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Paul WS Anderson looks back on his directorial career (Grantland)
February 22, 2014 7:25 AM   Subscribe

"If you were a sexually repressed British butler, then you were well represented in British cinema, but otherwise there was nothing for young people." Grantland invites Paul WS Anderson to reflect on the highlights of a 20-year directing career by picking out his favorite scenes.

The pull quote references Anderson's debut, 1994's Shopping, a timely reflection on the British moral panic around "ram-raiding" set in a dystopian near-future analog of his Newcastle home. Since then, Anderson's work has embraced a range of economically compiled takes on the golden age of the B-movie, including the spaceborne horror of 1997's Event Horizon - probably still his most critically well-received film - and 2008's Death Race, a remake of the eerily prescient 1975 David Carradine/Sylvester Stallone two-hander Death Race 2000, starring the ever-watchable Jason Statham.

Anderson remains probably best-known (and most derided by the critical congnoscenti) for adaptations of the Mortal Kombat, Aliens Versus Predator and Resident Evil video games. The last of these has grown into a money-spinning franchise starring his muse and latterly spouse, Milla (The Fifth Element) Jovovich; Anderson returns to the director's chair for the upcoming sixth instalment.

However, Anderson's more recent films have taken a more independent bent. The Three Musketeers, was a (relatively) original property offering a high-kicking, steampunk take on Alexander Dumas' classic novels, with Jojovich portraying Milady de Winter. And Pompeii, in cinemas now, addresses one of the darkest moments of early Imperial Rome, based (loosely) on the account of Pliny the Younger. The volcanic destruction of the bustling port provides the backdrop for the struggle of Milo (Game of Throne's Kit Harington cast against type as a peerless warrior negotiating extreme heat, rather than extreme cold), a gladiator caught in a class-crossing love triangle with a corrupt senator and a beautiful merchant's daughter.
posted by running order squabble fest (44 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
"If you were a sexually repressed British butler,

How did he know?

He's made some great movies, and some pap.
I had no idea he did Shopping. I occasionally think about that film when I have a shopping trolley late at night.
posted by Mezentian at 7:29 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Milla Jovovich seems like a blast to hang out with. I don't particularly like the Resident Evil movies - at least, not the ones that I've seen parts of - but I'm glad it's her bread and butter.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:45 AM on February 22


A lot of people may have snarky things to say about PWS Anderson in this thread (along with the inevitable, "Wait, not THAT Paul Anderson?" comments; it's not THAT guy...it's the other one). And they wouldn't really be all that wrong. (One review, for example calls Pompeii "a volcanic explosion of garbage.")

But I have a weird affection for much of his work. However indifferent he can be to plot, character, and logic, he semi-regularly manages to create sequences of truly awesome stuff to look at. His flaw as a filmmaker seems to be that he gets excited about these big scenes and big ideas and barely seems to spare a thought for much else. Still, if you keep your expectations low, and don't ask for much, you can do a lot worse for a movie to drink beer with than beautiful people with elaborate guns in gargantuan fight scenes with uberzombies. Has he made good movies? Nah, not especially. But he's given me things to look at on the big screen my inner twelve year-old would like to high five him for, so there's that. He's sort of like an affable, less-obnoxiously hyped Michael Bay.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:46 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]


Suppose "crap" entertainment gets by better in prose than in film? I'm pretty well on the ignorant side and cannot weigh in in a meaningful sense, but judging by what sells I believe that may be the case.
posted by mr. digits at 7:50 AM on February 22


My favourite review of Pompeii. I can well imagine that the film is exactly like that.
posted by Mezentian at 7:56 AM on February 22


I would love to see a directoral collaboration between Paul WS Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Paul Thomas. A three-and-a-half hour porn film with an elliptical plot and lots of jump-kicking.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:00 AM on February 22 [4 favorites]


Can we get Wes Anderson in that action? He'll bring Bill Murray!
posted by Mezentian at 8:01 AM on February 22 [5 favorites]


That's rather how I feel about Anderson, Sticherbeast - I'm not the target audience for his movies, but he comes across as a likeable and grounded person who generally understands that he has been trusted with a franchise by a studio for the specific purpose of making more money than the movie costs while producing something good enough not to kill the franchise.

