There are the usual complaints associated with any film that uses London as a location. The underground is never that clean or void of graffiti and the streets are not that litter free. As the action starts off in, and plays mostly in, London it is also doubtful that McDermott’s character would be allowed to run around the streets of the capital with a gun.

The plot is not quite a “by the numbers” set piece but there is just enough reliance upon on stereotypes that it does feel awfully close to a standard spy film. Director McTeigue may talk about “hiding” his political messages in the films he makes but in Survivor the point he is trying to make may as well be painted in neon colors.

Still, unhidden messages aside, the film is entertaining, albeit frustrating as one really does feel that Ambassador Crane (Angela Bassett) was a tad too ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater and label her former protege a traitor/terrorist. Jovovich, as usual, is a joy to watch. This woman works hard to make whatever role she plays feel real and her Kate Abbott is no exception.

McDermott is also believable; another actor who oozes a sense of reality in any part he plays. Survivor is a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars and is streaming on US Netflix at the moment. Good spy fare, despite the “warning/pronouncement” at the end about how many terrorists the US government have caught since 9/11.

Action Films Equal Bodybuilding

Scene from BladeThings have changed in the action film world, to the extent that these types of movies equal a bodybuilding extravaganza for the actors involved. Take, for example, the Blade trilogy (1, 2 and 3) where in the last DVD  “Blade Trinity,” special features, the actors all talk about the inordinate amount of time spent weight training.

Actions films by the very definition of the genre include a lot of action sequences; car chases, shoot outs, heavy-duty fight scenes, et al. More emphasis is now place on action heroes looking more like professional athletes. As mentioned in the special features on the final Blade film, “more actors want to do a lot of their own stunts.”

This move toward shrugging off stunt performers who specialize in making the less athletic, or age challenged, actor is relatively new. Certainly the more “jock-like” actors have always wanted to do as many of their own stunts as possible, but now everyone wants to get into the act.

The “making of” documentaries on the third DVD point out this trend and watching films since the trilogy ended it appears that whether the movies are action oriented or not actors want to do more of their own stunts. This move seems to have broken the stunt world into three camps.

These seem to be: Coordinators, professionals who do the real risky stunts (like being set on fire) and standby performers (in case the actor cannot do the gig because of physical limitations or insurance, or “bottles it.”) *Losing one’s bottle, or “bottles it” and all the various iterations of this phrase equals Brit Speak for chickening out.*

Still of Dwayne Johnson

A lot of actors specialize in action features because they are athletic or former athletes. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the perfect example of a sports figure (we won’t go into the debate of WWE being mostly staged, these guys and gals are athletes…period.) who is forging a new career playing roles that are action heavy and he does a lot of his own stunts. Not only that, but Johnson’s acting is very impressive on top of his physical attributes.

But what about actors who aren’t natural athletes or, as stated above, limited by age?

With action films putting a lot more emphasis in actors at least looking like they could perform their own stunts, bodybuilding is the order of the day. This visual believability is crucial if the audience is to suspend their disbelief enough to buy the screen action equaling reality.

Gone are the days when attitude alone made a character deadly in terms of combat. Take for example, the television show “The Equalizer.” The late Edward Woodward, that brilliant actor from across the pond, played Robert McCall aka the Equalizer. McCall was an ex government agent of some sort, an assassin type, who hires himself out as a private detective. He is there to help the “little guy” who needs someone to fight the bullies.

Edward Woodward as Robert McCall

Woodward as McCall didn’t need to look like “The Rock” or Arnold Schwarzenegger to convince the audience he was deadly or tough. His acting skills and the character’s psychological makeup did that. McCall used guns to take out the villains, along with some physical action, and this did not require him to look like a bodybuilder or professional athlete.

Fast forward quite a number of years and Denzel Washington played Robert McCall as a very athletic and martial arts type of ex government killer. Guns were used very little as his McCall used a lot of “The Book of Eli” moves in his version of “The Equalizer.”

The character of McCall becomes less about shooting and more about being creative in dealing out death with something other than bullets. He was also more physical, in keeping with the new millennium’s perception of age; people are lot more active in their “twilight years” now than in the 1980s. Being in one’s late 50s or early 60s “back in the day” meant more reliance on walking frames, canes and a general lack of energy. In 2015 the retired generation have much more get up and go as well as being in better shape physically.

At least in the acting world, fitness is being stressed in terms of time spent in the gym prior to filming. Physical training, fight training and so on all take place in the run up to shooting and throughout the production. “Making of” documentaries on DVD’s feature a lot of “normal” actors talking about “beefing up” and getting “ripped” for a feature film.

It may well be that the action film equaling bodybuilding for its participants is now the norm. Certain actors, like “Resident Evil” star Milla Jovovich, have discovered that they enjoy the more physical aspects of doing stunts and, more importantly, are very good at it. The real dangerous gigs are still done by professionals, but the emphasis on the actor’s looking fit makes it easier for the viewer to believe in the action onscreen.

