The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

The spirit is weak, but the flesh is willing. Let’s just substitute some of these words around and pretend we’re talking about a film franchise here ok? Let’s say that “spirit” is akin to “premise” and that “flesh” can be substituted for “movie studio”. Sometimes things just shouldn’t be – it just shouldn’t exist. Like raw tomatoes. Why? Because they’re just unpleasant and unnecessary. This can also be said of the need to make sequels to films that don’t lend themselves to sequels because they wrapped themselves up rather neatly at the end of the first instalment. Hell, even films that left loose ends like District 9 haven’t even spawned a sequel (why, Neil Blomkamp, why?!)… so you’ve got to question why it was necessary to make a sequel to last year’s The Purge in the form of The Purge: Anarchy

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

The Purge was a neat enough film. It didn’t blow us away here, but it worked – take a look at our review where we gave it a Phage Factor of 3/5. As I say, it was good, but had multiple flaws and didn’t really bring us any terror. It told the story of a family that had barricaded themselves into their home during the annual “purge” where for one night the US has no laws and people are free to rape and murder who they want but with no legal reprisals. The story wrapped up. There were no loose ends. So… naturally… The Purge: Anarchy just decides to base itself around the same “purge night” with an entirely different cast to attempt to string together a story by clumsily weaving three / four different stories together to tell something new.

Here, we focus on three groups of individuals that for one reason or another must band together when they find themselves on the streets during the annual purge; they don’t have the safety of a house to hide in, they must fend for themselves. These folks include Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo and Zach Gilford, amongst others, but honestly none need to be circled out, as they’re all relatively bland characters. Essentially, they must fight against the night to survive. Whilst you, the viewer, must fight against the urge to sleep or get annoyed at the writers attempting to shoehorn in an overarching storyline that will inevitably lead to The Purge 3

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

You’re probably already getting the impression that I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Purge: Anarchy. You’d be correct. It just didn’t excite me in any real way beyond its premise. And indeed, that excitement mainly stemmed from the “home invasion” style of the first instalment, something that is abandoned in favour of wandering the city streets with our motley crew (I must stop spelling that as Motley Crue!). Frankly, this style just didn’t work too well and didn’t play out as this movie being a “horror” movie. It almost degraded into a by-the-numbers action movie with people moving from place to place, firing a gun a couple of times, then carrying on moving.

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

However, what really startled me and led me to become annoyed were the flagrant attempts to establish a “lore” that would allow The Purge: Anarchy to continue beyond this second film. There’s a lot of mention of a “resistance”… so it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out where the franchise is going next. It’s inevitable that this will continue much in the same way that Saw and Paranormal Acticity had / have done. Saying that, at least those two films finished their first instalment on something of a cliffhanger with an obvious “to be continued” vibe to them. The Purge didn’t and this film, plus its subsequent instalements all smell faintly of “cash grab”, which is a shame. I liked the first film, I really did. But I couln’t see how it was going to be continued. And now I see why that was.

Ultimately, if you hadn’t guessed already, The Purge: Anarchy is the film that ne’er should have been. It’s “ok” by modern standards for sure, but it’s no longer a horror movie, or even a thriller. No, it’s taken itself down the action route with few thrills and chills to be had. The premise of the film still remains interesting, but the potential to outstay its welcome has already arisen by the second instalment. This is something that didn’t really hit other forced franchises such as Paranormal Activity or Saw until the 4th outing. Mind you, even those films have gone on.. and on… and on… So who knows, maybe this will pick up?

Yes, the flesh truly is as weak as the spirit on this one. Its dragging itself through the city streets whilst the ominous blast of the air raid siren rings through the air to mark the beginning of the annual purge. Indeed, if The Purge: Anarchy was personified it would be sitting in the middle of the street armed with only a spork and a half eaten tin of baked beans: it wouldn’t fight for long…

Phage Factor:

2 Stars

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Oldboy (2013)

Oldboy (2013)

