Resident Evil: Apocalypse (BrianOrndorf)

The underground headquarters for the Umbrella Corporation (known as “The Hive”) has been opened, allowing a deadly zombie virus to spread to the citizens of nearby Raccoon City. As the population slowly succumbs to the plague, and evil Major Cain (Thomas Kretschmann, “The Pianist”) orders the city sealed, a group of survivors, lead by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory, “The Time Machine”), try to find a way around the zombie-infested city streets to safety. Help comes in the form of Alice, (Milla Jovovich), one of two survivors of the Hive massacre who was given superpowers by Umbrella without her consent. Looking for a way out of Raccoon City, the team is trailed by Umbrella’s ultimate weapon: an 8-foot, bazooka-toting, lipless monster known as the “Nemesis.”

“Resident Evil: Apocalypse” makes me wish I didn’t shower the original film with faint praise. An unexpected horror treat back in 2002, noted hack Paul W.S. Anderson (who scripts the sequel) seemed to know just what he had with the “Resident Evil” video game franchise, and fashioned a decent film out of an empty gaming experience. “Evil” had style, pace, and a wonderful kicker of an ending that promised a wider scope and evil streak for the follow-up.

That promise was not kept.

“Apocalypse” was helmed by longtime second unit director Alexander Witt, who is making his feature filmmaking debut with this sequel. As a former stunt director, Witt knows two things: how to blow up buildings and shatter glass. “Apocalypse” features both these elements, and sometimes, if the audience is really, really good, he will shatter some glass while blowing up a building. “Evil” had a constrained setting in the claustrophobic Hive, so Anderson was careful and exact with his action set pieces. Witt has the entire Raccoon City to play with, but elects to keep his action tightly photographed (extremely annoying) and limited in imagination. “Apocalypse” misses the crucial opportunity to crank this franchise up to full blast, instead rehashing old bits (the infected dogs are back), replacing zombies with an Umbrella suit as the bad guy (where are the scares therer), and spending way too much time setting up another sequel without tending to the problems that are clearly at hand.

There are some ideas of Anderson’s that Witt does manage to sell correctly, including Alice’s new superhero powers, which culminates in a bravo sequence where she literally runs down the front of a skyscraper to tag some baddies on the ground floor. Jovovich accomplishes what she can in “Apocalypse,” but whatever entertaining tough guy skills the character has for this continuation, Witt obliterates with rapid-fire editing and a disturbing adoration for deafening “boo!” scares, which slowly consume this entire production like a cancer.

“Apocalypse” is much more of an action movie than the original film, with plentiful amounts of gunfire, martial arts, and an obvious pandering to the urban audience with the awkward inclusion of comedian Mike Epps for no good reason. Epps seems about as comfortable and confident here as Richard Pryor would be if he co-starred in “A Room with a View.”

Whether or not there was charms found in Anderson’s “Evil” is certainly up for debate. I enjoyed how he approached the material, and tried to create something mysterious and absurd at the same time. If you can believe it, Witt can’t even match Anderson’s tremendously limited range, and uses “Apocalypse” as his calling card for a future career that should never come to fruition at any costs. I immediately regret writing this, but I missed Anderson’s touch, and he could be counted on, at the very least, to explain why the Jill Valentine character would willingly elect to go hunting for zombies wearing a blue tube top and miniskirt.

Rating: D
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Cellular (BrianOrndorf)

Having just been kidnapped by a ruthless thug (Jason Statham, “The Transporter”), Jessica’s (a sweaty and hyperventilating Kim Basinger) only link to the outside world is a single, fragile connection made from a broken phone. On the other end is Ryan (Chris Evans, “The Perfect Score”), a frat boy looking to have some summer fun, but is suddenly caught up in Jessica’s drama. Attached by a tenuous cell phone connection, Ryan struggles to find help, intriguing one hapless detective (William H. Macy, having fun) enough to pursue Ryan’s wild story and save a desperate Jessica.

