Tagged Filmmaking

The Raid 2: Because Somehow It Gets Better

The Raid 2: Berandal. 2014. Directed & Written by Gareth Evans.
Starring Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Yayan Ruhian, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusodewo, Alex Abbad, Julie Estelle, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, and Kazuki Kitamura. Entertainment One Films Canada.
Rated 18A. 150 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)

Even the trailer just absolutely melts my face off. I couldn’t wait for this movie to come out. And boy, was I ever not disappointed in the least. In fact, this is one of those few sequels where it surpasses its predecessor joining the ranks of The Godfather Part IIStar Trek II: The Wrath of KhanStars Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, and The Dark Knight. This addition to what will hopefully be a trilogy is an incredible action film, and most certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen.

The plot of The Raid 2: Berandal begins only a few hours after the previous events of the first film. Now, Rama is forced to go undercover in a ruthless prison to protect his family, as well as infiltrate the criminal organization which stretches even into the police. He must become a mob enforce in order to break through and gain the information needed. This is easier said than done. Once again, Rama has to fight through criminal after criminal to succeed in his objective.
So get ready for an all-out brawl with so much balls you’ll feel the kicks and punches in your gut with every bone smashing scene.

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ne of the things I immediately loved about The Raid 2 is that it gives us another chance to engage the character of Rama. In the first film, Evans gave us a look at tough yet nervous rookie, who was navigating a world completely unfamiliar to him. Even more so this time around, Rama is in a dangerous and unpredictable environment. But this time, Rama is also more experienced.
Right off the bat we’re treated to amazing fight choreography just in the first 25 minutes or so. First, we get to see an enclosed space brawl where Rama fights off numerous prisoners, as they kick and punch their way to him. Then, later, Rama must fight for his very life, as a gigantic brawl begins in the prison yard. Arms and legs are broken. Heads are smashed in with fists, rocks, and whatever else these men can grasp their fingers around. Some inmates are kicked to death in the muddy yard by groups of other prisoners. It’s just an absolutely incredible scene.  ‘m not sure how many actual edits are in there, but Evans makes it all look like one long, fierce take just following fight after fight, death after death. It’s one of those powerhouse sequences where it feels unbroken for a nice long time. You see a lot of these types of shots in other films, but action films it’s not exactly commonplace to see these extended takes because that takes a lot of work. Evans, however, pulls out several of these throughout the film.

A really amazing sequence, among many, is the crowded fight in the car. Watching how Evans actually accomplished that entire fight including some very unique and tricky camerawork, it’s just a breath of fresh air in the action world. Not only does Evans care about the fights themselves looking great and natural at the same time, he still pays close attention to the details of the actual camerawork for such fights. I know there are other stylized action films out there. Nevertheless, Evans and his two Raid films really takes the cake on visionary action-thriller filmmakers. Seeing the camera operators passing the camera around through the car, as well as discovering there’s one of them actually dressed as a seat (I never would have guessed that on my own – not in a million years), it is spectacular movie making. There aren’t enough minds like Evans, especially in the action genre.

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Love the role of Uco played by Arifin Putra. He did a great job. It was good to see another strong role in The Raid series aside from the main role of Rama (Uwais). This guy did a nice job with a character who could be typical. In certain respects, he is, quite typical. Yet there’s a savage, brutish nature to the way Putra plays Uco I really enjoyed. I sort of felt bad for him in a way, even though he’s really just a spoiled little psychopath.
Regardless, Putra gave a good performance, which worked well opposite Iko Uwais, who was just as excellent (if not more) in this film as he was in the first. Uwais had more to work with here, as the treacherous waters Rama must wade through become deeper and darker, murkier than before. In particular, there’s a fight later in the film where Rama scalds a man’s face terribly (a man he discovers afterwards is a police officer like himself). Following the fight, Rama is absolutely devastated with what he has become in order to fight criminals – essentially, a criminal himself. Uwais does a terrific job with this role and I felt for his character, which we rightfully should. Then of course his fighting has only gotten better, it seems. Not long after the previous scenes, the aforementioned car fight goes down; it’s one of the more wildly choreographed and executed scenes in the entire movie.

