Train to Busan (AKA 부산행, Busanhaeng): follows a ragtag bunch of commuters as a zombie outbreak sweeps through South Korea – and their Train. Mostly killer and very little filler, this is about as fun and enjoyable as a zombie apocalypse film can get. All of the populist and barnstorming zombie staples are there – namely hoards of ultra-twitchy and energetic zombies gorily ripping their way through everything and everyone in their path. Not unlike Snowpiercer, the train is a great way of offering up a diverse cross-section of society, which leads to some light social commentary and comedy moments. It’s a tight and straightforward film that has a punchy setup, then revels in the crimson spectacle of a drawn-out zombie attack. The action is all well-handled and there’s some nice dramatic moments thrown in for some respite and balance. The only minor niggle is that it loses it’s way a little in the final act and gets a bit too Hollywood / 28 Weeks Later. Overall, this has all of the prime cuts that you want from Zombie film, and none of the offal (except for buckets of brains and guts!)
The Purge Anarchy: America remains a prosperous and healthy nation thanks to the continuation of The Purge – a 12-hour window where, once a year, all crime is legal. Instead of a single home invasion this is spread over a metropolitan ‘downtown’ area over several families & plots, which come together in order to form a ‘multi-racial, rich-and-poor misfit bunch fighting against the odds’ scenario – luckily for the gang there’s a gruff anti-hero among them. This leaves the film creeping into more generic survival thriller territory; however what’s lost in immediate plot is compensated for with a more interesting take on the purge itself, seeing the bigger picture with military contractors, organised protection, organised crime, class wars, and flat-out buying poor people to butcher all coming into play here. Retaining its real-world and ‘realistic’ roots really help generate and maintain a sustained sense of threat, and the world is unquestionably dystopian and off-kilter enough to feel creepy throughout – other than the central characters everyone else feels like a dark caricature. Ultimately, The Purge movies work best if you buy into the conceit; for me the concept is brilliant and Anarchy is more ambitious and interesting than the previous purge, but in doing so becomes a little bit more familiar.
The Heir Apparent – Largo Winch: when a billionaire tycoon is murdered his secretly adopted son has to prove he’s the true heir to the business empire, while fighting off an aggressive takeover attempt. It’s an easy film to engage with for several reasons: firstly, it’s not a completely dead by-the-numbers affair – the story is interesting and is split between the eponymous Largo discovering his roots, and getting tangled up in action-based situations. Secondly; it looks great – sometimes even Besson–esque. Thirdly; it’s full of familiar spy/espionage aspects like frenetic action and chase scenes, global locations, femme fatales and everything else you’d expect from a James Bond type film – minus the budget. Think Bruce Wayne in an indie Bourne film and you’re almost there. LW also aims high with blatant global aspirations: it’s primarily English and French, with a decent ‘World’ Cast, and worldwide filming (Brazil, Hong Kong, Baltic States). There’s something for everyone in here: action, politics, drama, family, business, espionage, rumpy pumpy – but the only real problem is that large parts of backgrounding made it feel more like an ‘origins’ story, setting up a larger franchise. Having not heard of it, and with a wildly international scope and graphic novel roots, I was expecting a total euro-pudding; but with a charismatic lead, interesting story, and solid action Largo Winch is a fun, albeit lightweight, film.
Night Watch (Ночной дозор): after a truce that has lasted for centuries, tensions between Russia’s light and dark sides come to a head when the most powerful ‘Other’ has to choose which side to join. This is an ultra-styalised, almost indie-spirited blockbuster that combines multiple sci-fi/fantasy genres and glues them together with a large dose of Russian folklore. It’s filmed with an impressive style; the colours are bold and bright, the cinematography is striking, the camera work is technically sound, and the editing is fast and exciting… The most impressive aspect of this is that it was made for $4.2M despite being CGI heavy, and looks better than most $100M pictures. Good vs Bad, Light Vs Dark – it’s just a shame that the story is nothing to shout about. Overall, this is a solid pre-twilight vampire film that’s less about the emotional complexities of being a vamp, and more about utilising their superpowers to create exciting action set pieces. Night Watch is totally watchable, entertaining, and big/loud/shiny enough to help you forget that the story is actually a bit pants.
Robot and Frank: an aging jewel thief with dementia strikes up an unlikely relationship with his disability “death machine” robot helper – and re-ignites his criminal career. Frank is a great character; grumpy, witty, cheeky… a hard bunch to juggle and still keep the audience sympathetic. It would have also been too easy for Langella to over-cook his performance, but his chops are superb – it’s best thing I’ve seen him in, and great to see older actors / aging issues at the heart of a movie. Other than the slightly downbeat ending it’s a film that manages to stay charming, enjoyable and amusing for the duration. It’s also rrrrather quirky, but not in a ridiculous way. Surprisingly well-judged for such a pure-bred indie movie.
Mission Impossible 2 (or M:i-2 – if you like maths!). Ethan Hunt is sent to Sydney by the IMF to find and destroy the mysterious “Chrimera”. This film totally reeks of John Woo’s direction: there’s at least one slow-mo shot in most scenes, sparks everywhere, superhuman sliding, birds, white dove… and some crazy, crazy action. Unfortunately, there’s a ridiculous level of focus on the love story / personal angle – which is riddled with clichés and makes you doubt how professional a spy Mr Hunt really is – not to mention it feels forced and cheesy. Despite a fairly average spy story clunking along for the most part, the final half hour is absolutely beautiful (other than the love interest and random shots of the sea), and undoubtedly the best part of the film. There’s a few bizarre lines in the script such as “This is not missions difficult, it’s mission impossible; difficult should be a walk in the park” (Hopkins) – and the seemingly accidentally left in “put a sock in it”, a Scottish-ism by Dougray. Other than a stupid emo haircut, lots of face masks and flamenco guitar (so you know you’re in Spain) there’s not a lot to write home about. Mission Impossible II has plenty of stand-alone memorable and ‘cool’ bits to enjoy, but as a whole film, it’s average at best.
Safe: a former cage fighter has to save a gifted child from falling in to the hands of the Triads, Russian mobsters or bent cops. So here we are, another Statham action vehicle where he can kick ass, forget about the names and we all walk out of the cinema satisfied. Action-wise, there’s a few really good, bone-crunching – grab your arm / leg / nuts and shout ‘fuuuuu’ – fight scenes, however the biggest set-pieces are big, loud, well-handled, gunfights. Gruff Statham is as gruff as he can be, although his character is all over the shop: ex binman, ex cage-fighter, ex cop, potentially more dangerous… make up your mind! Other characters are all very dated action film stereotypes: Asians being either angry triads or good at maths; tattoo’d Russian gangsters called Petri and Sergi, and ruthless bent cops who will do anything for some cash-money. The story is just as ridiculous, but who really cares – it’s an action film, with plenty of action and a stunningly high body count. Other notes would be a groovy / old-fashioned soundtrack popping up in places, an Audi with Infinite boot space, New York looking shittier than ever, and the Americanized delivery of the line “I don’t collect garbage, I dispose of it”. Although I walk in to every Statham flick hoping he’ll pull a JCVD on us, Safe ends up being a pretty safe action film about a robbing a safe and keeping a girl (and the audience) safe. Sure it packs a punch and delivers some thrills, but it’s not even remotely interested in doing anything new or original, and neither is Statham at the moment.