“Cellular” comes from the keyboard of Larry Cohen, a cult B-level filmmaker (“God Told Me To,” “The Stuff”) who has a gift for always making something interesting out of the most basic of cinematic spare parts. If the idea behind “Cellular” sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Cohen also scripted the 2002 thriller, “Phone Booth,” which also featured the central idea of a panicked man on a phone, though that protagonist could only move inches. The characters of “Cellular” can move miles in an instant, and boy, do they ever.

To be blunt, “Cellular” is one silly film, and requires a suspension of disbelief so heavy, a forklift is needed to haul it away by the film’s end. It’s a straight-up B-list thriller only interested in providing thrills, chills, and fun, which is a terrific agenda. Director David R. Ellis (“Final Destination 2”) fully recognizes the basic genre requirements that “Cellular” needs, and he provides them with little fuss or lack of imagination. Unlike “Phone Booth,” “Cellular” can go wherever the signal can be held, which opens up the idea to endless possibilities (including auto and phone charger theft, fear of tunnels, and use of a phone camera). Ellis runs through these ideas quickly and efficiently only when the script demands simplistic thinking and execution, which is more than enough to provide a fantastic moviegoing experience. Simplicity is never an evil thing.

Where Ellis trips up is when he gets cold feet with the durability of the one-dimensional premise, and instructs co-screenwriter Chris Morgan to pad the film out with an insulting amount of double-crosses and overdrawn action sequences, including a tedious, shamelessly conventional finale at the Santa Monica Pier. “Cellular” is a gimmick-driven motion picture, and isn’t strong enough to support larger, needless concepts of L.A.P.D. conspiracy and harebrained shoot-outs. The film works best when nobody talks, everybody runs, and the cell phone’s battery ticks away the minutes until doom.

Rating: C
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THX 1138: The Director’s Cut

In an antiseptic future, the government controls the population through Big Brother-like spying, controlled religion and forced consumption of sedatives with all meals. Names have been replaced with an impersonal group of letters and numbers, and workers exist solely to produce and consume. All attempts are made to remove individuality from society. THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) builds police robots and co-exists with his government-assigned roommate, LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie), wanting nothing more than to enjoy each evening’s choices of holographic entertainment. THX’s world slowly starts to change when, inexplicably, LUH decides to starts removing the drugs from their lives. Unsure why he is feeling these new emotions, THX starts to feel for his roommate, culminating in an illegal act of physical love. Arrested for drug evasion and sexual perversion, the pair are separated, and THX is sent to a antiseptic prison, where he is brutalized by faceless guards and grouped together with a group of social undesirables. Eventually, THX and fellow inmate SEN (Donald Pleasance) decide to leave their detention center boundaries (prisons in this future are all white voids without walls, easy to leave if you can find the way out), with THX trying to make his way outside of the underground city where he has lived his entire life.

While there is no discounting the film was a groundbreaking work when it was first released, it is a story that was build upon a weak contrivance that didn’t work then and still does not work today: why LUH decides to stop taking her drugs. With all the digital alterations and additions, this one small but crucial plot point remains unresolved, a personal choice decision which does not make sense within the storyline constructed by the author. Without any motivation for her sudden change, everything that results from LUH’s decision rings as false as the addition of a rogue hologram program, who conveniently shows up as THX tries to escape his prison and helps get the runaway navigate through the labyrinth of behind the scenes research facilities and tunnels to safety.

As with the previously mentioned changes in Mr. Lucas’s other films, most of the new footage compiled for this release looks blatantly counterfeit, and do little expect pull the viewer out of the story. While the vast majority of these touch-ups involve minor items like futuristic cars in the background or additional crowds, only one change can be deemed useful to the story, the addition of a construction crew in a tunnel during the climactic chase sequence. Another major disappointment is the lack of clarity in the remixing of the soundtrack for the digital age. Like Phil Spector with pop music in the 1960s, Walter Murch created a wall of sound for “THX 1138,” one that effectively conveyed a feeling of dread, but often made certain lines unintelligible. While the sound has been upgraded from mono sound to full 5.1 surround sound, a number of lines are still garbled.

