Gareth Evans

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.”

July 25, 2013

V/H/S/2

WORTHY

V/H/S/2 – Worthy

There are certain things in life that you can count on; death, taxes, and numerous sequels to horror films.  Trust me, it’s inevitable once a studio smells money, not to mention the fact that horror films are normally the cheapest genre films to make, especially when those horror films are of the “found footage” variety.  Thankfully, it seems that this horror genre is starting to wind down, but when its done right and provides a story and narrative that is not only scary but provides just enough humor, it can be tolerable.  This brings me to the sequel to 2012’s “V/H/S” entitled what else, “V/H/S/2” a worthy sequel to the sleeper hit.

To start, if you haven’t seen “V/H/S” there really isn’t a need.  Sure, it’s entertaining and when watching the sequel you might catch a few Easter eggs from the first film, but aside from that nothing really carries over aside from the format, which features a wrap-around story and four segments that play out over VHS tapes viewed by our “protagonists.” The stories run typical horror movie tropes like ghosts, zombies, demons, and aliens, but it’s how the stories are told that really make “V/H/S/2” better than it’s predecessor.

Part of the fun of “V2” (yes, that’s what I’m calling it the rest of this review because of sick of typing three /) is knowing that the people in charge are fans of the genre themselves.  From Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale, the team behind “The Blair Witch Project” the harbinger of modern “found footage,” to Jason Eisener, the genius behind “Hobo With a Shotgun.”  And while the stories have their ups and downs, namely the wrap-around story, there is just enough freshness injected into the genres that we’ve all seen before, where they seem fresh again.

The basis of “V2” revolves around two private detectives searching for a missing person.  Their keen detective skills take them to an abandoned house that, surprise surprise, is filled with VCRs and piles of VHS tapes.  Of course its only a matter of time before we get to see what’s on the VHS tapes, and while the stories all have their own niche, some are better than others.  The first tape “Phase 1 Clinical Tests” is a strong start, but if you’ve seen the segment from “John Carpenter’s Body Bags,” Eye, you’ve seen this story before.  But the strongest story, Safe Haven, sets the bar pretty high if there are going to be more editions of “V/H/S” in the future.  Gareth Evans, the director of “The Raid: Redemption,” pulls what he knows about Indo-China and puts a horror/religious cult/zombie/Apocalypse spin on it.  It might seem like a mish-mosh of multiple genres, but it works really well with plenty of suspense and a funny little twist come the end of the story.

One of the weaker segments is “Slumber Party Alien Abduction.”  Sure enough, the title of the segment tells you everything you need to know;  there’s a slumber party, and aliens invade.  While the story is weak and you see everything coming a mile away, the introduction of the aliens works well, along with some decent scenes of suspense, but the fact that you want the characters in the segment to all die/be abducted, takes away from the overall feel of the segment.  Yes, all the characters pretty much all talk like they walked off the set of “Hobo With a Shotgun,” but that doesn’t make it good.

If you’ve become as jaded as I have with the horror genre, “V2” is a shot in the arm once again.  Thankfully, the “torture porn” era has been ushered out, but it’s been replaced with “found footage porn,” which just sounds like an film you’d go buy down at your local XXX Emporium now that I think about it, and personally I much rather see Sasha Gray getting filled out like an application by Evan Stone than see another “Paranormal Activity” sequel, but I digress.  “V/H/S/2” is a sequel that takes what was best about it’s predecessor and expands on the visuals, storytelling, and overall feel.  There is a greater sense of dread in each story, maybe because if you’re a fan of anthology horror you always know that there is a twist.

What’s been missing from the horror genre for the past decade is that sense of dread.  Yes, the gore has gotten better and the body count has gone up, but if your sole purpose as a horror director is to simply gross the audience out and not provide any “horror,” than what’s the point.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good gore-fest, I mean I loved the “Evil Dead” remake and that was a blood-spewing extravaganza.  My point is that while studios and directors stick to the same tropes in horror that sell, when is the genre allowed to grow?  “V2” shows that the genre still has some fresh ideas, and when you get enough creative people together that love horror films, new ideas can be milked from an already tired sub-genre, namely, zombies, in the segment “A Ride in the Park.”

Bottom line, take “V/H/S/2” for what it is; an all-around solid horror flick that has some staying power.
Considering the fact that website, Bloody Disgusting, is involved, there are some good minds behind possible sequels, and I’d personally like to see a few more established horror directors hop on board, such as Adam Green, Eli Roth, and maybe some old school types like Stuart Gordon or (just wishing here) Guillermo del Toro.  Blockbuster Video might be gone, but make it a “V/H/S/2” night.

Fun Fact:  VHS tapes typically record using three formats; SP (Standard Play), LP (Long Play), and SLP (Super Long Play).

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