Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Raid 2 Berandal SPOILER FREE Review

The Raid reinvented action cinema and became, amongst the right people, THE film to know about and to have seen. Were there lots of precedents and already existing elements that went into The Raid? Of course but, much like the film it is often compared to, Die Hard, it is a film that has changed everything in the genre. For example, Sylvester Stallone saw it, realised Expendables 3 had to up its game and tweeted as much and although Hollywood is so slow and unimaginative that we'll see a Raid remake before we feel its influence in blockbuster fight scenes, you better believe it'll happen.

Gareth Evans though is a film maker that isn't going to wait around and isn't going to take some generic offer from Hollywood, just yet, when he can make a sequel in the same way they made the first film, by his own admission, in a 'creative bubble' with no one looking over his shoulder. I am sure if anyone did look over the shoulder of the man who wrote, directed, edited (on set and on the go!) and even helped choreograph The Raid 2: Berandal over the course of 6 gruelling months and on the jaw droopingly low budget of only $4.5 million, they wouldn't have a clue what was going on or what to say anyway. I know how they did some of the stunts and sequences and I still don't believe it!

The strength of The Raid 2, may also be its only weakness, which I will explain in a minute but basically The Raid 2 isn't anything like The Raid. Yes it follows on directly from the first film, stars the same person, has the same kind of awe inspiring fight scenes and the same limits testing, inventive camera work but in tone, story and pace it is very different. In attempting to describe it I have said it's both art house and grindhouse, action packed, comic book but dramatic, emotional, character and story driven, it's Donnie Brasco meets Hard Boiled, it's both utterly beautiful and violent, excessively gory and boundary pushing. Which is all tremendous but also leads to a long and unevenly paced film.
I definitely need to see it again now that I know what to expect and see if I still feel that way because, I have to say, during the first hour of the film because I was expecting, like a brainless idiot, The Raid again, I guess, I did find myself a little fidgety and, even, disappointed. This was entirely down to my expectation going in though and once the film hit its stride and started trying lots of different things I saw and appreciated what it was doing. So while, now, I perceive the pacing and tonal shifts to be a weakness, that might change and even if it doesn't, it's fantastic that Gareth Evans, Iko Uwais and co. tried something so different, second time out of the gate.

The Raid was criticised, by some utterly idiotic critics, for having little plot. I am sure the same critics thought of Evans as a one trick pony 'yeah the actions cute and everything but where's the character hmmmm' This is because most critics are ill-informed, humourless, action hating twats who hadn't bothered to see the excellent and full of plot, characters and drama, Merantau.  So, while the basic story of the script for The Raid 2 was actually written after Merantau and before The Raid, it still feels like Gareth Evans thought 'no plot eh? well I'll show you!' because the plot of The Raid 2 is so classic, so epic and so dramatic that, in some scenes, the fights can feel a little crow barred in actually, despite them all being driven by or furthering the plot.

I won't go into too much detail but basically our hero, Rama, in order to protect his wife and newborn son against the vengeance of the gangsters, whose business he effectively destroyed in the first film, begrudgingly becomes part of an undercover unit to weasel out corrupt police in the main Indonesian gang. This sadly means leaving his family in a safe house and getting himself purposefully arrested in order to get close to the son of the Indonesian crime boss Bangun, Ucok (Arifin Putra) while in prison. Meanwhile there has been peace for 10 years in the gang wars between the Indonesian crime family and the rival Japanese crime family, with each having and controlling their own defined territory. However a third party, Bejo (Alex Abbad) who has clawed his way up from nothing, decides to manipulate and eliminate his way into getting his own territory... and that's JUST the set up. There is SO MUCH more to it.