Raiding Asian cinema is nothing new for Hollywood. Some of the most famous examples are clearly the likes of The Ring and The Grudge. Indeed, these films introduced many to the wonders of Asian horror and Asian storytelling. Now we regularly see adaptations of Far Eastern cinema being adapted for us. No, we’re not going to count 47 Ronin. There’s a difference between aping an Asian style and straight-up translating it for Western audiences. So, on to Hollywood’s latest attempt to steal some of Asia’s thunder with a remake of 2003’s Oldboy – the tale about a guy that gets locked in a room for numerous years (15 if you’re into the Korean version, 20 if you’re into the US version), before being released. Vengeance is his for the taking as he tries to piece together why the hell he was imprisoned… but should Oldboy have remained locked in the room indefinitely? Let’s have a peek through the keyhole…

Oldboy (2013)

To be honest, the plot’s already summed up for you there. There’s not much more to Spike Lee‘s reimagining of Chan-wook Park‘s original. This time, the focus is squarely on “Joe Ducett”, played by Josh Brolin. A drunkard, no-hope father who’s more concerned with getting drunk and womanising than he is with looking after his little girl. So, Joe’s a little perplexed when he wakes up in a sealed room and is plied with vodka and dumplings on a daily basis. Oh, add into that the fact that he’s framed perfectly for the rape and murder of his estranged wife. So, some 20 years later, Joe is released back into the public with a lot of questions and an urgent need to clear his name… Which leads him to a variety of nefarious ne’er do wells, including characters (I won’t spoil anything) portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson and Sharlto Copley.

I’ll make a confession: I’ve not seen the original Oldboy. I know, I know: “it’s a classic”, “how can you review this if you haven’t seen the original”, “your verdict is USELESS you HACK”… some of those criticisms are valid, and I am indeed a hack. Nor have I read the graphic novel it’s based on either… But I’m now able to judge this version of Oldboy purely on its merits and not some sentimental view of a 10 year old film. I therefore can’t comment on what’s missing / what’s included. I can just comment on what works… and what really, really doesn’t.

Oldboy (2013)

Let’s start with the good shall we? The plot. The plot is an interesting concept and is clearly Asian in origin. It did remind me a little of Stephen King’s 1408 insofar that there’s a sense of desperation at being locked inside a room. It also had that torture edge to it that we’ve all become so accustomed to at the cinema in recent years. But then it swirls in the whole revenge angle. This is the type of role that Josh Brolin excels at. He just LOOKS mean and moody all the time in the same way that Ron Perlman looks like he’d break your teeth with a baseball bat. Or play a pirate monkey in Ice Age 4 (we still can’t believe he wasn’t that character!). Physically, Brolin is imposing and does the role justice in our opinion. Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson is bankable and clearly loves lapping it up as a villain. Though thankfully, he doesn’t do it to the same abominable degree that he does in The Spirit.

Similarly, the pacing is frantic and keeps you intrigued. It doesn’t slow down and constantly swirls and lashes at you as the film progresses. We liked this. What we didn’t like though were some of the hammy choreography in those fight scenes.

Oldboy (2013)

Oldboy is a suitably violent film. The body count is high and there’s a good deal of gore / torture to be seen here. Not quite Ichi The Killer levels of gore, but enough of it. Therefore there’s an urgent need for fighting and violence. Some of this works and has the shock value… but some is just so out-of-place and forced. Notably the moments after Joe is released from his confines – the first fight with the football jocks. Why? Why that level of violence? It’s uncharacteristic. Add to that some of the single-framed fights that looked more like a Broadway musical / Benny Hill sketch than anything else. It’s admirable to lock the camera in one place for us to watch what unfolds as opposed to the horrid use of shakey-handicam footage that plagues cinematic fights nowadays. But it felt too rehearsed / video game esque. It just didn’t work.

Now, what was the biggest flaw with this film is actually down to personal preference / favouritism. We’re massive fans of Sharlto Copley at Film Phage. We loved him in District 9, Elysium and even The A Team. No doubt he’ll also be fantastic in Chappie next year. But what’s with that accent Sharlto? You’re South African… why does your villain need to be hammy and English? As a Brit, the accent just grated with me somewhat. Why Spike Lee felt it necessary to have Copley‘s character be British is beyond me. Oh, is it because he’s “posh”? Or is it because of… what… unfolds? I have no idea. Copley himself acts well and had me captivated, so it’s no slight against his acting capabilities. It’s just that damn accent!

