Resident Evil: Apocalypse

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“Apocalypse NOW…”

The history of cinema has provoked many furious arguments as to which is better. Dracula or Frankenstein? Moore or Connery? Alien or Predator? And now we can add another to the list: tank-top or bustier? For we have not one, but two action heroines here, both finely-honed killing machines, with slightly different though similarly-slutty tastes in clothing. That really tells you all you need to know about this sequel, which never lets practical issues like plot – or costume – get in the way of the gratuitous violence.

Numerous reviews have complained about the lacklustre scripting, poor characterisation, etc to be found here. Hello! It’s based on a computer game! And a proper one, about shooting zombies, not wussy nonsense like finding jobs or raising children, fans of The Sims please note. Plus, it’s a sequel to boot, and if you expect sensitive drama from any film whose title contains the words “Evil” and “Apocalypse”, you simply need to get out more. It’s called expectation management, people.

The tactic here was simple and clear. Keep all the good stuff from the original, e.g. Milla Jovovich, zombie dobermans, and throw a few new elements in, this time including some stuff which, unlike Jovovich’s character, Alice, actually has a significant connection to the game. Hence, you get Jill Valentine (Guillory), a special forces chick who, in most other movies, would be the heroine, but is here largely to show you how Alice v2.0 has been improved beyond human. It’s reminiscent of how Ripley, by Alien Resurrection, had partly been transformed into what she was fighting, and Alice is now faster, stronger and cooler than she was last time – which is something of an achievement in itself.

The story more or less picks up immediately after the events of the original, with the zombiefying T-virus now loose in Raccoon City – hence an almost infinite supply of the undead. The Umbrella Corporation quarantine the place, but the daughter of their top scientist is still inside. He tracks down the human survivors inside and tells them if they rescue his offspring, he’ll get them all out of the city before it’s turned into a mushroom cloud. But just to spice things up, the top Umbrella creation, Nemesis, is now also loose in the city, using it as a testing ground.

There are, I will admit, absolutely no surprises in the plot at all. When someone comes up to “rescue” a small child who is facing resolutely away from the camera, you know that little girl will inevitably turn out to be a zombie. But guess what? I really wouldn’t have it any other way. Much like Shakespeare(!), this kind of film isn’t about unexpected twists in the plot, it’s about the execution, and that’s where this film delivers solidly.

Or at least, mostly solidly – let’s get the criticism out of the way first. Witt wants to stick the camera right in there, when what we want to do is fully appreciate the grace and athleticism of the heroines, not suffer from motion sickness. Also: hello, “R”-rating? Presumably this was for the language, topless undead hookers, and Milla’s scarily-large nipples (Chris pointed out they’re almost larger than her breasts), because it certainly wasn’t for the gore. These monsters were almost bloodless, even when shot through the head or exploded by hand-grenade – the latter would seem dangerous when you’re dealing with a highly-infectious, fluid-borne disease, but I’m quibbling here.

 Otherwise, the film takes the right pieces and puts them together in the right order, which is a good deal more than we’ve come to expect from any big-budget Hollywood action movie [Yes, I’m talking to you, Van Helsing and LXG]. The Nemesis monster is one creepy-looking dude, and Alice’s encounters with him are the stuff of nightmares. Another highlight is the return of the lickers, in a church through whose stained-glass windows Alice comes crashing on a motorbike, at the start of one very cool sequence. [Incidentally, to answer the “Why did she do that?” question raised by many reviewers, I assume she was attracted to the scene by the gunshots.]

As mentioned, the undead attack canines are also back, and just as bad as before; this time, it’s mostly Valentine who has to deal with them, at least until the end, when Alice effortlessly one-ups her rival yet again. We briefly muttered “catfight!” under our breath, and it’d certainly have been fun to see Jill and Alice go toe-to-toe, but the outcome of that would be so predictable – Alice would win, without even breaking sweat – that its omission is understandable. The supporting characters do their job adequately; Mike Epps is the comic relief, something not really present in the first film, and manages the tricky task of doing the job without becoming annoying. Oded Fehr is somewhat irrelevant as a soldier also after the scientist’s daughter, while Sandrine Holt, playing journalist Terri Morales, is understandably overshadowed by Jill and Alice. On the Umbrella side…blah evil corporate drone, blah misunderstood scientist blah, blah. We don’t care – and nor should we.