Normally I am not a fan of long movies. I think it's becoming a worrying trend. It's also difficult as movie theatres really don't have seats conducive to sitting that long. The Raid 2 is 150mins long and while there's definitely never a dull moment and I am not sure what more you would cut out, considering there are already 10 major deleted scenes apparently, I wouldn't usually advocate for that length of film. It has so much to cram in though and quite an intricate, part Shakespearean, part gangster epic plot that it definitely has plenty to do during that running time, not to mention the incredible fight/stunt sequences throughout.
So, to those fight scenes. Compared to the first they are bigger, have more people, more bloodletting, are more varied and are in many, many different locations. They are similar in that they are inventively choreographed and the camera and the fighter entwine constantly, like an omnipresent combatant and supporter, in such a pleasing and innovative way that it is both not immediately noticeable and would make my head spin if I had to work out or plan anything that intricate. During the spectacular car chase, the use of multiple operators risking life and limb at speeds of up to 60mph to get the effect that the camera comes out of one car window, floats down the road and then into the car behind it is absolutely jaw dropping.
Also for people, like me, who were watching the film and could completely, mentally appreciate the changes from the first film but were also waiting just for Iko Uwais to be completely unleashed on some people in a series of awesome kick ass scenes one after the other, like the first film, have no fear, the climax does NOT disappoint!
There is plenty of blood flying around in the film as well and, certainly in terms of gore and single, shocking violent moments, it certainly felt more brutal in places than The Raid. It is absolutely on the edge of a very hard R. To be honest, if this gets an R, why even bother having an NC-17.

The acting and the writing are also expanded upon in the second film with Iko Uwais, especially, playing a wonderfully angry, downtrodden, confused at times and sad at times version of Rama that shows so much depth of character in-between the frenetic fighting. Rama is not just the focus though in this film and all the characters have their moment. They have fleshed out motives, understandable reactions and there's twists and shocks aplenty.
I was talking earlier about a clash of styles and I described the film as a gangster epic, Shakespearean and even comic book like, well this is reflected in the characters, the set design and the cinematography.
The characters range from a serious, quietly spoken Yakuza boss played by Ken'ichi Endô, to the anxious, fiery tempered, ambitious, upstart son, to even a Manga like assassin duo with hammers and a baseball bat respectively, as their stylised weapon of choice.
The terrific sets range from gritty, shot-on-location streets, buildings and alleyways to meticulously designed apartments, offices, a banquet hall and a jail.
Likewise, the cinematography is one moment, still, specific, beautiful, slow and focussed and the next minute handheld, frantic and insane.
It's a film maker and his crew not resting on their laurels or repeating previous glories but instead using all of their abilities to produce a rich, varied and enjoyable film. It's diverse but understandable, it's crowd pleasing and thought provoking and it's massive, visual and jaw dropping while having moments of quiet, desperate, emotional intimacy.

Has some of the surprise of the first film dissipated? a little but not entirely and does it totally reinvent the game again? not at all and, if anything, is more traditional than the minimalist, relentless first film but both as a sequel and as a film on its own, it's an incredible piece of work. Incredibly assured, incredibly entertaining and incredibly inventive. It can now be added to the list and sit proudly next to The Godfather 2, Evil Dead 2, Aliens etc.

If you love action, gangster films or Asian cinema then make sure you watch this at least twice when it shows up in cinemas on the 11th of April.
- The Kick Ass Kid

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Sabotage is a gritty crime action thriller co-written and directed by David Ayer and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard and Olivia Williams along with TV hunks Josh Holloway and Joe Manganiello.
It is also, on the surface, an unusual film for Schwarzenegger who, despite a slate of upcoming sequels to his former big hits or franchises, is in the middle of a really interesting comeback. The criminally underrated Last Stand saw him try a little bit of an Eastwoodish turn as the old, tired, grizzled sheriff of a small town but still with all the humour and over-the-top action that used to be his stock-in-trade, Escape Plan saw him having tremendous fun in a bravado performance and stealing the film in his supporting role and in the upcoming Maggie he will be dipping his toe into the bloody and crowded waters of zombie films but with Sabotage it appears to be a first for Arnold: a, mostly, dramatic, serious performance, leading an ensemble cast, with, comparatively minimal action.

