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April 25, 2014

The Raid 2: Berandal


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.”

October 7, 2012

31 Nights Of Halloween, Kill List


If this was Simplistic Reviews, the place for THREE word reviews of movies and tv…I’d definitely want to add AS HELL to the end of WEIRD.  As I’ve stated before, I’m not a huge fan of horror.  Its like vegetables to me.  It has its place in my movie diet, but I’m not running out to enjoy them.  So, this month I’ve been trying to watch and review horror films that throw the genre somewhat on its ear.  Atypical horror films that stray away from the more usual fair.  Imagine my pleasant surprise when I stumbled upon Kill List.  How could a movie about a hired assassin be categorized by IMDb as a horror film?  I was anxious to find out.

Now, I’m not one of these ADHD filmgoers that hate setup and backstory.  I appreciate a film that fills out the characters and strongly builds the story.  However, one of the things that threw me with Kill List is that the setup in the beginning is VERY long.  So much so, I was wondering if I had put on the wrong film.  It takes maybe fifteen minutes before you have any indication that something is rotten in Denmark.  No clues, no hints, no nothing.  An argument can be made that because there is so much innocuous setup, the hints and clues they drop for the ominous story to come catch you more off guard.  Though, I think there might have been a more efficient way to give us this backstory and get us into the WEIRD story that follows faster.  A story I don’t want to ruin because when it does get going, Kill List is a very interesting watch.  All you really need to know is that two assassins, one with a mysterious past, take on a rather peculiar assignment that leads them into a very strange world.  A world where agreements are made with blood and victims say “thank you” before their demise.

Kill List comes from relative newcomer Ben Wheatley.  I can only presume his goal for this film was to relay unease.  And with that he succeeds.  From the first frame you are made to feel uncomfortable.  From the shrieking score, to the jarring editing.  Kill List is cut very much like a found footage film, wherein it’ll constantly jump moments later in a scene.  There are also moments of such stark, graphic violence, you’ll be hard pressed not to look away.

You may not know the performers in Kill List but their performances are still top notch.  Neil Maskell was well deserving of his accolades for playing Jay.  He has to convey so many different things in this film and he does so perfectly.  The relationship between him and his best friend Gal, played by Michael Smiley, comes off so earnest and real to me.  Friends that can try and kill each other one second and then share a laugh and a beer the next.  They are the foundation of this film and the main thing that keeps Kill List afloat.

So, does Kill List qualify as a horror film?  Well, the definition of a horror film is an unsettling movie that strives to elicit the emotions of fear, disgust and horror from viewers.   Kill List surely does those things.  Just in a WEIRD way.  Watch it…don’t let the cat out(Trust Me)…say thank you…then tell me I’m wrong.

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