Michelle Rodriguez: Home Truths Hurt Amiga

Michelle Rodriguez photo op
Michelle Rodriguez, who has made a career out of playing ballsy women who say and do what they think, learned that home truths can hurt, eh amiga? When asked about the rumor that she was being considered for the part of Jessica Cruz in Green Lantern, she laughingly retorted that this was the “dumbest” thing she had ever heard.

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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

Films as Entertainment: Do we Expect Too Much?

After giving my thoughts on two similar, but different, films recently I had a conversation with my daughter Meg about them. The films were both a brilliant example of the kind of mindless escapism that a lot of folks love. But while both films were the made in the same vein; one was science fiction and based on a video game and the other a “shoot-em-up.”

If you read my blog you’ll have sussed out already the films I am writing about: The Expendables 2 and Resident Evil Retribution. Of course “Retribution” is another variation of a “shoot-em-up” but as it is based on a video game, it tends to get more than its fair share of vitriol from movie goers and critics.

*A quick word about movie critics, I tend to believe as Mel Brooks believed. “Critic’s? They are harmless and rub their back legs together to make noise. Oh! You meant critics? I thought you said crickets. What good are critics they never like anything and can’t even make noise with their legs.”*

I will clear up any possible misconceptions, I am not, nor will I ever be, a critic. I am a film fan first and foremost and I love the entertainment business. Anything that I love that much I feel I have to write about. Plus, I cannot not make music with my legs.

Films that are a combination of action and escapism usually get short shrift from critics because of the traditional high body counts, volume of blood spilt, and the overall amount of gratuitous violence. Just for that reason alone, I would have expected Expendables 2 to have garnered a lot of nay-sayers and up-turned noses.

But it did not happen. Mainly because, I think, that everyone was having too much fun seeing how their favourite action hero figure was going to be portrayed in the film. That and the added bonus of seeing Willis, Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Norris all on the same silver screen made up for any shortcomings (and there were a lot) of the film’s plot.

Resident Evil: Retribution however, was a different case entirely. Ever since the premiere of the first Resident Evil it has been an almost written in stone rule that the films should be bashed and metaphorically spat upon. Generally by the same people who have such a love hate relationship with the Capcom game franchise.

Capcom offer the same type of entertainment as escapism films. Don’t put a Capcom title into the console and expect a deep and meaningful game that looks at life in anything at all resembling reality. The very verse of the games precludes that. From the settings, to the dialogue (more often than not, cheesy, hammy and not a little dopey) which is not Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination.

The first of the Resi Evil games and the first of the fun.

The Resi Evil films are a parallel version of the games, not an exact replication of the verse. But the producers and directors have remained faithful to the roots of the game and to Capcom’s schlocky and hokey design. The games are fun to play and not to be taken seriously.

Yet the films are hammered every single time they are released with the clarion cries of, “The dialogue is hammy;” “The actor’s aren’t acting;” and finally, “The plot stinks.” I mean come on people. Really? Are we expecting Shakespearean soliloquies on a film based on a game? A film based on a Capcom game?

Really?

The same people who happily munch popcorn and cheer Sly and his crew on in both of the ‘Expendable’ films will sneer and jeer and throw their popcorn at the screen when they are presented with a Resi Evil film.

Why?

I honestly do not get it.

I do believe, though, that the audiences are expecting too much bang for their buck when it comes to escapism in cinema. I have been just as guilty of it. It is called, ‘taking a film too seriously’ or ‘expecting too much.’

Sucker Punch is a perfect example. I saw trailers for the film and got so excited. It looked like a combination manga/anime/action/fantasy picture and I just knew it would be great. I rented the Blu-ray DVD and sat expectantly, popcorn to the ready, and I hated it.

What a let down, but one that I’d set myself up for.

Again I have to ask the question.

Why?

The easy and best answer is that I expected too much.  I had gone into the film expecting a statement of female empowerment and a divergence from female stereotyping that so badly let other films down.

And I was disappointed. And the reason  was that my expectations were way too high. I was looking for something before I’d even begun to watch the film. The problem was not the film or the actors or the story writers. It was mine. Although, I do know that not many folks liked the film, but I cannot speak for them.

Meg and I have said that, as a rule, we never go into a film expecting anything. We both approach video games the same way. We do, however, expect to be entertained. Because of that we are rarely disappointed completely. Even the worst of the dross that can be shovelled onto the public can have some redeeming value.

Even if it is only a fleeting moment or funny for all the wrong reasons; for example, we once watched a horror film that was atrocious. Bad beyond anything that I’ve seen before (and I’ve seen a lot of BAD horror films) but the acting of some of the cast, especially the lead female, was hysterically funny.

If ever there was a case for the use of Botox as an acting aid, this was it. Her rubber faced acting style made any scene she was in become comedy of the absurd. We were both convulsed with laughter every single time she came on. It has now become a favourite “terrible” film.

So I think that nowadays a lot of people go into a film expecting way too much. My advice to these expectant audiences is this: if you want Shakespeare, avoid films that specialize in escapism. If you are looking for deep or hidden meanings, watch any Spike Lee film you can think of and enjoy.

If you want “thought-provoking” watch Spike Lee.

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.