Oldboy (2013)

That sounds rather shallow of me doesn’t it? To say that an accent is the reason that the film doesn’t hit the giddy high notes? It’s actually symptomatic of the main problem with this film: it’s unnatural and forced. Some things don’t make sense: love interests developing so rapidly, random violence, THAT accent… the list goes on. It might make sense in Asian cinema, but it didn’t really fit here.

Oldboy is far from a bad film, but it’s also far from a great film. The plot and narrative is its strongest suit. It ably works as a mystery / thriller that has you guessing up until the final beats, but this was already going to be the case based on its source material. Indeed, if you’re familiar with Oldboy‘s plotting, I’m unsure of what pleasure you’ll derive from this, spare an update to 2013 technology (they use iPhones) and the obvious benefit of no need for subtitles…

Whilst not the finest adaptation of Asian cinema, Oldboy is serviceable and will satisfy a moviegoing audience seeking an 18 rated film at a time when animation and family films are King at the box office. Oldboy isn’t a Christmas film; that much is for sure. Unless Santa’d been the one subjected to imprisonment. Then you could have the title as “Oldboy Santa: He Knows If You’ve Been Naughty or Nice”, then have a photo of him covered in tattoos, or like the cover of Bronson, but meaner. Actually, I really want to see that film… someone go write it! He’s coming for you Easter Bunny; he knows it was you, you little bitch…

Phage Factor:

3 Star

Only God Forgives (2013)

Only God Forgives (2013)

According to the Bible, our sins can be absolved by repenting and honestly regretting those actions you’ve made in your life. Only then will God forgive you and allow you passage into heaven. Now, I’m no theologian (hell, I’m a Phage), but that sounds a sweet deal. You can do literally ANYTHING you want in life and get access to the easy (after)life. I always question this logic when talking with genuine theologians, as surely there has to be limits on the depravity that you can commit in your life. Stole a packet of sweets from the local shop when you were 6 years old? OK, fair enough… that can be forgiven. What about stealing the packet of crisps and force-feeding them to someone with a sweet allergy, causing them to get horrendously ill… still forgiveable? Maybe… But what about committing genocide with those sweets? Can that be forgiven? They must be some pretty bad ass sweets… that’s for sure. But the logic is flawed, surely? Why this lofty pre-amble? Surely it’s obvious? Only God Forgives is out… does it make me worship at the altar, or should it repent for sinning against my eyes and ears?

Only God Forgives (2013)

Only God Forgives is the “follow-up” to Drive, insofar that it stars Ryan Gosling and is from the same writer / director, Nicolas Winding Refn. Let’s get one thing clear here: I loved Drive. I thought it was powerful, wonderfully shot and had a great display of acting from all in the cast. It was probably my highlight of 2011. It’s a polarising film though, no doubt about that. For every Phage that loved it, there are probably two that despised it, or at the very least failed to “get it”. How does Only God Forgives look in comparison? Chalk this up as another polarising slice of cinema…

With the US getting this film a few weeks ahead of the UK, I was already (accidentally) primed for what to expect. Reviews flooded at me, and they lurched between “cinematic gold” to “crushingly disappointing”… But I went in thinking “I know better than those guys, surely they missed the point of the film?” After all, the moody trailers looked fantastic and I know what to expect from Refn… but I was disappointed. Brutally so.

Before I start tearing into the flesh of this cadaver, let’s dance over the plot. Only God Forgives follows Julian (Ryan Gosling), who works / runs a Thai Boxing gym out in Bangkok. His life gets flipped when his brother is murdered… after raping and killing a 16 year old sex worker. Their mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) immediately flies into Julian’s life and sets about trying to get revenge for her dead son. And the only revenge applicable here is “eye for an eye” – she wants the head of whoever was responsible for this. “Whoever” just happens to be a member of the local police force, Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm)… and he’s quite nifty with a sword…

Only God Forgives (2013)

It sets up like a standard revenge flick, mixed in with the grubby Bangkok underworld. It should be a gripping ride. But it’s not. Only God Forgives is not the film I wanted, nor expected. It’s a highly self-indulgent piece of cinema masquerading as art. The classic elongated shots on Gosling are there… you know the ones I mean: he’s staring into the middle distance and the camera loiters on him for what seems like an eternity. There’s also the occasional eruption of gore, as was the case with Drive. Then there are innumerable karaoke pieces that are meant to illustrate the current “mood” of the picture and lots of jumping and jerking around in chronology. All in all, it made for one bewildering and slightly confusing movie.

