My Top-10 Paul W.S. Anderson Films
I’ve been a huge fan of Paul W.S. Anderson’s work since I first saw Mortal Kombat years ago. And although the Geordie director is perhaps better known for his video-game related movies, his body of work actually has quite a lot to offer.
I recently reviewed his newest film Pompeii and now, just for the heck of it, I decided to list my Top-10 movies from the man. For this list, I’m going with movies that Anderson has directed and not ones which he has written or produced (so that’s sadly a no to Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Extinction).
For obvious reasons, you’ll not be seeing Resident Evil: Afterlife on here, because it’s the worst of the Resident Evil films (albeit pretty entertaining).
Let’s get on with the list…
It should go without saying that RE: Retribution isn’t the second best Resident Evil film, even though it’s on this list, but it was definitely a step up from its predecessor in the sense of story. RE: Retribution definitely had a lot of eye candy and I’m not saying it was all bad for it. I’ve always thought of Anderson’s movies as strongly visual experiences and in that regard Retribution didn’t fail. Also, the opening throws you for a loop which wasn’t a bad thing either.
I also liked the way Retribution brought the story of the franchise back into focus after it was largely forgotten in the previous film and I loved that Ada Wong and Albert Wesker were the people telling the story. Unfortunately, that’s where the good attributes end. The film is sadly just another escape-flick with a sadly under-developed cast of supporting actors, nostalgia-string-tugging cameos and entertaining but not really all that memorable action-scenes. The film is a transitional piece between Afterlife and the up-coming sixth movie and sadly, although it has its highlights, not a very strong movie in its own right.
However, the film did leave me with an optimistic feeling about the sequel, but it would have been nice if Anderson could have tried a little harder to add something truly unique to this instalment. As it stands, pretty entertaining, but you really have to see the previous films to understand what’s going on.
The Sight (2000)
Michael is an architect who sees visions of a small girl being murdered. He leaves New York to restore a hotel in London while a serial killer roams the streets. Michael then accidentally runs over an old woman after which it’s revealed to him that he has the ability to speak to the recently deceased. The little girl he’s seen in his dreams is one of the victims of the serial killer and then Michael starts putting his otherworldly know-how to good use.
Made in a period when Anderson’s movie career was on a bit of a hiatus, this TV movie still manages to capture most of Anderson’s film-making charm. It has excellent cinematography, an enjoyable (if a slightly rushed) plot, decent special effects and a cast that gives it their all. Andrew McCarthy does an excellent job as the ghost-seeing architect turned paranormal sleuth, Honor Blackman gives a delightfully silly performance and Michaela Dicker seems so likeable and innocent as the dead girl, Alice (before her eventual appearance in Resident Evil).
The Sight has a few weaknesses, some of the early establishing scenes are pretty terrible, the identity of the killer is revealed rather anti-climatically and the final scenes of the movie are a little confusing. However, the superb dialogue and paranormal detective angle is quite unique. It’s not a blow-away film but very entertaining considering its low production values.
Roger Corman did a huge favour by distributing Anderson’s first movie, Shopping, in the States. Anderson returned the favour years later with a pseudo-remake of Corman’s late-1970s cult classic Death Race 2000. Death Race, however, is more of an homage than a straight-up retelling of the original film and, in my view, it’s actually the better movie.
The film tells the story of Jensen Ames, an ex-Nascar driver who is framed for the murder of his wife and forced to race in the deadly Death Race. The race is held by the prison of Warden Hennessey and the TV subscriptions help finance the jail. Ames races under the guise of Frankenstein, the former champ with the promise of an early release and being reunited with his baby daughter.
Death Race is a gritty, macho and generally pretty brain-dead movie. However, Anderson impresses the audience with a warm (if a simple) story, likeable characters and the amazing stunt-sequences which were done mainly with real cars. This gritty authenticity and the macho, prison-flick atmosphere just give the movie a lot of edge and turns the whole thing very entertaining. Joan Allen deserves praise as the conniving and scheming Hennessey who only shows her true colours once push comes to shove.
That said, Death Race is a very straight-forward movie and if you don’t particularly love Jason Statham, you might start to question the movie a little too much. The film is definitely a dumb action-film first and therefore not quite as impressive as some of Anderson’s other endeavours.
This mash-up of two classic movie-space monsters has Mr. Wayland (Lance Henriksen) head of the Wayland Enterprises digging underneath Antarctica for a mysterious pyramid. His excavation crew gets stuck inside the shape-shifting pyramid when it turns out that the pyramid is a breeding ground for Aliens/Xenomorphs which are hunted by the Predators who use the temple as a test of manhood. Pretty soon the humans find themselves in the thick of things.