(AVP: Alien versus Predator may arguably be the exception to that, although it handily made more money that it cost. But, let's face it, the Alien franchise was not exactly on fire critically or commercially, Predator was never truly a great franchise and there are things to enjoy in the movie if you don't think too hard about it - in particular Lance Henrikssen, whom I could watch counting coffee grounds. So, there's a mixture of high expectations and relatively low quality of recent product there. Also, the DVD commentary - beer is a hell of a drug - includes a genuinely interesting discussion of how you make a movie inside a specific budget, and some of the choices and sacrifices you make to do it.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:04 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


My problem with this particular Paul Anderson isn't that he does genre work or isn't that he does licensed films. There were parts of a film like his Three Musketeers that were actually fun and unexpected. But there was also a vertical panning shot in Three Musketeers that wasn't quite centred properly and the camera suddenly shifted into position to compensate. And it really stuck with me that such a cheap/amateur thing (no time to do a retake or no one noticed) could show show up into a big budget movie by someone who's been at this for 20 years. That's pretty much the definition of a hack.
posted by thecjm at 8:06 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure Paul WS Anderson only keeps making movies in the hopes that some cable channel might renew MST3K.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:08 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


a vertical panning shot

It's called a tilt.

posted by Sys Rq at 8:09 AM on February 22 [4 favorites]


It's called a tilt.

See? I don't even know what that camera movement is called and I could see still the screw-up.
posted by thecjm at 8:29 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]


The big thing I end up liking about PWSA movies is that even though theyre crap, they're good and sincere crap. Not just cynical money extraction devices. FOR B MOVIES, his consistently look better thanthey have to and have better scripts and acting than they have to. And they feel like honest attempts to make fun and not TOO stupid movies on a budget.

The other thing about PWSA movies is that they generally have a cast with women and people if color playing badasses, and a world where that's not notable enough for other characters to mention.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:47 AM on February 22 [7 favorites]


I don't particularly like the Resident Evil movies

I quite liked the bit where they blew up the wretched architectural abortion that is Toronto City Hall. That was good.

I honestly think PWSA would be much more critically successful if he directed music videos. He has a really, really good eye for a visually impressive movie, and a great eye for visually impressive sequences.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:55 AM on February 22


So, Paul WS Anderson is perfect for the new Wonder Woman movie?
posted by Mezentian at 8:59 AM on February 22


Paul WS Anderson is totally perfect for the new Wonder Woman movie. If he can be talked out of not immediately casting Milla as Wonder Woman.

You can then be assured of a kickass woman fighting all sorts of crazy things with plenty of explosions and you'll enjoy it so much that you won't realise the lack of plot until hours after you leave the cinema.

I love the Resident Evil movies. The last one tried too hard to be like the video games (dude, it even felt like it had levels), but bringing back Michelle Rodriguez made things better.
posted by Katemonkey at 9:21 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]


in particular Lance Henrikssen, whom I could watch counting coffee grounds.

I'd even watch the alternate takes on the DVD extras.
posted by ovvl at 9:22 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]


You can then be assured of a kickass woman fighting all sorts of crazy things with plenty of explosions and you'll enjoy it so much that you won't realise the lack of plot until hours after you leave the cinema.

I'm not sure we have seen the same PWSA movies.
Some of the latter Resident Evil movies (and I have seen them all, so far as I know) have seen me shaking my head at the 10 minute mark.
He does good set pieces, and can do character development, but, come on, we're talking a female here. It's not like it's a raccoon with a machine gun. That's almost impossible to put on the screen.
posted by Mezentian at 9:27 AM on February 22


I didn't know anything about Pompeii so I went looking and found Apocalypse Pompeii. "When a Former Special Ops commando visits Pompeii, his wife and daughter are trapped as Mt. Vesuvius erupts with massive force. While his family fights to survive the deadly onslaught of heat and lava, he enlists his former teammates in a daring operation beneath the ruins of Pompeii.". That movie sounds awesome.
posted by Nelson at 9:51 AM on February 22 [1 favorite]


...Michelle Rogriguez would probably be a pretty rad Wonder Woman.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:00 AM on February 22 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I'm reluctantly, grinningly, I-can't-believe-I'm-going-to-say-this-eddly a fan of the first couple of Resident Evil movies. Yes, they are kind of stupid. Yes, they lean super heavily on "The Umbrella Corp. has inscrutable motives" in lieu of a plot, but they are just the kind of big dumb fun that sometimes you need. Anderson is no Shane Black, but he's not exactly Uwe Boll either.
posted by gauche at 10:01 AM on February 22


Milla Jovovich would have been terrific as the Black Widow...
posted by Auden at 12:19 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]


Just about the only good thing the Resident Evil movies gave us was Soccer Mom Michelle Rodriguez. I think that Retribution (is that it? there are so many and I can't remember the subtitles or even the order after the first two movies) would have been enjoyable if it were 99% in the suburbia area and starred the suburb counterparts of the characters instead of that switch to Bulky Wesker's rescue team.
posted by Redfield at 12:21 PM on February 22


PWSAnderson's movies should only ever be seen after midnight, somewhat drunk. Notice I say 'seen', not 'watched'.
posted by Hogshead at 12:32 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


(checking the basement fridge to see if there is enough Bell's Hopslam to get me through viewing a steampunk Three Musketeers - oh, I think I do.)
posted by Ber at 12:45 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


Lance Henriksen would never be caught counting coffee grounds. He would be ok with fighting a bag of possessed coffee grounds in a rainy garbage filled alley while they both exchange decadent French poetry quips, I'd like to imagine.
posted by Iosephus at 1:26 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]


I will admit that I will see anything that he directs. Having him describe inspirations for his favorite scenes is a really appropriate, since what he does is make really great scenes. His movies vary in quality, but all those scenes are amazing cinematic gems.

