The Films of Paul W.S. Anderson
Event Horizon (January 13/09)
A haunted-house movie set within a spaceship, Event Horizon follows a ragtag group of futuristic astronauts as they attempt to discern just where the title craft has been for the past seven years - with problems ensuing as it becomes increasingly clear that the ship has traveled well beyond the boundaries of known space. There's little doubt that Event Horizon instantly captures one's interest thanks to Paul W.S. Anderson's atmospheric directorial choices and Joseph Bennett's eye-popping production design, with the latter proving instrumental in the film's overall impact and success (ie the amazingly intricate sets alone justify a viewing). It's also worth noting that the movie, which admittedly does get off to a relatively slow start, improves considerably as it progresses, with the presence of several increasingly eerie set-pieces allowing one to overlook some of the more overtly ineffective elements within Philip Eisner's screenplay. Ranking high on the film's list of deficiencies is undoubtedly Eisner's penchant for infusing his characters with unapologetically stereotypical attributes, thus ensuring that talented performers such as Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, and Jason Isaacs find themselves trapped within the confines of figures that are far from fresh (ie there's the firm-yet-fair commander, the sassy black guy, the enthusiastic rookie, etc). Still, Event Horizon is - by and large - a tremendously entertaining, flat-out disturbing horror effort that boasts a number of justifiably indelible sequences (ie Neill's William Weir encounters a spooky apparition within a green-tinged venting system).
AVP: Alien vs. Predator (August 13/04)
Set in 2004, AVP: Alien vs. Predator follows billionaire industrialist Charles Weyland (Lance Henriksen) initiates an expedition into Antarctica - where he hopes to uncover the ruins of a humongous man-made pyramid built hundreds of years ago. (Carnage ensues after a group of ragtag predators descend on the same area in order to fulfill a rite-of-passage involving the hunting of aliens.) The film's been directed by Paul Anderson, who's become fairly notorious for his overcranked sense of style. He's essentially the British equivalent of Michael Bay, imbuing his movies with a glossy sheen that's pretty hard to miss. With AVP: Alien vs. Predator, Anderson's indulges in all his favorite visual tricks - from swooping camerawork to excessive use of slow-motion - with the majority of them landing with a thud. It often seems like he's trying to distract us from how silly the film's script really is (which he wrote, not surprisingly), though it doesn't quite work. Anderson is clearly going for a vibe similar to that of the first Alien movie, spending a considerable amount of time establishing the characters and the situation they're in. Yet despite his best efforts, none of these people ever become anything more than horror movie clichés - which is surprising, surely, given the efforts of folks like Henriksen and Sanaa Lathan. In spite of such deficiencies, the film essentially remains entertaining throughout - particularly in its final third, when the aliens and predators finally start receiving some decent screen time. Anderson's made the unusual decision of forcing the audience to take sides, though, turning the predators into honorable warriors and the aliens into bloodthirsty monsters. He extends this idea by having one of the predators actually work with a human character, an extremely campy plot twist that all but guarantees the film cult status in the years to com - which confirms AVP: Alien vs. Predator's place as an almost passable endeavor that should've been much, much better.
Based on the 1975 cult classic Death Race 2000, Death Race follows wrongly-imprisoned inmate Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) as he reluctantly agrees to participate in a deadly race in exchange for his freedom. In an effort at offsetting the inherent unfairness of the competition, Jensen is allowed to rely heavily on the assistance of several talented and thoroughly creative fellow prisoners (including Ian McShane's Coach and Jacob Vargas' Gunner) - yet this hardly prevents the institution's sinister warden (Joan Allen's Hennessey) from manipulating the proceedings to her benefit at every turn. Filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson initially does a nice job of establishing the almost dystopian nature of the movie's futuristic landscape, and there's subsequently little doubt that Death Race 2000 effectively sets itself apart from its campy predecessor right from the get go. It's only as Anderson places an increased emphasis on outlandish action sequences that one's interest starts to wane, as the writer/director infuses such moments with a number of entirely lamentable instances of stylistic trickery (ie quick cuts, shaky camerawork, extreme close-ups, etc). There's little doubt, however, that the viewer eventually does grow accustomed to the ADD-like sensibility with which Anderson has infused the movie's overtly high-octane interludes, with Statham's expectedly compelling tough-guy performance ensuring that one can't help but root his character's ongoing success. The film's length of 111 minutes ultimately reveals itself as Death Race's most insurmountable hurdle, as the unapologetically thin storyline - the movie essentially boils down to a series of races - inevitably buckles under the weight of the ludicrously overlong running time. It's also worth noting that the less-than-satisfying comeuppance for both Allen's Hennessey and her sinister henchman (Jason Clarke's Ulrich) effectively cements the wholly underwhelming nature of the movie's third act, although - admittedly - the opening hour is probably more entertaining than it really has any right to be.
Resident Evil: Afterlife
The Three Musketeers (June 24/18)
Based (loosely) on Alexandre Dumas' novel, The Three Musketeers follows Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans), and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) as they team up with the brash and cocky D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) to take down Milla Jovovich's Milady and Christoph Waltz's Richelieu. It's clear immediately that filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson isn't looking to deliver a faithful, reverential adaptation of Dumas' classic book, as The Three Musketeers has been infused with exactly the sort of gleefully over-the-top and super slick sensibility with which the director has come to be associated (ie the movie is packed with action and moves at a blistering clip). And while the novelty of the distinctly larger-than-life approach works for a while - this is, after all, a story rife with steampunk-inspired elements - The Three Musketeers, saddled with a distressingly slight narrative, progresses into a momentum-free midsection generally devoid of compelling interludes or interesting character-based moments. (It doesn't help, in terms of the latter, that the movie's been suffused with decidedly bland and one-dimensional figures.) Anderson's ongoing efforts at aping the tone and feel of the consistently terrible Pirates of the Caribbean franchise proves disastrous, to be sure, and the relentless, excessive third act ensures that the picture ends on as anticlimactic a note as one could possibly envision. (This is despite a last-minute sword fight that's actually pretty decent, though it arrives much too late to make much of an impact.)
Resident Evil: Retribution
Pompeii (March 17/14)
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, Pompeii details the chaos and destruction that ensues in the title city's ancient landscape after a nearby volcano erupts - with the disaster affecting, among others, slave-turned-gladiator Milo (Kit Harington), villainous senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), and fetching princess Cassia (Emily Browning). It's not surprising to note that Anderson, along with screenwriters Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, and Michael Robert Johnson, has infused Pompeii with a larger-than-life feel that generally fares rather well, with the hoary setup paving the way for a watchable (yet uneven) storyline that's rife with familiar elements - including, of course, the Titanic-like central romance between Harington and Browning's respective characters (ie he's from the wrong side of the tracks and she's being groomed to lead a kingdom). There's little doubt, too, that Anderson and his scripters have suffused the narrative with a number of needless elements designed to pad out the running time, with the sluggish midsection containing a number of asides and subplots that wreak havoc on the movie's momentum (and, ultimately, prove a test to one's ongoing patience). The exciting nature of Pompeii's gladiator sequences keeps things interesting through its overtly underwhelming stretches, and it's clear that things pick up considerably once the aforementioned volcano erupts and all hell breaks loose - as Anderson offers up a third act that's as gleefully over-the-top and unabashedly ridiculous as one might've hoped. The end result is an almost prototypical guilty pleasure that fares better than most contemporary blockbusters, with the movie's refreshingly brisk running time and emphasis on coherent set pieces setting it apart from its big-budget brethren.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter