The Villainess(aka Ak-Nyeo, 악녀, 惡女). an elite assassin goes on a rampage to win back her freedom. This opens with one of the most intense and enjoyable rip-roaring action sequences in recent memory, where no fewer than 50 henchmen are dispatched in a 6-minute point-of-view frenzy of shooting / stabbing / and kick-punching – think of the Oldboy‘s infamous corridor scene, but from Hardcore Henry’s perspective! The film also ends with an equally-impressive action finale involving a bus and a lot of great stuntwork / choreography. It’s peppered throughout with shorter bursts of ultra-violent, and undeniably ‘cool’ blood-spurting over-the-top moments. As you’ve probably guessed, the action scenes are second-to-none… however, they only total around a quarter of the 120 minute runtime; which is a shame as the film if being sold as purely an action film in the same vein as The Raid (the UK poster namechecks Kill Bill, Nikita, John Wick, Hardcore Henry, and Hong Kong Era John Woo!!!). The problem with these comparisons are that – as an overall film – The VIllainess nowhere near as strong as those classics. It’s also lacking in originality in that you can see where shots / scenes / characters have been lifted wholesale from the aforementioned movies; for example, the lead’s backstory is identical to Oren Ishii’s of Kill Bill. The story jumps around the timeline in a manner that is unnecessarily confusing until the final act, where it all kinda (?) fits together. Despite being built from bits and pieces of other action flicks, the action scenes in The Villainess are still inventive, great fun to watch and the spectacle (+ “how did they do that!?” factor) of these alone should entice genre aficionados. It makes it all the more frustrating that these scenes are lost in a flabby, overlong, underwhelming, and melodramatic plot – which could have done with losing around 30 minutes to make it a tighter and more focused / straight-forward action film.
Mechanic Resurrection: a retired hitman gets pulled back into action when his new girlfriend is captured and he’s forced to whack three seemingly unconnected criminals. Being the sequel to a somewhat derivative remake expectations going in aren’t exactly high; but the film just about meets them. Everything that isn’t an action/fighting scene is there to set up the next action/fighting scene; including a nonsensical plot and some ultra-dubious character motivation: within 10 mins a pragmatic contract killer has fallen and is risking it all for a random babe?!? It’s also ‘subconsciously Bond,’ with multiple exotic locations, submarine pen shootout, Rio cable cars, exploding boats etc. Not content leaning on one franchise, the story’s also centered around three “Impossible missions”: a prison kill, swimming pool kill, and boat-chaos… all fun, but none are particularly tense as Arthur Bishop never loses the upper hand. We get a rent-a-baddie (Hazeldine) with no charisma, personality, or memorable traits; and a rent-a-babe (Alba) with a suspiciously small wardrobe and whose cleavage is deeper than her character. On the upside, Jason Statham is back in his bone-breaking action lane; Tommy Lee Jones is chewing it up (but is literally in two scenes) and the film has an aesthetically pleasing, vibrant, Lucy-esque visual style (although some of the CGI is very ropy). Mechanic Resurrection is an uninspired action film with only one reason to watch it; Statham returning to his action roots… if you like mile-high body counts, entertaining dispatches, and Jason Statham punching & shooting his way through obstacles look no further than this.
Blackhat: when a Chinese powerplant is hacked (and blown up) using parts of his old code a l33t h4x0r (‘elite hacker’ to you and I) is released from prison to help the FBI hunt down the threat. Q: how do you sex up a computer attack at the hardware level? A: lots of flashy and swooshy CGI of bits, bytes, circuits, electricity, keyboards, transistors – obviously. Unfortunately, none of the actors really shine, because none of the characters feel developed beyond their required contribution to the story line. Even parts of the plot don’t really work, like the weird romance angle, which feels like it’s just in there to broaden the film’s appeal: strangers becoming sacrificial lovers in a couple of days, just because the film required it. Pushing that stuff aside, you still get a solid Michael Mann film with two big shootouts (a decent one at an airport, and a fucking great one in a shipyard) and a very realistic crime scenario: from the IT Security stuff and hackers evading surveillance, through to the inter-departmental squabbling and larger China-US relations – it all feels authentic. You can see how this film could flop – it’s about hacking / security / information, non of which are popular movie subjects – but I fail to understand the hate/backlash for Mann: he’s one of the few directors that could shoot a dumpster and make it look fantastic; he is pure cinema – abusing colours, locations, and an always-moving camera. Blackhat uses a somewhat wooden story to ask bigger questions about technology and global security – and with all of the slick visuals you’d expect from a world-class director.
Zombie Flesh Eaters (AKA Zombie, aka Zombi 2: The Dead are Among Us): after a freak attack a newspaper reporter and missing scientist’s daughter head to a Caribbean island where zombies are rumored to exist. Much like the zombies of this era, the film shuffles forward very slowly taking a long time to go anywhere. For zombie B-movie it’s shot far more stylishly and professionally than other genre pictures with some great low-and-wide shots and zombie close-ups – hands, faces, and torsos glacially emerging from maggoty soil – cheesy, but stone cold classic zombie nostalgia that’s been copied in everything from derivative zom-coms to computer games. The gore is also fantastic… cheeks being bitten off, chunks of flesh ripped down to the bone and tendons, intestines, limb ripping, headshots; and a handful of even more mental moments like a zombie fighting a shark, and flaming zombies!! It’s not all gold though: there’s plenty bad acting, off-putting dubbing, a hammy script, and the story is also fairly weak. A spiritual sequel to Dawn of the Dead (in Italy, where any film can be marketed as a sequel to any other film – WTF Italy?) it succeeds at matching the look and tone, but is missing the social commentary – which is what sets Romero’s films apart from the rest. Despite ending with 30 minutes of non-stop action and top-rated zombie carnage, Zombie Flesh Eaters is dragged down from the ‘best of the best’ shelf by the slow and uneventful first hour.
B-Movie Score: 8/10
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.