downhome badness: revelation

I've been lax lately. Remiss. Unupdatery. That last word may be more noun than adjective, but you get the picture. I haven't updated or written anything of length over the last few days.



I thought I was depressed. That I was experiencing a crisis. That my brief period at home between trips was impelling an emotional withdrawal and an episode of introversion. Why, given the minute amount of time I've been given for myself and The Lotus, should I spend energy on unseen readers? I thought I was weathering blogger block, or worse, full-on blog burnout.



It turns out that none of those things were the case. My problems amounted to a sentence that wouldn't leave my head, no matter how hard I tried to dislodge it. I realized that until I committed to the sentence, released it from my mind and let it tumble on down the internet, none of the other sentences that had been building up behind it over the last week would ever get written down. This is the offending sentence:



My favourite moment in the first Resident Evil movie occurs when Milla Jovovich kicks a dog in the head.



So you can see why I didn't want to commit that sentence to posterity. Nonetheless, it's all true. I saw the movie a few years ago, in a moment of Tuesday evening indecision. I didn't have great hopes for the hour and a half that I was going to spend in the theatre, but some small voice in my ear always insists that I watch zombie films, no matter how certain I am that the film will be a piece of shit.



And Resident Evil was no exception to the shitty-zombie movie rule. Like the rest of Paul Anderson's output, the film threw glossy sci-fi horror and old skool gore together and let the sharp shiny surfaces duke it out with the messy insides. The result was a stupid unexplained mess with all the coherence of a five year old's nightmare, but one shining moment remained: when Milla Jovovich leaps into the air, pivots off a wall, and in rapturous slo-mo, boots a leaping zombie dog right in the head. In mid-air. Wow. It was such a sublimely stupid moment that I wanted to applaud. It was like the kid who brings in a dead squirrel for show and tell; how can you not appreciate the spirit of clueless generosity behind the impulse to show us something so inappropriate? Surely any film that spent so much care and money on a scene so stupid would produce similar moments in its sequel.



Nope.



Not one scene, line or moment in Resident Evil 2 is entertaining or executed with any competence. Actors stumble over monosyllabic lines, props appear and disappear from characters' hands without explanation, expensive scenes with helicopters and spotlights pop up and vanish without adding anything to the movie beyond helicopters and spotlights. And despite the apearance of zombie dogs in a zombie-haunted elementary school, nobody kicks them in the head. Instead, they introduce a gas range to a cigarette and blow the dogs to bits. Who cares about incinerated zombie dogs? If you're not going to kick them in the head, don't bring them to the set.



In a review that must have produced a sticky damp-armpit feeling of shame, Dave Kehr of The New York Times seems to believe the following about the movie:



Mr. Anderson's screenplay provides a steady series of inventive action situations, and the director, Alexander Witt, makes the most of them. A longtime second-unit director, Mr. Witt ... proves himself more than equal to the task of guiding an entire production. His work is fast, funny, smart and highly satisfying in terms of visceral impact.



It is, of course, all in the timing, and Mr. Witt's is extremely good. He knows just when to lay in a lull and just when to puncture it with a shock effect, when to move in on character drama and when to step back for large-scale mayhem. His is the kind of first-class craftsmanly work that never wins awards or even much attention, but has long been the lifeblood of the movies.




Forget Jayson Blair or Judith Miller's fabulations on weapons of mass destruction: the real bullshit at the New York Times is being ladled out in the movie reviews. Here's Alexander Witt's idea of a well-executed action scene:



Night. Everything is blue. The main characters walk around in an open space where no zombies roam. When lame dialogue stretches actors' limited range, magically insert zombie next to them. Then, on the principle that allows multiple clowns to emerge from tiny cars, insert a hoard of zombies. Where did they come from? Who cares? They're zombies! Then, because the choreographer walked off the set a week ago, film the ensuing fight in a herky-jerky nine frames per second. A 9 fps fight scene wears the triple crown: it makes everything look really "fast" and "tense"; it saves on film stock; and best of all, the director doesn't have to put in the hard work of actually staging a decent action sequence. Just in case, though, make sure no cuts last longer than three quarters of a second. And if all that fails, put Milla Jovovich on a motorcycle and have her drive through a stained-glass window for no reason whatsoever. Nobody will notice that we've squeezed millions of dollars into a second-rate B-movie, where everything is dim and backlit, where actors wear the glazed look of children reciting lines at a school Christmas play, and the whole thing takes place in a city with only one bridge out of town.



I'm glad that I got that sentence out. I feel much better now.