Editor’s Notes: Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050, The Whole Truth, Train to Busan, Dancer, & Surf’s Up 2: Wavemania are out on their respective formats Tuesday January 17th.
Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050
Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 (Universal Home Entertainment) is a blend of satire and gore from the 90-year-old legendary filmmaker, who has been making low-budget flicks since the mid-1950s with such titles as The Beast With a Million Eyes, Swamp Women, and Not of This Earth. The performances in his latest effort are broad, bordering on camp and sometimes becoming wild excursions into B moviemaking.
The original Death Race 2000 was based on the idea that hit-and-run incidents would no longer be illegal in the year 2000. They would, in fact, become the national sport, and a way to earn bonus points in an event known as the Transcontinental Road Race.
The year is 2050. The planet has become overpopulated. The United States of America no longer exists. It has been replaced by the United Corporations of America and the states have been replaced by bigger regions with names such as Onepercentia, Gasarcana, and Pharmatopia. To help control the swelling population, the government, headed by The Chairman (Malcolm McDowell), develops a contest — the Death Race. Annually, eight drivers line up for a high-speed race across the country, scoring points by killing people with their cars. Modified to inflict as much damage as possible to innocent bystanders, the vehicles are tricked out with fins, spikes, and other sharp metallic objects to help each team score as many points as possible.
The film is filled with blood, mayhem, and over-the-top acting and, in style, resembles one of Corman’s low-budget quickies of yore. The Corman touch is evident throughout, with its wild collection of bizarre characters, loopy dialogue, and gruesomely funny violence, as only Corman can deliver. You can see elements of other, much better films in Death Race 2050, including Ben-Hur (those spiked wheels), 1984 (the Big Brother-type leader), and the Mad Max pictures (wild armored vehicles zooming at breakneck speed). For those who like unrelieved action without the burden of complex characterization or moralistic themes, this is the film to see.
Bonus extras on the 2-disc widescreen release include the featurettes “The Making of ‘2050’;” “Cars! Cars! Cars!,” a look at the one-of-a-kind vehicles depicted in the movie; and “The Look of 2050,” an overview of the picture’s production design and a discussion of filming in Peru. A digital HD copy is included.
The Whole Truth
The Whole Truth (Lionsgate) is a courtroom drama that focuses on defense attorney Richard Ramsey (Keanu Reeves), who takes on a personal case when he swears to his widowed friend, Loretta Lassiter (Renee Zellweger), that he will keep her son Mike (Gabriel Basso) out of prison. Charged with murdering his father, Mike initially confesses to the crime. But as the trial proceeds, evidence is revealed about the kind of man Boone Lassiter (Jim Belushi) really was. While Ramsey uses the evidence to get his client acquitted, his new colleague Janelle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) digs deeper and begins to realize that the whole truth presents an entirely new picture.
Director Courtney Hunt intercuts between the murder and flashbacks depicting variations of events that preceded the crime. “The Whole Truth,” as its title implies, is concerned with picking apart the very nature of truth and exploring the idea that no one is completely truthful. Voice-overs by Reeves’ character may have been incorporated to provide a stylistic similarity to film noir, but they are often unnecessary and take the viewer out of the unfolding drama of the trial.
Best known for his roles in science fiction and action films such as “The Matrix,” “John Wick” and “47 Ronin,” Reeves looks a bit ill at ease as a high-powered attorney. His relative youth undermines credibility. It’s unlikely that his character would already have the kind of reputation that lawyers generally don’t achieve until they are years older. He has considerably more dialogue here than in many of his films but fails to deliver the nuanced performance needed for him to command the screen without benefit of special effects or elaborate fight scenes. He never fully convinces despite doing his best to channel Perry Mason and any number of big screen lawyers. What’s missing is the gravitas associated with a sharp lawyer secure, comfortable, and confident in a high-profile trial.
The widescreen Blu-ray release contains no special features. A digital HD copy is enclosed.
Train to Busan
Train to Busan (Well Go USA) puts a new spin on the zombie thriller: have a zombie outbreak take place on a high-speed train. It’s a perfect setting for disaster, since there’s little chance of escape and it appears the zombies will be able to feast without any significant opposition.