AVP is a great and fun monster-mash movie where the Aliens and Predators get to show off their best stuff. There’s face-huggers, acid blood, cloaking devices and general mayhem as the alien creatures tear shit up. The film has a great, suspenseful atmosphere and the action-scenes are memorable and pack a lot of punch. In addition, the human-predator team-up was a novel idea as was the film’s icy setting.
However, the human characters are very flat and seem quite unimportant once the monsters take centre-stage. Plot-wise it’s definitely weaker than most of the Alien movies, but then again it’s a Versus-movie. As such, it’s designed to be brain-dead entertainment and I personally enjoyed it very much. This is another fast and fun movie if you just want to be entertained.
Anderson changed the face of video-game to screen adaptions with this film. Mortal Kombat is a tournament held once every generation where warriors from Earthrealm battle against the warriors of Outworld to determine the fate of their world. The younger brother of the martial artist Liu Kang is murdered by the sorcerer Shang Tsung to force him to join the tournament. Tsung also tricks Hollywood-star Johnny Cage and Special Forces soldier Sonya Blade along. Once on the boat to Tsung’s island, they are confronted with the thunder-god Raiden, who tells them to prepare for the battles ahead.
Mortal Kombat still stands as an excellent video-game movie and also as a pretty kickass martial arts flick. Though the special effects definitely are a bit dated, the fight-scenes are still awesome. My personal favourites being the epic Johnny Cage vs. Scorpion bout, Liu Kang’s battles with Sub-Zero and Reptile. In addition, the film stayed fairly faithful to the characters of the games. The film has a brisk pace, a lot of action, great music and a pretty simple, but still effective story at its core.
The film was followed by a god-awful sequel, MK: Annihilation, which Anderson didn’t play any part in. Mortal Kombat still has a lot of entertainment factor and never fails to bring a smile to my face, especially with such awesome performances as that of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Shang Tsung. However, much like the film’s mentioned before, it’s a very simple and straight-forward movie. Very entertaining, but still not very deep with its story.
Anderson’s latest effort really impressed me. Pompeii combines a gladiator-film, a love story and a disaster movie all into one and manages to do it very well. Milo is the last of a celtic tribe slaughtered by the Romans. He grows up as a gladiator and makes his way to the island of Pompeii. Just as he meets up with Senator Corvus, who massacred his family, he falls in love with a local tradesman’s daughter who’s also caught the eye of Corvus. Joining forces with his bad-ass gladiator friend, Atticus, Milo fights off Corvus’s men just as the volcano starts to erupt.
Pompeii featured excellent locations, a brilliant score and a surprising amount of story depth for a circa 90 minute movie. The characters are all given time to develop and the sheer amount of interesting characters is quite impressive. Never the less, the film never becomes dull thanks to its action cut-aways and the intensity keeps rising until the final act of the movie, where the volcano begins to show its wrath.
Pompeii was easily one of the most fresh creations Anderson had done and its only real weakness was the slightly under-developed romance between Milo and Cassia. It does get going eventually, but regardless, Pompeii is a very powerful movie with an impactful finish. I highly recommend it. This one could have easily been in the Top-5 were it not for the under-developed love-story.
Making a Three Musketeers movie with airships, I’ll admit, seemed like a horribly weak idea for a movie – but Anderson amazingly pulled it off. The story of D’Artagnan and the musketeers is brought on-screen with a lot of juvenile energy, but also warmth. I especially loved the more prominent screen presence of the king and queen in this film, as opposed to some other Musketeer films, and the steam-punkish airships are really secondary to the great and likeable cast, goofy comedy and great action-scenes.
In addition, the film has one of the most impressive villains galores I’ve seen in recent films. Christoph Waltz does, once again, a brilliant job as the villainous mastermind, Cardinal Richelieu, and follows on his designs with smug delight. Milla Jovovich and Orlando Bloom go against type as the treacherous and cunning Milady De Winter and the pompous Duke of Buckingham. Jovovich in particular invigorates the conspiracy plot-line which has been done to death. And finally, Mads Mikkelsen completely owns the role of the ruthless Count Rochefort who faces off against D’Artagnan in the epic duel atop Notre Dame Cathedral.
The Three Musketeers is a fun-filled adventure and just all around an enjoyable movie. It’s may be a touch bare-bones as a Musketeer film – but it’ll certainly keep you awake with amazing visuals and great characters.
Anderson’s directorial debut is a far-cry from the high action sci-fi and fantasy films he’s known for. Shopping is a gritty and blunt film about delinquents, post-industrial England and ram-raiding.
Billy (Jude Law) has just gotten out of jail and causes trouble for a local stolen good runner Tommy (Sean Pertwee). Billy is an adrenaline junkie who enjoys in causing mayhem, stealing cars and being a general nuisance, while Tommy tries to run his business and keep Billy out of his hair. Things finally turn ugly when Billy and his friends try to crash their cars in a huge shopping centre.