7 February 2015

Bruce Willis Departure from Expendables 3 All About the Money

Bruce Willis Departure from Expendables 3 All About the Money

Expendables 3 Willis Out Ford In Stallone Not Happy

Expendables 3 Willis Out Ford In Stallone Not Happy

Resident Evil: Retribution (2012) Penultimate Project Alice?

Well, writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson has done it again. He has managed to surpass every other film in the Resident Evil franchise. With what appears to be the run up to Resident Evil 6 (projected for 2014) he and his partner Milla Jovovich as Alice have proven that science fiction escapism is still fun and may possibly end after “Resi Evil 6” hits our screens.

When Resident Evil premiered in 2002 it was met with mixed reactions. Quite a few fans of the game disliked the film and pretty much disowned it. But what Anderson did then (and is still doing) was to tap into the escapist nature of the game and recreate the verse in a parallel line that used the game as a blueprint but did not follow the game’s plotline religiously.

The introduction of Milla as Alice in the first film allowed us to see this new character as a blend of the different “heroes” of the game verse. With the information that she had been exposed to the T-virus and that her cells had merged and mutated with it; the film gave us a heroine that would continue to adapt as each film came out.

And adapt she certainly has. In the first film, Alice has lost her memory as a result of exposure to a nerve gas. She finds out that she has certain “capabilities” that are obviously second nature to her, memory or not. She turns out to be pretty “kick-ass” and this trend carries on through each film.

Alice gun’s blazing at the beginning of the film.

In the fourth film, arch-villain Wesker (head of the Umbrella Corporation) takes away her “powers” and she is left to continue without her added strength and computer hacking ability. Despite having her “mojo” taken away from her, Alice is still a strong and capable protagonist able to face Umbrella and a multitude of virus infected zombies.

The beginning of Retribution features a slow motion “rewind” of events that take place after the end of the fourth film in the franchise (Resident Evil: Afterlife) when the events reach the “actual” end of the fourth film and the opening credits have finished we see Alice blown off the ship  into the ocean. Fade to black.

When Alice awakes, she is married to Todd/Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr ) and they have a hearing impaired daughter, Becky (Aryana Engineer) it is all happy families until a zombie attacks Todd. Becky and Alice flee. They bump into a young woman, Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodriguez) who tells the two to get in her car. They drive off and the car is hit by a cement truck. Both Alice and Becky escape. Alice tells Becky to hide and she gets attacked by zombie Todd.

Alice wakes up in an Umbrella holding cell and is being interrogated by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory). A computer hacker causes the mainframe to shut down and Alice escapes.

Watching this film was like attending a Resident Evil family reunion. Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Salmon, Boris Kodjoe, Sienna Guillory, and Shawn Roberts (as the Wesker replacement from Resi Evil Afterlife) all show up for a real mind-blowing experience. The addition of game regulars Leon Kennedy (Johann Urb) and Ada Wong (Bingbing Li) added to the fun. Even a few of the franchise’s secondary characters make a reappearance.

A quick word about Bingbing Li: I first saw the Hong Kong actress in the 2008 film The Forbidden Kingdom. The casting God’s must have realized even then that she was perfect to play Ada Wong. No one could have managed to look so much like the game character let alone bring her so brilliantly to life.

Ada Wong aka Bingbing Li. She could have been born to play Ada.

While I’m ladling out praise, I have to say that Johann Urb was very, very good as Leon and Michelle Rodriguez played two completely different versions of herself. Rodriguez played her stereotypical badass and a peace-loving non-violent gun protester. Of course Milla Jovovich continues to knock it out of the park as Alice, growing in different ways with each film.

The setting (or settings) of the film was epic in design and proportion. The CGI was faultless and the wire work seamless. The choreography for the action and fight scenes was impressive, none more so than the final fight at the end of the film. That fight alone was worth the price of admission and so worth waiting for.

The added touch of having old (and dead) characters reappear was spot-on and gave a new dimension to the film. Sadly I never got to see the film in 3D at the cinema, but looking at it in glorious Blu-ray 2D still gave an idea of how it must have looked. I can only hope that the film gets a re-release in the near future or that I suddenly become rich enough to buy all the 3D gear for my house.

With the ending of this film so clearly making way for the sixth in the series you have to ask if that will be the last one. I am sure that they could keep making these films until Alice starts kicking zombie butt from her wheelchair but, logically, I think ‘6’ will be that last. Here’s hoping that the next film is as good as this one was.

In a 5 star rating system, I’d have to give Resident Evil: Retribution a 6 for full-scale, Capcom style escapism. It is definitely a film to own; even more so if you had the cash to have all the 3D gear on hand.

Unmissable.

Milla teaching Michelle Rodriquez how to shoot. Priceless.