Now, the thing that struck me about Drive was Ryan Gosling. He wasn’t really someone that meant much to me back then. Some will gush about The Notebook, but to me – he was a nobody. Then we had Drive and Crazy Stupid Love… OK… I quite like this guy. But since then? I’ve yet to be blown away again. A lacklustre Gangster Squad, a disappointing The Place Beyond The Pines… and now this. Whilst there’s nothing bad per-se about his acting here, there’s also nothing to blow you away. He walks around a lot, stares into the middle distance and gets his ass handed to him on occasion. Indeed, I think the best acting in this film came from Kristin Scott Thomas as the boys’ mother. She was deplorable, foul and thoroughly dislikeable, which Thomas delivered well. But that’s also the problem with the film itself… everyone’s pretty dislikeable.

Only God Forgives (2013)

Every character is flawed here. There is no hero. There is no antihero, really. Everyone has an axe to grind and carries their demons with them. Hell, the plot revolves around trying to avenge the death of a guy who was a murdering rapist. It’s not a noble quest, and indeed the guy got what he deserved in The Phage’s humble opinion. So if you couple the flawed, under-coloured characters with the meandering, loose plot and sense of style over substance, you’re left with quite a hollow shell of a film. It’s odd that I couldn’t help but think of Guy Ritchie‘s Revolver at points, as that too was a case of a film getting too big for its boots and jumping the shark. It also placed an emphasis on neon lights…

Only God Forgives isn’t the film I was expecting. In fact, it probably tallies as one of the biggest disappointments of 2013 for us here at Film Phage. Maybe we held our expectations too high, or wanted a continuation of Drive. Simply put: this isn’t a good film, not for us at least. I’m sure it will polarise audiences, but there just wasn’t enough glue to hold this film together. It felt awkward and forced at times. Although it’s a misstep for Refn, we’re still eager to see what he’ll pull out of the bag next… just don’t let us down…

I bet you can already see the line we’ve been aligning throughout this piece can’t you? The ironic line involving the title of the film? Yes… I don’t know if God can forgive this film (ba-dum-tsh!). Whilst it’s not up there with genocide-inducing sweet deaths, we struggle to forgive this. Not that I have a God-complex; for I do not believe that I am God… I am merely a Phage. But in the cinematic realm, we have a high opinion of ourselves. But we will forgive it this one time… as we say… just don’t let us down again. Please? There’s a sweetie in it for you…

Phage Factor:

1.5 Stars

Trance (2013)

Trance (2013)

Some directors can become very genre-centric, or known for only one recurring idea that they implement in film after film. For some people this is great; “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But for others it can become a bit of a drag, as every new film delivers the same basic premise. Look at Michael Bay – he’s maligned for his use of CGI and explosions in near-enough every film he’s put out in the past decade. Then you have directors who switch it up film after film to tackle different genres. Perhaps the most famous example of this right now is Quentin Tarantino – I make no secret of my fanboyism of his catalogue of films. Each of his films has been stunningly different. But having said that… I think there’s another director out there more worthy of the accolade of “most diverse director”. And that would be Danny Boyle.

Danny Boyle is the guy behind Transpotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours to name but a handful. In there you have tales of drug addicts, a zombie apocalypse and the story of a guy who gets stuck under a boulder and gradually goes bonkers. Boyle isn’t afraid to tackle different genres. He’s also not afraid to tackle theatrics either, as he was the guy behind the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, which many hailed as fantastic (me included). So this brings us to Trance – his latest full length film. A film that I put down as one of the 13 to watch in 2013. So does it live up to my lofty expectations?

The look of bemusement on my face during the trailers for Trance...

The look of bemusement on my face during the trailers for Trance…

First things first… I need to deal with the trailer for this film. It’s a trailer I’ve seen jammed in front of many other features recently. Honestly? The trailer is appalling. It actually reduced my hype levels for this film. A lot. It was disorientating, quite boring, and showed way too much narrative for my liking. It almost completely turned me off Trance. And I know some of you feel the same way about it too. Let me put this out there now – discard your thoughts from the trailer. The film is far better than those short teasers would have you believe.

