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Month: April 2014

April 25, 2014

The Raid 2: Berandal

PERSONAL

The Raid 2: Berandal – Personal

The one thing that made martial arts films from the 1970’s to the 90’s was the practical nature in which they were filmed. You didn’t need wire work, CG, or too many bells and whistles in order to make it awesome. Legends like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Gordon Liu didn’t need CG to make their films amazing, and while I’m sure “The Raid 2: Berandal” needs a little help here and there, we are in the digital age after all, it’s still a film that’s in your face from beginning to end, and is extremely personal when it comes to it’s action set pieces.

“Raid 2” picks up pretty much right where the first one ends. Rama (Iko Uwais) has escaped the apartment complex where the elite police squad he was apart of was all but wiped out. Thanks to his brother, Andi, Rama meets up with a small police task force determined on wiping out police corruption in Jakarta. With two crime families, one up-and-coming gangster with a limp, and corrupt police, things get mighty interesting.

Bottom line, if you were a fan of “The Raid: Redemption” the sequel is a no-brainer. It gives you more of what you loved about it’s predecessor, but writer-director Gareth Evans fleshes the characters out just enough as to make them seem a little more than just fodder. We get inside Rama’s head and see that he is actually a family man and has missed out his son growing up because of his commitment to justice. Whereas the first film was pretty thin on plot, and heavy on action, “Raid 2” is able to balance the two and create not just one of the best pure action films you’ll see all year, but a new benchmark in martial arts film making.

Aside from creating a bigger world for characters to live in, the characters are also more varied and each have their own agenda, which raises the stakes for our protagonist. While there aren’t really any surprises that you don’t see coming and haven’t been done in dozens of other kung-fu flicks, a hint, people get betrayed a lot, when they do happen you’ll still be a little shocked. This goes double for the opening sequence of the film. It also seemed that there was a concerted effort to create memorable characters who had specific “gimmicks.” While this might come off a little corny, I think it adds that little touch of levity. Sure it’s cliche that the head of a criminal empire would have “super goons” but “super goons” that specialize in fighting with hammers and an actual baseball, is something special.

This brings me to the action scenes, which are brutal, but have a certain elegance to them. Using Pencak Silat once again as the fighting style of choice, the fighting scenes are ratcheted up to 11. There was also a welcome decrease in gunplay for the sequel.  Sure, there are some scenes where guns are used, notably in the 3rd act of the film, but the reliance on more martial artistry and less bullets gave the film a more personal touch. As an aside, I have to give a shout out to whoever did the sound design for this film. You feel every torn muscle, broken bone, and head crack as if it was happening right next to you. There were numerous times where I squirmed in my seat when a killing, or in the very least, a disabling blow was delivered.

All in all, “Raid 2” is a more than worthy sequel and surpasses it’s predecessor in almost every single aspect. Planned as a trilogy, it will be interesting to see what Evans plans to do since “Raid 3” will be a sequel, but apparently we won’t be finding out any time soon. Regardless, my best advice would be to watch “Raid 2” over and over and marvel at one of the best martial arts films in quite some time.

Fun Fact: Berandal is Indonesian for “thug.”

April 24, 2014

Simply Animated: Son of Batman

LACKING

Son of Batman – Lacking

When it comes to Batman animated films, there have been three ages, if you will. The first one started with “Mask of the Phantasm” in 1993, the second age includes classics like “Batman: Under the Red Hood” and “Justice League: Doom.” That brings me to the third age, and so far it hasn’t been pretty. Sure, we got “Flashpoint Paradox” but recently comic book fans had to sit through “Justice League: War” and the less than stellar “Batman: Year One” and the uneven “The Dark Knight Returns.” To say the least it’s been a bit rocky lately for The Dark Knight. Hopefully things have bottomed out with 2014’s “Son of Batman,” an animated feature lacking anything close to what made earlier films featuring Batman so memorable.

“Son” is the story of Damian Wayne, the child of Talia al Ghul and Batman, who seeks vengeance for the murder of his grandfather, Ra’s al Ghul by Deathstroke and a squad of renegade League of Assassin members. On the run, Talia decides it is time for Damian to meet his real father; Bruce Wayne, aka, The Batman. The film also has cameos by Commissioner Gordon, Killer Croc, and Nightwing. “Son” is based on the “Batman and Son” comic run written by Grant Morrison.

My main issue, and there are many, is Damian Wayne. I simply don’t like the character. I didn’t like the character in the comics (spoilers, he dies), and this animated representation doesn’t help the cause for me. He’s a spoiled brat, and while that is exactly who he was in the books, just seeing it on screen and hearing an annoying preteen tell Batman, or should I say, order Batman, what to do, is extremely irritating.

