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!)
Hardcore Henry (Хардкор): when he is resurrected with no memory and new robotic limbs, Henry must save his kidnapped wife from a telekinetic psychopath who has plans to weaponise a robo-army. From the opening credits (graphic, but blackly comic violence) you can tell this isn’t your usual action film – most of the movie is shot from a ‘First Person’ perspective, from the point-of-view of ‘Henry’ using an intricate head-cam rig. The film is basically 90 minutes straight of Henry running / jumping / shooting / punching through a long line of obstacles; with some awesome freerunning & parkour (seemingly no wires – or brains!), and high intensity and very high quality stuntwork: the elements combine to create a truly unique and awe-inspiring action spectacle. There’s also a great anarchic/punk sensibility to the movie; anything goes, and there’s a lot of crazy & zany elements… it even using things like subtitles to make a few jokes with. The biggest problem is that when everything is up at 150% the whole time, you end up becoming a bit numb to it towards the end. Another downside of the FPS style is that the camera is very shaky and has a warped fish-eye lens which distorts a lot of the outer frame. Hardcore Henry is a film that is truly cutting edge, in that it couldn’t have even been made a couple of years ago – the only remotely close comparison you could draw would be a less offensive, but higher-octane version of the Crank films. It’s fun, impressive, and completely mental, but overall struggles to engage after a while. Best viewed after consuming a twelve pack of Red Bull.
NOTE: The entire film was spawned from this music video – if you fancy 90 mins of this, look no farther than Hardcore Henry.
Tokyo Tribe (AKA Tokyo Tribe2, トウキョウ トライブ トゥー, Tōkyō Toraibu Tū): near future Tokyo is divided into sections ruled by street gangs; but war is about to breakout when one gang tries to take over. Just when you think you’ve seen everything from Japan they throw out a West Side Story style film, acted out almost entirely though musical rap battles – a Hip-HOpera! It’s a sweet idea to begin with, but at two hours long it’s stretched to the limit; the continually repeated drum breaks become grating, and forcing the lines to rhyme means the dialogue feels clunky in parts – although it could be lost in translation. Also, because modern music videos have massive production, parts of this look a bit cheap in comparison. The set and character designs are impressive, epic sprawls of graffiti’d urban decay, futuristic nightclubs, and a grand dining room. Not that this needed it, but the manga origins give this licence to be crazy with some hammy acting (Buppa), big haircuts, robo-mecha babes… classic Japan! The action is well executed, and the large-scale finale battle is particularly impressive. It feels like the director knew that the rap-battles would only be novel for so long (it doesn’t help that the narrator / central character is uncharismatic) so he throws up something risqué every 5 mins or so to perk you up; gratuitous nudity and fondling, or provocative and controversial dialogue. From the director of Love Exposure and Cold Fish, this couldn’t be more different – but it’s an even more ambitious, unique, and admirable feat than those.
The Raid 2: Berandal (aka The Raid: Thug): following on directly from events in The Raid… after his brother is murdered the rookie SWAT member goes undercover in order to flush out the city’s dirty cops. It feels like director Gareth Evans is “doing a Tarantino” here, drawing from a lot of established Asian movie elements: the story is essentially Infernal Affairs; the themes feel like those of a fairly standard Japanese – notably Takashi Miike – gangster flick (internal power struggles, territorial battles, OTT Violence, honour, betrayal, black humour); and the visuals feel like you’re watching a modern Korean movie – e.g. Park Chan Wook – as it’s loaded with rich imagery and patterns (like the art deco ballroom and bar, sterile kitchen, snow fight) and some cartoonishly menacing enemies (‘Hammer Girl’, and the ridiculous side-combed, cane-wielding baddie) – there’s also a shitload of nods to A Bittersweet Life, from the Car/Warehouse fight to the impeccably dressed mobsters. The action scenes remain unbelievably entertaining, expertly choreographed and jaw-droppingly inventive – although shaky cam is used a lot more in this one. You never get tired watching Iko Uwais play human pinball with dozens of henchmen, exploiting the various locations, and through most of the big fights you can’t help but grab your equivalent body part that has just been mangled on-screen and shout “fuuuuck!”, every 20 seconds. Once again, there’s a good peppering of ultra-black humour to provide a little relief from the action. At 150 minutes there’s a lot that could have been cut out and not missed – from developing minor characters through to shots of nails, water, snow – although it is rigidly punctuated with big set-pieces so you never get the chance to nod off. The Raid was a powerful, gritty, relentless and raw 90-minute virtually dialoge-free history-making fight-fest that raised the bar for all action movies – and although I can understand why Evans didn’t want to just do the same again, in ‘beefing up’ The Raid 2 he has leaned a little too heavily on other director’s works, taking the edges off – and diluting – the 90-minute, 10/10 movie that’s contained in here. Niggles aside, the film is still packed with genre-defining action, cutting edge fight-choreography, and more hard-18-rated violence than you could shake a poorly-aimed shotgun at.