Trance (2013)Trance is a heist story. A heist story by way of hypnotherapy and mind-bending reality augmentation. At its core, Trance follows Simon (James McAvoy), who works at an arts’ auction house. Simon’s not playing by the rules. So when a £20 million+ painting rolls through the auction room and the building is raided by thieves led by Franck (Vincent Cassel)… well, Simon’s in on the act. It’s an inside job. The only trouble? James misplaces the painting following a blow to the head. Naturally, Franck and his group are not best pleased by this turn of events and try to force the answer out of Simon. When that doesn’t work, they resort to hypnosis by recruiting Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) – a therapist. The film then focuses on Elizabeth trying to extract these concealed memories from James’ head…

But that’s only scratching the surface of what this film offers. Whilst my little synopsis accurately covers the first third of the film, it all goes extremely far into left field and gets pretty damn trippy and mind-bending. Immediate thoughts would point towards Inception and Vanilla Sky as inspirations for this film, but even then you’re not really coming close. What Danny Boyle has managed to do is create a vivid world, filled with believable characters and added this bizarre hypnosis twist in a way that really works.

Trance (2013)

Having said that, the mind-bending sections of this film did actually lose me at one point. I wasn’t sure what I was watching. Was I in reality, or was I in a regression? Maybe this was the point of a certain 10 minute stretch in the latter half of the film, but either way I felt lost. This shouldn’t be the aim of a film – to lose the audience. At all other points in the film I knew exactly what was going on and what was unfolding, but there were definitely sections of “what the hell is happening?”

Now, we need to focus on the acting of the three core players in the film: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson. As I mentioned in our Welcome To The Punch review, March is McAvoy season. Indeed, I actually saw him performing on-stage in London this past weekend as Macbeth. He was brilliant, if a little beardy and drooly. And Trance is another big outing for McAvoy. Arguably, Boyle has a good record of launching talent into the stratosphere. Just look at Cilian Murphy – a relative unknown when 28 Days Later was released. The same could actually be said of Ewan McGregor when he was selected for the role as lead in Trainspotting.

Trance (2013)

So, I actually hope that this gives McAvoy‘s career a massive boost. Not that he needs it, but I hope it does. Why? Because this is perhaps the best example I’ve seen of McAvoy‘s acting abilities. Trance really calls upon so many emotions from his character, James. I was sold on every facial tick, mannerism and emotion. A sublime performance. Similarly, Cassel ably plays out his role as the “bad guy” – a solid turn. Much praise has also been lauded on Rosario Dawson here, and it’s entirely merited. She’s an actress that’s already had some fine performances under her belt, but Boyle really brings out another side to her acting abilities, which is great to see.

The successful display of talent on show here is definitely down to Boyle‘s direction and Joe Ahearne and John Hodge‘s script. The film is anything but linear, but the characterisation is rich. One could argue that the film is not as well realised as some of Boyle‘s earlier works and indeed, that middle section got a bit too overwhelming, even for The Phage. There’s also an unexpected amount of gore and nudity (a heavy emphasis on pubic hair, or lack thereof). But then again, this is from the guy that had someone cut his arm off with a penknife and zombies that spewed blood at every turn, so perhaps it’s not that unexpected…

Cassel, McAvoy (with Macbeth beard), Dawson and Boyle - the key to the film's success.

Cassel, McAvoy (with Macbeth beard), Dawson and Boyle – the key to the film’s success.

Trance is another resounding success for Danny Boyle. It has its flaws, it’s not perfect, but as a whole it works in a cohesive manner. It works not only because of Boyle‘s direction and an interesting script, but because of McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson. McAvoy in particular appears to be at the top of his game right now. The trailers for Trance may have dampened my enthusiasm for the film, but this was eradicated within the first 15 minutes. What prevails is an intriguing, thought-provoking film with more twists and turns than a helter-skelter. It’s definitely a film that demands to be seen more than once, that’s for sure.

So although Tarantino is probably at the forefront of your mind for taking on wildly different films nowadays, you’ve probably got to look to Danny Boyle for the truest example of this. His back catalogue includes rom-coms, drama, action and horror. Many of them being seminal examples of the genre. Where does Trance fit into this list? Well, it sits highly in his back catalogue. It may not be the shining example of a thriller in decades to come, but it’s one you definitely can’t predict. And who doesn’t love the unpredictable?

Phage Factor:

4.5 Stars