Speaking of Batman, hopefully this will be Jason O’Mara’s last film as the voice of The Batman. It makes me yearn for the likes of Ben McKenzie and William Baldwin’s vocal interpretations. O’Mara, who I’m sure is a fine human being, just doesn’t have the chops to voice the Bat. It all sounds like a bad rendition of Christian Bale’s “gruff” Batman voice in the Christopher Nolan films. There will always only be one Batman voice, and that is Kevin Conroy, who is thankfully coming back for the upcoming “Batman: Assault on Arkham.”

I will say that the storyline is at least coherent enough to be followed. Unlike “Justice League: War” the story is streamlined and not too chaotic. And if you happen to be a Damian Wayne fan I’m sure you’ll enjoy his hijinks as he tries to walk the line between justice and revenge. I also enjoyed the Anime-inspired animation and the amount of violence that “Son” included. Normally. most DC Animated fare is reasonable tame, but it seems since Christopher Nolan’s Bat-films, the cartoons have followed suit in terms of tone.

Overall, “Son” is simply a ho-hum animated feature with a few decent set-pieces, but substandard voice acting. Of course this could all be coming from my overall dislike of the Damian Wayne character, but I just feel like DC Animation is going in a direction that I don’t find too interesting. If you want to do a kick ass Batman flick, choose to adapt “The Court of Owls” storyline or hey, dig in the vault and finally decide to adapt “The Killing Joke.” Be edgy for goodness sake, shake things up and create something truly epic. One can dream, can’t they?

Fun Fact: The first reference to Damian Wayne was in 1987’s “Batman” Son of the Demon.”

April 23, 2014

Simply TV: Fargo on FX

TONE

Fargo – Tone

Some movies should just be left alone…for the most part. I’m not a huge fan of taking films and trying to shrink them down to the small screen. It’s like trying to find sense in a Pauly Shore movie (thanks Clueless). See examples like, ironically, “Clueless” and “Blade: The TV Series” for prime examples of bad adaptations. You could imagine my reservations for “Fargo” the new series on FX.  I mean, how could you add on, or create a show, to a film that pretty much had a definitive ending that needed no more explanation. Well, in the case of “Fargo” I stand corrected, and I’m excited to see what direction this newest FX offering goes into.

Whereas the film version of “Fargo” took place in Minneapolis, Minnesota this version takes place in the small town of Bemidji, Minnesota. A mysterious drifter named Lorne Malvo has arrived in town and immediately begins to wreak havoc. Meanwhile, a milquetoast insurance broker named Lester Nygaard is having a hard time dealing with a demanding wife, family members that have no respect for him, and an old high school bully that loves to remind him that he slept with his wife before they were married. A chance encounter with Malvo in a hospital turns Lester’s world upside down and sets off a chain of events that leave behind quite a few dead bodies….and that’s only the first episode.

“Fargo” is developed by Noah Hawley, who had success as a writer on “Bones” but also put out clunkers like “The Unusuals” and “My Generation.” While I can’t say such for his two failed TV experiments, the name recognition of “Fargo” and the Coen Brothers on as Executive Producers certainly gives this series name recognition, and I haven’t even gotten to the show’s lead actors yet.

It’s easy to forget that Billy Bob Thornton is a really good actor, and when given a role like Malvo in “Fargo” you can see a twinkle in his eye. I liken Thornton as Malvo to Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight;” he is truly an agent of chaos. He’s a cold, calculating, yet charming drifter who befriends a down on his luck Martin Freeman, who plays Lester Nygaard. I guess my best summation of Malvo would be a combination of The Joker, Anton Chigurh and maybe throw in a little Rust Chole from “True Detective.” The great cast also includes Colin Hanks and Bob Odenkirk in supporting roles.

The one thing that “Fargo” might lack at this time is a strong female lead. I see potential in Allison Tolman, who plays the lone female police officer in the series, Molly Solverson, but will she be able to match Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson? There are quite a few similarities, including their commitment to police work and family, but Tolman has extra motivation in the series which I think will add that extra dimension to her character.  

Despite my early reservation for “Fargo” I see a very bright future for the series. Whether FX decides to continue after the initial 10-episodes, I would love to see either an “American Horror Story” type anthology direction for the series where we meet new hitmen like Malvo from around the Midwest, and hopefully some tie-in’s with the film, and perhaps situating the show as somewhat of a prequel. Either way, “Fargo” has legs, and in the deft hands of FX, I believe it will be a series that gets better and better.

Fun Fact:The tallest building in Fargo, North Dakota is the Radisson Hotel, standing at over 206 feet and built in 1985.