Juan of the Dead (Juan De Los Muertos): when zombies infest Havana Juan and his friends start up a zombie disposal service for survivors that want zombies out of their house. For a zom-com this is, crucially, really funny – the film’s held together with great moments of dark humour, and several genuinely laugh-out-loud running gags about the zombies being branded “dissidents” by the government, harpoons and poking fun at wider horror clichés. For a country with such a tiny film industry, it’s well shot and directed – with decent action scenes (mostly hacking and slashing) – and it looks great, save for some lame CGI explosions. The political undertones and jibes at the government are great because it’s something that Romero did at the beginning of the Zombie resurgence that has been lost in the plethora of modern flicks. Being Spanish, it does suffer from some over-acting, with most of the supporting cast ‘hamming it up’, and for some reason, a completely unnecessary random man in drag. It’s also crammed with naff music that sounds ripped off of cheap TV adverts and old ‘carry on’ films. Juan of the Dead is far more than just a witty title (and tagline “He’s Havana killer day”) – it’s a funny, entertaining zombie romp with more to say than most horror films.
“She’s a blogger; one of those people that write nonsense on the internet”
The Good Wife (Season 2): looks at a housewife-turned-lawyer whose husband is jailed after a sex scandal. The structure of this show is great – each episode is a stand alone court case, however there are always several stories playing out in the background spanning large parts of the series. Instead of focusing just on the court cases (could become boring territory) this does well to juggle courtroom, political, and family storylines. What makes it stand out is that it feels very current – we see politicians/investigators utilising twitter, youtube, foursquare and memes; the cases also mirror characters & events from recent high-profile headlines. Some other plus points are the brilliant writing, great casting, stunningly acted (other than Chris Noth), has too many great characters to mention, is believabile, and with Ridley & Tony Scott watching over the production you can’t really ask for more from a TV show. There are a couple of slow episodes, and one ridiculous one (Chavez), but other than those this series is TV Gold, that draws you right in to the stories – you punch the air in pivotal courtroom moments and invest in the central characters. At 23 episodes long this could have dragged, but it’s the 7 day wait between them feels like an eternity.
[Would recommend starting at season 1 – which is also great]
Rock ‘n’ Rolla [Blu Ray]: Guy Ritchie introduces another bunch of dodgy geezers that you would find in ‘everyday Britain’… honestly! There’s a huge section of Basil exposition at the start; although goes with the territory of having 20 storylines and around 400 characters. There’s more narration by a LANDAN GEEZA – and the script’s full of more cockney slang / gangster limericks; I wouldn’t blame non-Brits for requiring subtitles. (Ewe go’ mo’ feet on thu street van coppas on thu beat – etc). There’s more Tarantino-esqué styling with wipes, swipes, fast cut editing, dialogue in boxes. There’s more people acting trivially when surrounded by or cut between senseless violence – which is becoming old hat. There’s also more dark comedy elements, which are quite good: a homosexual sub-plot, S&M, botched robbery, comparing scars, indestructible Russians… Where this succeeds is the stunning Brit cast; Hardy, Strong, Elba, ‘Superhands’, Butler, Kebbell, and Newton. The Blu Ray’s worth the extra pennies, with a slick picture and some tasty HD-audio. If you can’t tell from the above, Rock ‘n’ Rolla is more of the same ol’ Guy Ritchie tricks, although it’s all totally passable, and in the end, quite entertaining & watchable. It was planned to be the first of three films and – surprisingly – I’d like to see the other two.