Arnie plays a tough as nails but quietly haunted and lost DEA Agent, whose special team of hard training, hard fighting, hard drinking and hard talking undercover agents are divided by an incident and investigation surrounding a missing ten million dollars. This fills the team full of mistrust, which only grows as they, individually, start showing up dead in a series of brutal, unflinching and hard R murders. Schwarzenegger must team up with Fed Olivia Williams and work out just what the hell is going on.

Sabotage is a film that is all about appearances. It appears to be a grainy, dark, violent and adult crime film which pulls no punches with language, nudity and gore but aspects of the plot are as generic as your favourite 80s or 90s revenge action film. We are told that Arnold's team are the best at what they do but we don't really ever see that as they appear to just be a bunch of loud mouth, alcoholic hotheads who happen to be armed. They also all appear to be innocent but maybe there's something else going on!
It's, also, a film that appears to be taking cliches from the past and turning them on their head and a film that appears to be clever, full of twists and reveals but, a few minutes out of the cinema, you have more questions than answers and any logic the script has falls away pretty quickly.
This, normally, in a wham bam, 80s throwback, action film wouldn't matter but structuring it the way they have and presenting it the way they have, demands you look into it a little closer and, when you do, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

One of the good things about the movie was definitely the fact that, from the trailer, I thought it would have that shaky-cam, grainy-video style cinematography that sadly passes for so-called "realism" these days and is meant to signal you're watching something edgy and serious but it didn't. The cinematography was pretty good and the action scenes, particularly, were clear, pleasing and watchable. There were a couple of moments where the camera would suddenly and needlessly be mounted on top of a gun or something silly but apart from that, very cool.
Another thing was Arnie and Olivia Williams performances, while the chemistry between them never really materialised like maybe the script called for it to, he has presence by the bucket load and she has the acting chops, so that you were always pleased when the film followed them.
Lastly it's violence and gore is joyously hard R, in your face, unflinching and even, at times, shocking. I wish it was attached to more enthusiastic and pleasing action sequences but that it was there at all, was a surprise.

Sadly though the movie has a lot of faults and I hate to write or report this as I really do think Arnie fans, action fans and thriller fans should go and see it, if for no other reasons but to make your own mind up and to see the Austrian oak do something very different in tone at least, if not in story. However, a couple of hours detached from the movie now and I just wish they'd told the story differently or it had been a different story. While I applaud anyone trying to come at generic material a different and new way, I don't think this did it successfully. There's a reason this kind of story has been told differently in the past, it's more satisfactory that way. Also it's full of plot holes which are covered only by the fact that, because we are meant to suspect everyone in the film, no one really has any kind of character to speak of. Their motives aren't quantified, explained or examined beyond very basic assumed reasons.
The second reason Sabotage is not the success or the film I hoped it would be, is that the team around Arnie are all arse holes and while Sam Worthington's character displays a little sensitivity and tragedy, quite well I might add, most of the time they are all obnoxious, swearing, ego fuelled, bickering imbeciles. I couldn't believe one of them had any more elite training than a low paid mall security guard and even if they did, not one of them seems to respect it. I understand the team in the film is meant to be divided by mistrust and devastated by the deaths of their team mates but there are more scenes of them visiting titty bars and drinking their body weight in booze than there are scenes of them kicking ass and taking names, which is a real shame and also annoying and grating.
Lastly, the film is also horribly misogynist. I can't, exactly, go into all the reasons why here but there aren't many glowing representations of women in the film, most of them are drug addled, whores or strippers. Not that the men are likeable and perfect either but they don't get anywhere near the bad representation that women do in the film. It thinks it combats this claim by having Olivia Williams' seemingly strong, intelligent character in there but it really doesn't once you see what happens.

None of these niggles, of course, have to matter. Despite all this stuff, I did enjoy the movie for what it was and it's definitely an interesting film for Arnie to have in his come-back cannon. It's nothing like I was lead to believe from the trailer though and it's not as clever as it thinks it is but disengage your brain and just go with it and there's a ton to enjoy. It's my least favourite of his films since 2010 though.
- The Kick Ass Kid