April 22, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

CLUTTERED

Okay look…The Avengers broke the internet man.  And what I mean by that is, their film changed the way comic book movies will be done forever…or at least the foreseeable future.  That is why The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is, at best, a CLUTTERED mess.  Almost as CLUTTERED as that god-awful poster above.   It’s a hippy who needs to cut their messy hair.  It’s a fat person who could be much healthier if they just cut down on the sweets.  It’s greedy for more when less would actually make it so much stronger.  All because The Avengers broke the internet.

Every money hungry studio (I could have just said studio and the meaning would still be the same) wants a shared universe franchise of their own.  On the surface, you’d think that’d spell doom for Sony, seeing as they only own Spider-Man.  Fortunately for them, Spider-Man has the most character rich universe in all of comics other than maybe Batman.  Unfortunately for them, all the patience in crafting and carefully cultivating those characters went out the window when the world saw Earth’s Mightiest Heroes save New York from the Chitauri on half a billion screens across the globe.  Sony and Fox and Warner Brothers don’t want to follow the same model Marvel Studios used because IT’S THEIR MONEY AND AND THEY NEED IT NOW!  This collective impatience is why Man of Steel 2 is now called Batman Vs. Superman Guest Starring Wonder Woman, Flash, and Dick Grayson.  It is why X-Men: Days Of Future Past has EVERY SINGLE X-MEN CHARACTER JAMMED INTO IT.  It’s why a collection of Spidey villains known as the Sinister Six are getting a film for a yet to be determined purpose.  And it’s why The Amazing Spider-Man 2 just feels like 10 pounds of plot in a 5 pound bag.

Think I’m being unfair to them?  Why?  It’s not like they don’t realize this.  They do.  They know they’re sacrificing story for what they think people want.  I know they know because Batman Vs Superman has already been delayed a year to give them just enough time to finish their over-stuffing.  Days Of Future Past cast then cut then put back in several big name stars just to keep their films stuffed. (Hello, Goodbye, Hello Rogue)  Hell, Divergent star Shailene Woodley won the role of Mary Jane for Amazing Spider-Man 2, shot scenes and then was cut out FOR GOOD.  This is on top of the fact that Spidey has to deal with THREE underdeveloped bad guys and a now restructured love story and a friendship with a supposed best friend that is dropped in our lap with all the ceremony and subtlety of a wet fart.  That screams CLUTTERED story to me.  And sad to say, that is exactly what this film gives you.  

Shut up and tell us exactly what the film is about already DJ!  Well, it’s about Peter Parker still assuming the mantle of New York’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.  It’s also about how Peter struggles to keep a promise to stay away from his on again off again girlfriend Gwen Stacy.  It’s also about Peter finally finding out the first film’s promised untold secret left by his parents.  It’s also about Peter reuniting with his NEVER BEFORE SEEN best friend Harry Osborn and the secrets behind the Osborn company.  It’s also about a slighted Spider-Man fanboy who gains a power that he believes will make him special.  See what I mean by cluttered?

The biggest complaint I had with the first Amazing Spider-Man was that it felt like a Spider-Man film seen through the eyes of someone who didn’t give a crap about Spider-Man, resulting in him crushing every ounce of heart the Spidey world should have in order to appeal to the more moody and overly cynical society we live in now.  This movie is not as bad as that.  Instead, it is a good film pulled in so many different and ultimately pointless directions that it becomes a thin waste of time.  Every moment I tried to give the film credit for something it did right, my praise would immediately be undermined by the film doing something stupid, convoluted, or gutless.  Example?  Not to get too spoilery but the final fate of a certain character winds up being extremely true to the comic book and a very ballsy move in this cinematic day and age.  Just when I’m about to applaud the testicular fortitude, the film rushes past the emotional impact of that fate with a sloppy time lapse and a hurried happy ending.  When you watch it you can almost hear the studio executive shouting “Uplifting ending damn it! So what if emotionally sad endings worked for Smaug and Catching Fire and even the first Spider-Man!  I need a happy ending!”

Now I don’t think Andrew Garfield is a bad actor.  I believe his moody/neurotic/goofy/douchey portrayal of Peter Parker in the first film falls more on bad direction.  Thankfully, his character comes off way more likable this time around.  His overall chemistry with Emma Stone, the first film’s one bright spot, was so good that the two became an item off screen.  That chemistry is still there.  Sally Field, one of our finest living actresses, FINALLY gets a scene to justify her casting.  Even Garfield’s rapport with new addition Dane DeHaan is pretty damn good.  As I watched all of these relationships, however, I got agitated from the fact that they were being rushed to make more room for action set pieces with inconsequential villains.