The ultimate irony of “THX 1138” is that very few consumers would be interested in it if not for the mega-success of the “Star Wars” franchise. For a film that warns about the dangers of consumerism, one can only wonder how many more times will Mr. Lucas force this lesser work of his upon an uncaring public before he lets the film slip back into obscurity.

Rating: D
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Paparazzi (BrianOrndorf)

Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser, who is strong and silent, and unbearably miscast here) is a brand new action star of the silver screen drinking in his first taste of worldwide success. With fame comes the paparazzi (including Tom Sizemore and Daniel Baldwin), who viciously work around the clock to snap unfavorable photos of Bo and his family (a bored Robin Tunney and Blake Bryan). When these “photo journalists” go too far and crash into Bo’s car, leaving his family badly hurt, Bo decides to take the law into his own hands and begins to carefully exact revenge on the paparazzi that have been torturing him.

“Paparazzi” is a revenge story with only one goal: to extract sympathy for the life of a celebrity. It’s hard being anybody these days, but it seems to me that the pluses outweigh the minuses when it comes to A-list status, with “Paparazzi” taking the one drawback of this vocation (loss of privacy) to its absolute extreme.

The film was directed by Paul Abascal, a 20-year veteran of the industry. Mind you, he was a hair stylist, but 20 years is a long time for any job. Abascal has dabbled in television directing for some time, and “Paparazzi” has the feeling of a filmmaker who is trying to get away with TV tricks on the big screen, where those types of shortcuts are amplified to an annoying degree. “Paparazzi” is such a goofy, pointless C-list revenge flick (a “Walking Tall” of Rodeo Drive, if you will) to begin with that its complete lack of logic, atmosphere, or desire to appeal to more than a single community in California just makes the experience of watching the film mind-numbing. This really is fantastically awful film, with Abascal and his producer, Mel Gibson, cashing in favors left and right to lighten the mood (Chris Rock, Vince Vaughn, and Gibson himself all cameo), and editing the film down to a scant 80 minutes just so nobody is offended by such a deplorable idea for a movie. Leave it up to Hollywood to make a film about how hard it is to be rich and famous.

Matters only get worse for “Paparazzi” when Abascal and his screenwriter, Forrest Smith (who probably banged this elementary school script out on cocktail napkins), try to realize the celebrity world of photographers. The paparazzi in the film are depicted as unshaven beast men, former rapists and general criminals, handy at Photoshop, and orgasmic at the thought of burying a celebrity alive in their lies. The photographers are animals, which is literally the way actor Tom Sizemore plays the role. Always an uncontrollable performer, Sizemore finally scrapes the bottom of the barrel here. It looks like either Sizemore actually believes he’s reaching hysterical Shakespearean heights with his spittle-drenched dialog, or he’s going way over the top in an effort to entertain himself. It’s hard to tell, and Abascal isn’t a strong enough director to tell him no. It’s a God-awful performance.

Abascal furthers his house of pain by giving the audience a detective character (played by Dennis Farina) that makes Clouseau look like Stephen Hawking, a screenplay cheat that conveniently removes Laramie’s kid from the violent equation for the duration of the film, and a sequence that is tastelessly staged as a direct homage to the Princess Diana murder of 1997. What a grotesque idea. And I loved how all the photographers work for a magazine called “Paparazzi.” Ooooh, subtle. I’m not sure what held the filmmakers back from calling the mag, “Camera Holdin’/Baby Eatin’ Bastards.” There are also some direct jabs at the audience for purchasing tabloids and taking an interest in the off-camera world of celebrities. So, we are to blame for the inability of a star to understand the job he (or she) has willingly acceptedr Yeah, sure. It’s rare to attend a movie that I’ve paid to see insult me directly (that didn’t star Paul Walker).

To be fair, I’m sure most of the paparazzi events depicted here have some element of truth to them, and “Paparazzi” would’ve been a whole lot more interesting had the filmmakers not decide to go all Looney Tunes with the central idea. I’m sure the film will play like gangbusters with the Malibu crowd, and that George Clooney and Alec Baldwin will sing its praises. However, outside of the celebrity bubble, there’s not a single reason for anybody else to see this bottom-feeding film.

