Throw Back Thursday Review: Death Race (2008)

Poster for Death RaceIt has taken a bit of time for the concept of Throw Back Thursdays to sink in, aka #tbt but now that it has, thanks to Rich Paschall who gave us another way of looking at this sometimes annoying new trend, the beginning of The Throw Back Thursday Review has started with Death Race (2008).

This lovingly made reimagining of Roger Corman’s classic, and cult favorite, Death Race 2000 (1975), keeps up with the entertainment factor of the original. David Carradine, who starred as Frankenstein in the first film (along with a heavy-set Sylvester Stallone who played Machine Gun Joe as the winning driver’s main adversary) provides the voice of the first “Frank” in this remake as a huge nod and wink to Corman’s camp classic. Roger adores Paul W.S. Anderson (known for Event Horizon and all but one of the Resident Evil films) whom he discovered when the director made his first film Shopping in 1994 with Jude Law, Sadie Frost, Sean Pertwee, Sean Bean, Marianne Faithful and Jason Isaacs.

While Corman’s film dealt with a race taking place out on the road, where members of the public were considered targets by the drivers, the remake (which Anderson says is a prequel to the 1975 film) is a reality TV show brought to the public from inside a high security prison. Overall, the mythos is the same. Frankenstein is the “long-term” winner and crowd pleaser that dies at the beginning of the film. In the original, “Frank” was continually resurrected by faceless drivers as the real one and the subsequent replacements kept getting killed.

In the 2008 version, only one previous Frankenstein exists before Statham’s Jensen Ames puts on the mask. Machine Gun Joe, Statham’s biggest adversary is played by Tyrese Gibson and Ian McShane (Deadwood, Lovejoy) plays Coach; the man in charge of Frank’s pit crew. Joan Hall, the three time Oscar nominated actress from TV’s The Killing, plays Hennessey, the prison governor and the romantic interest in the film is filled by Natalie Martinez (Under the Dome, Secrets and Lies).

Poster for Death Race 2000
Roger Corman’s camp classic…

In this world, Frank must win one more race in order to be given his freedom. In reality the driver would not have gotten pardoned even if he had survived and won his final race. Statham steps in and faces the same opposition from Governor Hennessey who wants high ratings and big payouts for the televised race. Anderson provides action at a good pace and sets up the story well. Statham is brilliant as Jensen Ames/Frankenstein and his supporting cast are all top notch performers who deliver.

The director has admittedly based his “dreadnaught” on the 1981 film Mad Max: The Road Warrior and its petrol truck. Paul is obviously a fan, he even says so in the DVD’s special features, and he also has real respect for Ridley Scott and James Cameron. So much so the cafeteria scene in Death Race borrows a bit from Cameron’s 1986 filmAliens.

In the Cameron film, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) slaps a tray of cornbread out of the synthetic human’s (Bishop, played by Lance Henriksen) hand. Pvt. Frost glances up and says, “I guess she don’t like the cornbread either.” In Anderson’s feature, Ian McShane (Coach) and his pit crew watch Statham’s character get into a fight with Pachenko and members of his gang. As the fight concludes, Coach says, “I guess he didn’t like the oatmeal either.” In both films scenes immediately preceding the acts of violence have another character complaining about the food; Aliens – cornbread, Death Race – oatmeal.

Aliens scene from film
Frost: “I guess she don’t like the cornbread either.”

A very cleverly set up homage to another director and his film. Anderson consistently provides entertaining and action packed films, he can also terrify his audience, Event Horizon for example will give the viewer nightmares. In this 2008 film, he pays respect to Roger Corman’s original dystopian vision and brings his own mark to the world of violence presented in the “future.” I adore the film and its perfect mix of stars.

Speaking of which, Death Race earns a full 5 stars for a number of reasons, but mainly, because I am huge fan of Anderson, Statham, Gibson and McShane. The latter I actually met while working as an extra on Lovejoy in England, what a class act and real star only just surpassed by the chap who played Tinker on the series, Mr. Dudley Sutton, who treated everyone like an old mate.

7 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

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.

Event Horizon (1997) A Haunted House in Space

Film poster for Event Horizon. Copyright 1997,...

Helmed by the English director Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, AVP: Alien vs Predator, Death Race) Event Horizon is a nightmare inducing ride through a celestial  haunted house.

Amazingly this ‘space screamer’ was penned by Philip Eisner after he initially ‘pitched’ the idea to the studio money men on a film he referred to as “The Shining in space.” He was given the go ahead, although he had not written one word on a plot. It turned out incredibly well, despite it’s ‘shaky start.’

Blessed with an amazing cast: Laurence FishburneSam NeillKathleen Quinlan,  Joely RichardsonJason Isaacs, and my personal favourite Sean Pertwee and a good multi-written script, the film has no problem selling us the idea of a haunted spaceship. Although, I personally would have loved to see the original 130 minute film before Anderson had to trim twenty minutes of the more spectacular violence out.

The “Reader’s Digest” version of the plot is as follows:

It is 2047.  The crew of the ‘Lewis and Clark’ have been tasked to answer a distress beacon that seems to be coming from another ship, the ‘Event Horizon’ that vanished seven years preciously.  A scientist, Dr Weir, has been tasked to join the crew because he was the man who was behind the technology of the Event Horizon.

The crew find out that the Event Horizon was capable of creating it’s own black hole. This black hole would enable the ship to travel to the furthest reaches of space. Unfortunately, the first time that Event Horizon used the black hole device, the entire ship and it’s crew vanished. The distress beacon indicates that the Event Horizon has re-appeared.

When the crew find the Horizon and board it, they find out that the distress beacon was actually a warning. They also find a ships video log and have to fix it so they can see what happened prior to the ships disappearance. While the crew and Dr Weir are trying to piece together what happened and the status of the Horizon, they all start experiencing things. They soon find out the wherever the Horizon went, the furthest reaches of space was not where it wound up. The ship has returned and brought something terrible with it.

This film can almost literally scare the crap out of you. Taking metaphorical pages from Solaris, Legend of Hell House, and yes, even The Shining the film works incredibly well. Even though there are a few blaring plot holes (and to be fair these seem to be the result of the studio enforced editing of some of the gorier scenes to lower the film rating) and the ‘dating’ of some of the FX, the film still has the ability to creep around in your head long after you’ve watched it.