Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Raid: Redemption MOVIE REVIEW

The Raid ("Redemption" was added for the US release) is a martial arts movie from Indonesia that has been getting a lot of buzz lately, with some critics touting it as one of the best action films in years.  The story is really simple; basically there is this SWAT team (or whatever the Indonesian equivalent of our SWAT team is) and they are tasked with killing a ruthless drug lord named Tama.  He's situated in a [I want to say 15-floor] apartment building which he uses as his criminal drug headquarters.  The whole movie is pretty much the SWAT team going floor by floor fighting bad guys and there is a ton of bloodshed and amazing action.  Gareth Evans, the director in love with the Indonesian martial art known as Silat, gives the fighting style its full impact in The Raid.  This movie is a ridiculously over-the-top violent adrenaline rush.  What it lacks in story it makes up for in balls-to-the-wall fight sequences.  I can't think of a movie that has done this better since The Matrix (and maybe The Matrix Reloaded, which love-it or hate-it, did have some spectacular fights).

The pace is so quick you'll forget about the bland plot.  The constantly pulsing musical score really helps with that, arranged by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park.  The score really helps to add shape to the fights, which can sometimes take a long time.  There are a lot of talented ass-kickers on showcase here, but my favorite had to be this guy named Yayan Ruhian.  He plays this guy called Mad Dog and he has two major fight scenes that were impossible to look away from.  He, along with the lead actor (played by Iko Uwais, a go-to actor for Evans), kick way too much ass for one movie.  I sat in a packed theater and people were audibly reacting with ow's and fuck's on a regular basis.  Some viewers might be repulsed by the amount of hitting, punching, kicking, neck-twisting, and blood-splattering, but for those certain fucked up individuals (like me) this is the cinematic equivalent of crack.  The story is completely stripped down to the most basic action plot and the rest is just relentless insanity.  If you like these kinds of flicks, try to see this film!

Rating: B (but the action gets an A)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Double Review: Televised Child Killings and Two Bumbling Cops

Hey guys, sorry if my reviews have been dwindling in quality lately, I've just been rushing through them to get my initial thoughts out there.  If anybody reads these, tell me if you'd rather see longer, more thought out reviews or summarized, quick reviews.  Or if they are perfect as is.  Or if you don't give a shit and want me to stop making them.  Or if you just want to sit back and not comment.  Whatever you want.  

The Hunger Games:

For those who don't know, originally The Hunger Games was the first of three books written by Suzanne Collins.  Essentially the story is a sanitized, teen-friendly version of Battle Royale, where a number of children are randomly picked out of 12 districts to fight to the death in an annual nation-wide televised event called "The Hunger Games" (duh).  I read the first two books (and gave up partway through the third) so obviously my opinions would not be the same as those going in fresh, but in terms of an adaptation I thought it was very well handled.

While certain, not ultra-significant things were changed from the book, most of the main plot has stayed intact.  I was worried going in that the proper back story would be rushed through in order to get to the actual games but the pacing was just right and had the same exact "flow" I remember from reading it.  Jennifer Lawrence, playing the bow and arrow-wielding Katniss Everdeen of District 12, was great in her role, displaying the right level of intensity and emotion that the character deserved.  I also loved the many recognizable faces of the adults "behind" the game; I was happy the role of the drunkard coach Haymitch went to Woody Harrelson, and Stanley Tucci was pretty spot on as the TV host/audience guide Caesar Flickermann.  Elizabeth Banks was inappropriately funny as Effie Trinket, Donald Sutherland and Wes Bentley (aka the American Beauty bag-in-the-wind kid) were appropriately sinister, and Lenny Kravitz was doing the same kind of supporting figure thing we saw him do in Precious.  I wasn't a huge fan of the two main male characters, Peeta and Gale, but they were still better than I expected because based on the way they looked in the stills that were released before the film, I was honestly expecting Twilight-level buffoons.

I do have to say though, this isn't even close to the same level as the other hugely popular young adult book-to-movie series, Harry Potter.  The lower budget really shows through here; whenever extensive CGI was needed it was kind of painful to watch (especially when there was fire - which is featured throughout the film).  The Capitol was also a bit underwhelming - it kind of looked to me like a scrapped idea for a planet in The Phantom Menace or something - not at all like the wondrous first look we got as we entered Hogwarts for the first time in The Sorcerer's Stone.  Also, sometimes the camera was doing the annoying nausea-inducing shaky-cam thing during the action scenes; it's hard to blame them though because for one thing you can't really show some of the stuff that's happening and get away with a PG-13.  For the age bracket I actually think this was a little bit on the edge, pushing into R territory.

The intensity of the games and the character stuff was all good (and that's ultimately more important), but in the end I think the budget might have gotten in the way of its scope.  I don't want to make the review too long and I could delve into a whole bunch of other topics, but the movie was really good; it's filled with political undertones and will appeal to a wide age group, both genders will get something out of it, there's action, romance, drama, and maybe a sprinkle or two of humor (not too much of that though).  Just see it, everyone else already has.