The Lincoln Lawyer: follows a defense attorney that will represent any scumbag if the money’s right, but his latest case isn’t all it seems. First off, this is way, way better than the trailer makes the film look. Being based on a successful novel, the story’s rock solid, and stands up to the best court-based dramas out there at the moment (i.e. The Good Wife). There’s plenty interesting developments as the story moves forward. It’s also quite slick and really well made; the standout shot being the long revolving one in the courthouse. From out of nowhere McConaughey’s is excellent as a streetwise southern lawyer and Phillippe rises to the challenge with an equally believable performance. It’s a little slow in the 3rd quarter, and could have probably done without the last 15 minutes (everything after the major verdict) but hey ho, it still works well. Sack the casting director too; putting in two of the three most obvious latino typecasts working today. I was pleasantly surprised walking out of the cinema after this, well worth your time if you like your legal-flicks, topped off with a superb bluesy/R&B soundtrack.
Live!: Filmed by a documentary crew that are given access to a major Network’s ratings-obsessed – and frequently braless – producer as she turns a sick idea into the most successful reality TV show of all-time. Budget is the obvious constraint here and you get the feeling that the entire process, from idea to release, was all railroaded through with very little thought and even less money. Every character is stock, flawed and/or unbelievable – nobody even has a surname. The acting screams of ‘minimal effort’ at the best of times; omnihotty Eva Mendes doesn’t go beyond 1st gear, but hey, neither does anyone else – even 50 Cent (although he only has 1 line) and Javier Bardem Jeffery Dean Morgan. Despite being marred by cheapness the final 1/3 of the movie – the actual show – is pretty tense, if a little corny. The underlying messages about the public’s consumption and lust for tragedy have been around for decades, and done much better. It’s an interesting premise, but Stick to Series 7 or the Running Man.
Sympathy for Mr Vengeance: A deaf guy must secure a kidney transplant for his dying sister, two tales of vengeance on a grand scale follow. While this is hardly the most uplifting story in the world the way it’s presented, and the way in which it develops, elevates this far beyond your average drama. It’s very well-shot with smart, striking visuals that intensify the story. The editing and lighting are very also slick – one scene with Song Kang-ho stands over an autopsy table and his skin goes from natural to red as a rib cage gets cracked open is is more unsettling than full-on gore. There’s some absolutely riveting, unforgettable scenes throughout, particularly towards the end when the story spirals into poetic tragedy. It’s also very smart, with some black humour and witty lines – one punchline about a crash is delivered about 40 minutes after the set up, unfortunately it would be lost on some. It’s raw, powerful, and there are a few scenes of no-holds-barred violence, but don’t let that put you off. The biggest selling point is the powerful story and how it’s told, piece by piece – very little is explained at the time but all key plot points are be added to later in the film. As part of the Vengeance trilogy (alongside Oldboy and Mrs Vengeance) it kicks off the set in style. Great film with great performances all round.
Note: In January 2010 news of a Warner Bros re-make was in the works, I just hope it folds like the Oldboy project.
Zombieland: the latest ‘Zom-Com’ pushing the genre further into the mainstream, follows a small band of survivors two months after a zombie outbreak. There’s thirty-odd ‘rules to survival’ although you only hear about six, which is a bit pants. The four humans carry the film well, and the chemistry between them is believable; Eisenberg plays a Michael Cera typecast and Woody Harrelson nails one of the coolest characters in recent cinema history. It does go some longish spells without zombies and there aren’t that many in general, but the script and humour keep things rolling despite the story never really going forward. There’s some great and graphic gore throughout and the slow-mo blood-drenched credits are brilliant. The 15 minute cameo spent massaging BM’s ego was nothing more than filler. It’s really enjoyable and will have finished before you know it. Top drawer zombie/road movie.