Passengers on a train from Seoul to Busan include a hedge-fund manager and his daughter, a pregnant woman, a high school baseball team, two elderly women and — most significantly — a sweaty teenager who jumps on board immediately before departure. Pretty soon, she transforms from a sickly young woman into a bloodthirsty creature.
The confined, inescapable setting is a nifty premise, since the would-be victims must use their wits to confront or hide from the ever-growing zombie horde. As the train passes through various cities, the uninfected within the train watch the carnage and mayhem unfold outside through the train’s blood-covered windows. Their only clue as to what’s happening is intermittent news reports on the train’s TVs until they eventually lose reception.
The moving train idea comes right from Snowpiercer and the depiction of zombies conforms to what has been established in other films, such as 28 Days Later — once bitten, a normal person soon becomes a zombie, hungering for human flesh. Director Yeon Sang-Ho manages to give depth to stock characters, making them more than just objects of zombie appetites. As the horror escalates, the passengers must decide whether survival depends more on self-protection or cooperative group action.
Once the plot is set in motion, it proceeds as briskly as the horror-filled train. There has been a glut of zombie movies over the last few years, but Train to Busan brings originality and wit to this overworked horror sub- genre.
Bonus extras on the widescreen Blu-ray release include a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette. The film has two language tracks: Korean and English. English subtitles are also available.
Dancer (IFC Films) is a documentary about Ukranian-born prodigy Sergei Polunin, known as the “bad boy of ballet,” who became the Royal Ballet’s youngest-ever principal dancer at age 19. Two years later at the height of his success, he resolved to give up dance completely. Through home-video footage, director Steven Cantors traces Polunin’s physical and artistic development from age eight through his teen years when he was separated from his family to study in Kiev and later to join the Royal Ballet.
The film chronicles Polunin’s brilliant performances in the United Kingdom, Russia and eventually the United States, where his dancing to Irish singer/songwriter Hozier’s “Take Me to the Church” went viral after it was filmed by David LaChapelle. Dancer contains footage of grueling rehearsal, and focuses on the effects of stardom on Polunin, including media scrutiny, arrogance, and bad behavior.
Polunin’s skill is shown in his extraordinary muscular control, exhilarating leaps, and focused intensity. With a heavily tattooed torso, he looks less like a typical ballet star than a cross between James Dean and a gang leader. But his talent and panther-like grace are what thrilled audiences and made him one of the greats of ballet. Those who love and appreciate dance will be enthralled by this film, but it will also appeal to all who are impressed by remarkable talent.
Special features on the unrated widescreen DVD release include deleted scenes and the film’s theatrical trailer.
Surf’s Up 2: Wavemania
Surf’s Up 2: Wavemania (Sony Home Entertainment) is a direct-to-video computer-animated film being released during the tenth anniversary of the Surf’s Up franchise that began in 2007. Surf’s Up 2 follows surfer penguin Cody Maverick as his childhood dream comes true when The Hang 5, a world-famous surf crew known for their extreme stunts and larger-than-life personalities, visits his island. Cody has become complacent and a bit bored and hungers for a new challenge. He convinces The Hang 5 team to let him join them on their journey to a mysterious spot known as The Trenches, where legend has it that they’ll find the biggest waves in the world.
A co-production with the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), the film features voice talent by wrestling stars John Cena, Vince McMahon, Paige, Triple H, and The Undertaker. Jeremy Shada voices Cody, and Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) plays sidekick Chicken Joe. Casting actual wrestlers for the vocals is a gimmick that doesn’t pay off, since most are uninspired. It takes a real actor to create a character and the efforts here are merely adequate, nothing more. The film lacks the charm of the original, though young kids will probably enjoy the funny looking creatures and their wild action sequences.
Bonus features on the DVD release include four featurettes that focus on recording the voice tracks, “Chicken Joe’s Extreme Slaughter Island Tour,” how to draw characters from the film, and the importance of music to create mood. These behind-the-scenes mini-documentaries are often more entertaining than the feature itself. A Digital Ultraviolet HD copy is enclosed.