Rating: B+

21 Jump Street:

21 Jump Street: a property that nobody even remotely cared to see remade into a mainstream comedy, even less one starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.  The cards were stacked against this film going into it, but it actually turned out to be a great comedy.  Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the writer/directors of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and written by the screenwriter for Scott Pilgrim vs the World, 21 Jump Street benefits from some great talent behind the scenes. But wait - there are some great performances in front of the lens too.  I'm no Channing Tatum expert, but from what I've seen of his work he's never been better (which is not that difficult seeing as his acting prowess doesn't exceed that of a block of wood) and Jonah Hill hasn't lost his funniness along with his weight.  Plus there are guest stars and cameos galore, of which I will not spoil at all.

I don't laugh too often at comedies nowadays but this one regularly had me chuckling.  It has some great gags and surprisingly I actually cared about the characters.  The script may not be an amazing breakthrough in screenwriting, but the basic building blocks of what makes a good story were there.  With plenty of gags throughout, if you think this movie may fall under your brand of comedy (aka anyone who enjoyed The Hangover or Bridesmaids) I guarantee at least one titter out of you by the time it's over.  It satirizes both buddy cop movies and high school flicks really well (I'll go out on a limb and say nearly as well as Hot Fuzz), and if you're "with it" at all and get the in-jokes, you'll probably get your money's worth.

Rating: B+

Friday, March 16, 2012


John Carter (originally supposed to be titled 'John Carter of Mars') is the first live-action film from one of my favorite names at Pixar: Andrew Stanton.  Stanton directed both Finding Nemo and WALL-E, which are not only two of the best all-time animated movies, but I'd consider them among the all-around best movies (at least in the past 10-15 years).  So when I first heard about this project I was super-excited to see what this guy was going to do with a live-action adaptation of a classic Edgar Rice Burroughs sci-fi story that was the original inspiration for movies like Star Wars and Avatar... and then the trailers came out.  The acting looked totally lifeless, the CGI seemed dull and uninspired, and there wasn't really anything to latch any hopes onto.  It looked like garbage and despite Disney's overhaul of advertisements I don't think anybody was hugely interested.  I still believed in Stanton though, and I was still trying to reassure myself that the man who prides himself on delivering quality stories over anything else would deliver in the end.  But I was wrong.

John Carter may not be the worst movie of all time, but as the trailers foretold, it was just sadly lacking.  I kept trying to grasp onto anything positive, but I just could not connect with this movie at all.  The plot is confusing, the characters really don't have much personality (except maybe for this weird dog/dinosaur thing), and it just seemed totally muddled and cheesy on a level that stands toe-to-toe with Clash of the Titans.  The story is basically about this military captain from the late 1800's who by chance is transported to Mars (which is called "Barsoom" by the natives).  He learns that due to gravity differences that he has a Superman-like ability to jump really high and has increased strength.  He is captured by tall green martians with big horns protruding from their face and eventually John finds himself in the middle of a war where there are a lot of shitty side characters that I didn't really care about.  There was also a sexy love interest played by Lynn Collins who plays the Princess of Mars.

Every once in a while the movie presented a cool idea, like when John first learns how to use his "power," but between the really campy costumes and dialog, and the uninteresting and boring action, this film was a huge disappointment.  Considering how well fellow animator Brad Bird made his transition to live-action with the very entertaining Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, it's a bummer that for whatever reason Stanton just dropped the ball on this one.  It may depend on how much money this makes, but I think this may be the last time we see him work on a non-animated feature, at least for a good amount of time.

Rating: D

Monday, March 12, 2012


Silent House, the latest horror remake to hit the big screen, stars Martha Marcy May Marlene star (and Oscar-snub) Elizabeth Olsen as a girl moving into a summer house (or something like that) and finds herself trapped inside with a killer.  That's kind of it. The film takes the same route as Alfred Hitchcock's Rope and is supposedly shot using one take (there are some cuts, that is the desired effect at least).  I haven't yet seen the original, but I thought the premise was really interesting and I loved Olsen in that other movie, so I went in expecting a nice scary time.  Well, I couldn't have been more wrong.  This was a big pile of crap, even bigger than The Woman in Black.

Nothing about this film is good except for Olsen's performance and the technical skill it must have taken to employ the long takes.  Other than that the story is awful, all the secondary characters are terribly acted, the story makes no sense, and worst of all: it's boring!  At least with most horror movies I can manage to keep myself in the moment but man, this was a real slog.  Maybe it was the fact that I was in a shitty theater and I could clearly hear the musical numbers from The Lorax playing on the other side of the wall, or maybe it was the fact that people all around me were muttering to their friends 'this is awful.'  I tried to give this a chance but I have to agree with the audience, this was just terrible, and also has one of the more perplexing, strangely off-putting endings I've seen in a while.  The only redeeming value this film has is Elizabeth Olsen's rack, which in an obvious way always seems to be a prominent element on the screen at all times (I don't think that was incidental).

Rating: D-
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