The laser hallway in Resident Evil alone justifies anything else he may care to do for its contribution to the art of cinema. 4 people get sliced up in different ways in just a 2 minutes. And the last guy is one of the most emotionally resonant depictions of resignation I have ever encountered. Plus you get to see him get julienned. Julienned!

Death Race is... not his best film but if anyone can watch that tanker truck wreck so hard like that and not feel anything I don't know what would move someone like that.
posted by Durhey at 1:54 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


Mortal Kombat has one of my favorite bad-movie howlers: a scene where tWo guys are pursuing a demon queen or something through an ancient tunnel. They're brushing thick masses of cobwebs out of their way and saying, "I think she went this way!"
posted by straight at 2:08 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


I wish more fighting movies took a leaf from mortal kombat. Bunch of crazy dudes get together and beat the shite out of each other; everything else just window dressing. That is how a fighting movie should be. See also, blood sport.
posted by smoke at 3:19 PM on February 22


I bought that Three Musketeers DVD at the Bloockbuster going-out-of-business sale and it was worth every one of the hundred pennies it cost. Stupid but fun.
posted by padraigin at 3:24 PM on February 22


Paul WS Anderson's domains are well known to him.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 3:24 PM on February 22


I might be the only person in the world for whom this is true, but I quite enjoyed Soldier.

Kurt Russell says maybe a couple dozen words in the whole movie, which pretty much as it should be.
posted by dersins at 3:29 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


The laser hallway in Resident Evil alone justifies anything else he may care to do for its contribution to the art of cinema. 4 people get sliced up in different ways in just a 2 minutes. And the last guy is one of the most emotionally resonant depictions of resignation I have ever encountered. Plus you get to see him get julienned. Julienned!

Strangely, Colin Salmon getting sliced into cubes is a recurring motif in the oeuvre - it happens in AVP: Alien Versus Predator, also.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:30 PM on February 22


While I'm vaguely supportive of Paul WS Anderson, I still consider him a hack?

Why?

Because I know he can do better b movies, but he chooses not to. Event Horizon was terrific. I enjoyed Soldier. Resident Evil was interesting....but Death Race was a horrible remake.

As for this remake of the Last Days of Pomeii,..

I believe that Paul WS Anderson could make better movies, he just chooses not to.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 4:57 PM on February 22


Death Race was a horrible remake.

Maybe it's because I saw the remake before the original, but I like it. Prefer it, even.
So much so that I watched the next two movies, and will probably see the next one, if there is one.

AVP and Mortal Kombat are.... not good.
posted by Mezentian at 5:15 PM on February 22


I might be the only person in the world for whom this is true, but I quite enjoyed Soldier.

You are not alone, and do you know what we're going to do to the people who didn't like it?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:41 PM on February 22


Making them watch it would seem the most apt punishment.
posted by biffa at 1:47 AM on February 23


Visually stunning scenery
Quick-cut editing
Tough female characters
Very often, he uses odd tilted high or low angles for a creepy effect to the atmosphere of his films.
Dialog and characters that transcend their video game origins, thus highlighting humanity's place in the universe.
Always uses a slow or fast revolving pull back shot, at certain points in his films.
Has a reputation for declining to direct follow-ups to his films (i.e. Mortal Kombat, AVP, Resident Evil).
posted by oimeoi at 6:25 AM on February 23


Twenty years isn't really that long of a career. In sports, yeah, but in this sort of industry it's not anything that calls for a retrospective. 40 years, sure.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:03 PM on February 23


Twenty years isn't really that long of a career. In sports, yeah, but in this sort of industry it's not anything that calls for a retrospective. 40 years, sure.

This kind of comment can only be made further down in a thread, sorry.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:31 PM on February 23 [3 favorites]


In sports, yeah, but in this sort of industry it's not anything that calls for a retrospective.

Yeah, no. Look at the arc of Peter Bogdanovich's career by comparison.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:05 PM on February 23


I always get Paul W.S. Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson confused. I always wonder why people are making fun of his movies, and then I remember that there's another one, and have to look them both up on Wikipedia to figure out what's going on.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:53 PM on February 23


Actually, that speaks somewhat to the "20 year retrospective" question. Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson are both coming up to about 20 years since their first full-length films, and I think one can definitely trace developments in their style from Hard Eight and Bottle Rocket. I actually hadn't realised that all three Andersons were so close in age and career length...
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:18 AM on February 24


Gladiator School Discovery Reveals Hard Lives of Ancient Warriors
posted by homunculus at 10:14 PM on February 25


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