Jude Law and Sadie Frost’s on-screen chemistry is excellent to watch. Sean Pertwee also delivers an excellent performance as the slimy and unstable Tommy, who wants nothing but to be the rooster in the hen-house. Jonathan Pryce also does a great job as the weary police captain trying to deal with youth crime in the city with Billy being a constant headache for him. The film is lacking in Anderson’s big action-scenes, but the great dialogue and pacing keep the film going right to the bitter end.
Shopping may be a little unrefined in a few areas but already shows Anderson’s great eye for visuals and actually features some of his best writing. It’s a great if a slightly angst-ridden film about renegades and really worth seeing.
What started as a prequel to the video-game it’s named after, turned into its own zombie-movie series. In my view, the original is still easily the best and it also reinvigorated Anderson’s movie career.
Alice (Milla Jovovich) wakes up in a shower after having passed out and lost her memories. She and a cop called Matt Addison are captured by a commando crew who take them to an underground train, located beneath the mansion Alice woke up in. They are taken to the underground research facility called The Hive where the Red Queen computer has killed all the employees. The commandos have to shut down the computer and find out why it acted the way it did. As it turns out, the employees have become infected with the T-virus which turns humans into zombies.
Resident Evil has an excellent visual style and a brilliant score made by Marilyn Manson and Marco Beltrami. The mystery and the narrative is kept tight with great pacing. The zombies are really a threat in the tight corridors of the Hive and the heroes find themselves constantly against new obstacles, when their mission turns into an escape back to the surface. What the film does brilliantly is create a truly nerve-wrecking atmosphere, something which the sequels seemed to forego in favour of bigger and flashier action scenes.
Resident Evil may be a little light on its story, but its stylishness and atmosphere are what ultimately make it such an enjoyable movie. It’s still one of my favourites, even if its connections to the game it’s based on are a little tenuous. Either way, it’s a whole-heartedly excellent experience.
Anderson’s 1997 sci-fi horror film is easily his edgiest film and one of the more unconventional films I’ve seen from him.
The Event Horizon is a ship which creates worm-holes for faster than light travel, but disappears during its maiden voyage. However, the ship reappears in the orbit of Neptune. A rescue vessel, the Lewis & Clark, is sent to retrieve it, but as the crew is investigating the Event, a pulse shoots out damaging the rescue crew’s ship, stranding the crew and the Event’s designer, Dr. Weir. As the crew tries to discover what happened to the crew of the Event, unexplained events start happening all around the ship and Dr. Weir himself begins to suffer from increasingly more powerful hallucinations.
Event Horizon creates immense tension. Despite being a sci-fi film, it treats space travel in a serious way which adds a lot of tension to the film. The cast is excellent with Sam Neill and Laurence Fishburne going head-to-head as the impassioned Dr. Weir and the cool-headed Captain Miller, whose only concern is getting his crew off the Event as soon as possible. The paranormal element of the film is handled really well and just adds another layer of interesting mystery to the film.
Event Horizon is an edgy, bone-chilling film. No surprise it made Number-1 on my Top-10 Horror Films list. If you’re a fan of sci-fi and horror, you are going to love Event Horizon.
The movie which nearly ended Anderson’s career is also in my opinion easily the best. It’s a heart-warming sci-fi/action/drama movie with Kurt Russel giving an emotionally limited but powerful performance.
Soldier is set in the distant future, where soldiers trained at birth fight Earth’s battles, unhampered by emotions or empathy. One of the most succesful soldiers is named Todd (Kurt Russel). However, the ruthless Colonel Mekum wants to replace the old soldiers with artificially enhanced ones and sets up a test to see if the new soldiers are truly superior. During the trial, one soldier named Caine (Jason Scott Lee) kills two other soldiers and knocks out Todd after the latter tears the former’s eye out. Todd, believed dead, is dumped on a junkyard planet.
On the planet, Todd befriends stranded settlers, makes friends with the family of a man named Mace, tries to teach self-defence to his mute son and despite being physically talented becomes chased away when he nearly kills a settler during a battle flashback. However, Mekum’s soldiers intend to clear out the junkyard planet as part of a military exercise and Todd returns to save the settlers.
The character drama in Soldier is its main strength and the characters are all interesting and feel genuine. Even Russell, whose character doesn’t know other feelings aside fear and discipline, eventually begins to get a lot of emotional depth. The sci-fi setting just gets me all giddy and even though Soldier is definitely not an action-movie, the final act of the film does contain some pretty awesome action-scenes. Soldier is a forgotten gem of a movie and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it.