Looking around, there seemed to be two kinds of reviews for this: those who ‘get’ what’s intended here, and those who clearly don’t – partly, no doubt, powered by the fact that this wasn’t screened in advance for critics. Hell hath no fury like Roger Ebert forced to pay for his supersized bag of candy…  How you react to the film will likely be similarly split; given you’re on this site, I suspect the odds are in favour of Apocalypse, for its strong intuitive grasp of the ingredients necessary in a good action heroine, and its delivery thereof. Sure, the plot is some way short of perfect, and more/better-filmed fights would have been welcome, but the makers do a sound job of distracting you from the flaws, and there’s enough worthwhile stuff that will stick in your mind, to put it in the top quarter of this summer’s popcorn flicks.

Dir: Alexander Witt
Star: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Oded Fehr, Mike Epps

2LDK

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“Sharing an apartment with the wrong person can be murder…”

This inspired film came about as the result of a bet at the Berlin Film Festival between Tsutsumi and Azumi director Ryuhei Kitamura (who is also doing the next Godzilla movie): make a film about a duel to the death, with just one setting, two characters, and seven days shooting. Kitamura made Aragami about two samurai in a temple; Tsutsumi, however, came up with this, about two warring flatmates (the title is Japanese shorthand for an apartment with 2 bedrooms, a living-room, a dining-room and a kitchen – luxurious by the cramped standards of their cities). Specifically, two actresses who, over the course of an evening, discover they are not only the final contenders for the same part, they also want the same man…

The first half is an edgy comedy about the perils of sharing accommodation: one girl (Koike) is a country girl, new to the profession, but is the sort who puts her name on her food in the fridge, right down to individual eggs; the other (Nonami) is a seasoned pro, with few moral scruples, least of all about possessions. You just know it’s going to go horribly bad, and the girls’ true thoughts are conveyed by voiceovers, as they maintain a thin veneer of politeness, at least for the first 40 minutes. Then the gloves finally come off, and the pair brawl throughout the apartment, using every weapon at their disposal – samurai swords, bleach, straw mats, you name it. Though I do have to wonder, why the hell is there a chainsaw among all the elegant furnishings?

It does probably count as mean-spirited, but this is outweighed by surprising wit, and credit is due for being a very rare example of a film where you never see a man (you hear them on the phone, or in photos, that’s all). Tsutsumi does tend to push the camera in too close for the violence, when a more detached approach would perhaps be both better, and less confusing. At barely 70 minutes, it’s almost a throwaway, yet still remains largely entertaining, and is certainly unique.

Dir: Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Star: Maho Nonami, Eiko Koike

Blood Gnome

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“BDSM, invisible monsters and Julie Strain. Who could ask for more? Well, actually…”

If you’ve been thinking, “What I want is a cheap monster movie set in the fetish community,” this one’s for you. Crime scene photographer Daniel (Bilancio) discovers his video camera can see ugly little creatures, which have been slaughtering S+M fans as they engage in their games. Turns out they belong to Darlinda (Walton), an evil dominatrix who keeps a tentacled monster in a box; it gives birth to the little critters, and she uses the placentas to make a drug. Can he convince others of their existence before his girlfriend (and nice dominatrix, contradiction in terms though that may seem) Divinity (Pursley) gets eaten at the big S+M party? Which, despite a sleeve to the contrary, is actually the only scene in which Strain and the Porcelain Twinz appear.

Trying to get others to take a threat they can’t see seriously, rather than thinking you’re mad, is a neat concept. Unfortunately, it’s only used in a couple of scenes, and instead we get any number of bondage sequences which, unless you’re into that kind of thing, will likely prove extremely tedious. Darlinda does kick butt to a surprising degree (which is why it’s included here) – according to the making-of documentary, Walton is a stuntwoman, though her other IMDB credits appear to be zero. The creators cheerfully admit to its “microbudget”, and I suspect the DVD commentary is probably more interesting than the film itself. Certainly, the lack of explanation offered for almost anything is disappointing, though the gore, toothed monster vagina, and copious breasts do fully justify the movie’s R-rating.

I love cheap films that make up for in imagination and with what they lack in budget – after all, that quality costs nothing. As its inspired title shows, Blood Gnome is not totally bereft in these departments, but the over-riding interest in leveraging events into an S+M setting, for no visible reason, hampers and damages the result considerably. Change that, put some more thought into the script, and the fun B-movie trapped here might just have clawed its way out.

Dir: John Lechago
Star: Vincent Bilancio, Melissa Pursley, Ri Walton, and Julie Strain (but only just…)