For all the criticism I lob at director Marc Webb, I can give him credit for one thing.  He really understands and utilizes all of Spider-Man’s powers.  His strength especially.  Webb does this even more so than Raimi did.  Webb loves to show off every ability Spidey has in the most jaw dropping ways possible.  The action set pieces, though pointless at times, are well designed and beautiful to look at.  I just wish they were placed in a better overall story.  Webb also deserves credit for trying to rectify the faults of the first film.  But again, it all comes down to the story he is trying to piece together.  All the cosmetics in the world can’t make a bloated pig pretty.

This year, we’ve already been fortunate enough to see one of the best comic book films ever made.  By comparison, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is just not up to snuff.  Sure, it will make its money.  However, will it be remembered with some of the greats?  Not a chance.  Will it be remembered a few hours after you leave the theater?  I highly doubt it.  Follow your Spidey Sense…don’t forget Max Dillon’s birthday cake…try not to Spidey-Stalk your girlfriend…look out for leering Leary…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

April 16, 2014

Dom Hemingway

Dom Hemingway – Customary

It occurs to me that if you want to be taken super serious as a British actor there are two things that you can do; 1) Play Doctor Who or Sherlock Holmes, or 2) Play some sort of British gangster with psychopathic tendencies who likes to drink, do blow, and say “cunt” a lot.  Don’t be offended by the c-word, it was used strictly for scientific purposes. This brings me to “Dom Hemingway” a film that seems rather customary for British crime cinema, for better and worse.

“Hemingway” stars Jude Law as the titular character who is fresh out of prison after 12 years for keeping the secret of a Russian gangster named Mr. Fontaine. After his release, he reunites with his associate Dickie and the two meet Fontaine at his house in the country to celebrate and for Dom to be rewarded.  Things don’t go as planned for Dom and by the end of the film he not only finds redemption, but a new lease on life, sort of.

As I mentioned before his is Law’s “British Crime Film” following in the steps of actors such as Ben Kingsley, James McAvoy, Tom Hardy, and to a lesser degree, Daniel Craig. What sets Law’s performance apart,m however, is the way that he’s able to balance complete insanity with some genuinely tender moments throughout the film. Audiences might forget that Dom has not only lost 12 years of his life in prison, but also a wife to cancer and he missed his daughter growing up into the Mother of Dragons…..oops….sorry, I get my media mixed up sometimes.

This brings me to Emilia Clarke, who plays Dom’s wayward daughter Evelyn. One, it’s weird to not see her with long silver hair and speaking Dothraki, and two, maybe I’m just not a huge fan of her’s.  Yes, I said it! I do not like the Khaleesi! Do I think she can act? Maybe in the right role.  I think her take on Daenerys Targaryen is fine, despite the fact I don’t like the character, but in “Hemingway” I don’t think she brings much to the table. This could be due to the fact that “Hemingway” is truly a showcase for Jude Law through and through, but even in her limited screen time I feel like she is shoehorned into the film to give Dom added conflicts in his life.

This is where I have a problem with the film. From an acting standpoint, Law is fantastic and makes the film watchable, but the plot-holes and what seems like a film simply filled with vignettes masquerading like a lesser-Wes Anderson film, falls short. Maybe I expected too much from “Hemingway” but without much of a story to work with, and a certain lack of closure come the end of the film, the only thing I could take away is Law’s performance.

Directed by Richard Shepard, who was behind the vastly underrated “The Matador” you see a lot of similarities between the two films.  Mainly the way Shepard was able to take two likable guys, Pierce Brosnan in “Matador” and Law in “Hemingway” and turn them into scumbags with a lot of emotional baggage.  Shepard has the eye for the camera, but it’s, like I said, the narrative that fails the film in the end.

Despite its shortcomings, “Hemingway” is still entirely watchable if you can look beyond some of the issues it has.  Personally, I’d love to see Law in these roles more often.  We’ve become accustomed to him as either Dr. Watson in the “Sherlock Holmes” films, or as a whiny nerd in films like “Closer” but roles like Dom Hemingway are surprisingly in his wheelhouse.

Fun Fact: Jude Law gained 30 pounds for his role in “Dom Hemingway.”

April 12, 2014

Simplistic Sneak Peek Ep. 3

This episode of Simplistic Sneak Peek gives us a kaiju’s ejaculate, a Favreau/Vergara/Johansson threesome, and a double-sided dildo street fight.  All that and more in this oddly sexual look at the upcoming films Godzilla, Chef, and Neighbors.  You can watch all three trailers below commentary free then click the video above to hear what the boys had to say about them.

Godzilla

Chef

Neighbors (Red Band)

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