Rating: F
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Paparazzi

Cole Hauser, the talented son of B-actor legend Wings Hauser, gets his first starring role after a dozen years of strong supporting roles in movies like “Dazed and Confused” and “Good Will Hunting,” as rising star Bo Laramie. As our film is beginning, Bo and his family are in a limo, arriving at the premiere for his first starring role, in a big action film. The crowds are roaring and the photographers are popping away. It’s Bo’s first taste of stardom, and he’s enjoying it. But the fame bug starts to bite back the very next day, when Bo is out with his son getting coffee and Danishes, when a fan approaches him in his favorite quaint coffee shop and asks him to sign a copy of “Paparazzi” magazine, which features a cover shot of Bo and his wife in the buff. While Bo understands a certain loss of privacy is expected when you reach star status, and doesn’t really mind people taking his picture, he does have a problem when his family is brought into the action. Bo feels the line being crossed, when superstar photographer Rex Harper (Tim Sizemore) starts snapping away at Bo’s son during the kid’s soccer match. A polite request from star to photographer to leave the kid out of it is ignored, and Bo punches Rex, unaware that three of Rex’s fellow paparazzi are filming the incident from a nearby van.

Now, already by this time, the main problem with the story has unfolded. By everyone’s account, including Bo’s own interior dialogue during the opening credits, he is not a major star just yet. (The comparison I would use is that Bo is at that place Orlando Bloom was just before the first “Lord of the Rings” film opened. Known to some, but not yet a name actor.) Why does Rex go after Bo and his family with such vengeancer Why do Rex and his three compatriots only focus on this one minor star, when one brags to the others a picture of George Clooney peeing in the woods got him over a hundred thousand dollarsr Perhaps these plot points are a major annoyance to someone like myself, having spent time working with a photojournalist friend at events like the Oscars and the Emmys, because I know that most (if not all) American photojournalists are not as rabid at these four men are made out to be. When their Bo stalking leads to a major accident which kills another driver and puts Bo’s wife and son in the hospital, the paparazzi, in a nod to the accident which killed Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, they all grab their cameras and start taking pictures of the mangled car and unconscious passengers, only calling for an ambulance after they’ve gotten some good snaps. With his wife in surgery and his son in a coma, Bo has little to do but fume, continue with the shooting of the sequel to his just-released film and attend court-appointed anger management sessions, stemming from the incident with Rex in the soccer park. But when a freak encounter with one of the paparazzi leaves Bo in a crisis of conscience, things soon become clear to the actor on how to deal with the situation he now finds himself in.

The rest of the film concerns a lame cat and mouse game between Rex, Bo and a police detective (Dennis Farina) who not only is investigating the crash which injured Bo’s family but the mounting death toll of the paparazzi who were at the scene of the accident. Not that it really matters much, because this film is little more than a twenty million dollar budgeted revenge fantasy of one of the biggest superstars in the world, expanded to digital stereo, anamorphic widescreen glory. But we the audience don’t care, as there is not a single moment in the film which rings true. The good guy is good and the bad guy is bad. The wife and kid are cute, and they are the ones who needlessly suffer the most, because they are not needed for the story outside of being fuel for the revenge fantasy fire. The bad guy’s posse only exists to die one by one, and pad out the flimsy revenge fantasy’s absurdly short running time (a mere 85 minutes, including opening and closing credits). Props are unnecessarily introduced in order for certain characters to find them at just the right time, even though the dots were already pretty easy to connect on their own, while most supporting characters only exist to “logically” get one of the two main characters from their current scene to their next scene.

“Paparazzi” is a jumbled mess, and it would be too easy to get cynical and blame it all on the first-time director, a one-time hair stylist on the first three “Lethal Weapon” movies, and the first-time screenwriter, a former wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks. In truth, the film is a mess from all angles. The cinematography, music, sound effects and editing often induce headaches more than excitement, and the talented cast, which also includes indie film darling Robin Tunney as Bo’s wife, know they’re not in the best movie for their careers and bring their abilities down several notches to meet the material at its own level.

Rating: D
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