Action films are always better served by good performances (stupid thing to say – any film is served well by a proper performance), so having both Putra and Uwais play their roles with skill only makes things better. When you get good action with fun, interesting characters it isn’t hard to enjoy. The Raid 2 really improved in a lot of ways from the first, as much as it could seeing as how that one was incredible. The main way in which this film is better comes down to the performances. Though there is plenty of action, even more than the first (or at least on a bigger scale than its predecessor), this sequel really gets into the performances more.
There are some really unique characters in here. One in particular sees Yayan Ruhian (who also apparently choreographed bits of this film – not sure exactly how much but that is excellent) back in action; here, he plays a different character than his insane Mad Dog character from The Raid: Redemption.The character he played was weird, which is awesome.  Not only that, he fights a bunch of dudes in the street, while holding a machete, and yet doesn’t actually use it on any of them – not until the final person he fights. This also includes a great blood effect that I cannot get enough of! Evans does a shot of a body sliding down a wall after being ran through with the machete’s blade, except it’s from the rear, and so we get a nice view of the bloody hole from his gut to his back, as it slides down the wall leaving only Ruhian visible through the hole in the wall. Maybe that sounds like a mouthful, but believe me – it is an awesome little, almost throwaway, practical effect. It looks really gnarly, and I totally dug it to the fullest.

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Two other honourable mentions must be noted when it comes to characters: Hammer Girl (seen above in mid-kick assery) & her equally demented sibling Baseball Bat Man. Great additions to the film. Not only was it sort of fun and a kind of homage to less serious/more silly martial arts flicks, it really kicked up the madness of the entire Raid series another notch. In the first movie, we get that real crazy vibe from the machete gang. I was really wondering what Evans would do in this film; if there would be that sort of vibe I got from them.  This is where Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man came in. Their fight with Rama was just absolutely intense. One of those great sequences where you’re actually not sure for a few moments here and there if the hero would come out on top. I like that, when a filmmaker isn’t afraid to tease us a little with the true fear of a character’s death. But of course Rama is the man; I mean, do you really doubt that? This fight is one of the more balls-to-the-wall sequences out of either of the Raid movies, and I couldn’t rewind enough to watch it over and over.
Not to take away too much from the final fight Rama endures – it is a dam fine fight both in the camerawork used and the fight choreography of the actual scene. I just particularly wanted to mention those characters. The last fight, regardless of how much I enjoyed Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, was near perfection. Incredible, the score really amped things up with a sort of John Carpenter feel to it, and it was just really beautiful and brutal all at once. Plus it comes to a bloody conclusion.
Also, it’s worth mentioning the locations Evans chose to shoot were really interesting to look out, so while there’s great fight choreography and bone crunching hits happening, there’s also a beautiful visual style to the whole film overall in the form of interesting locations, as opposed to a ton of set pieces (I’m not positive whether there were specifically built sets used in this film or not – to me most of the locations look natural). Always a plus for an action film.

As a film, The Raid 2: Berandal is easily a 5 star experience. It stands on its own as a really great crime thriller with extraordinary action sequences and fight choreography. In regards to its status as a sequel, this definitely improves on the first for me – there were no characters here I felt weren’t portrayed well. The acting really did it for me here, and took The Raid series to a higher level. The fight choreography stepped it up, too. The prison yard fight alone is enough to raise this up over the first movie. Put all those things together and you’ve got one hell of an action film. There isn’t the same music as the first, but I think the score here really works for the movie, and the fact it doesn’t sound the same is not a drawback. Yet there was a wonderful use of my favourite artist Nine Inch Nails both in the very last moments of the film and over the credits, as well. Really awesome music from Trent’s work on his Ghosts collection of albums. Excellent experience overall, from action to character to plot to sound. You won’t find too many films, particularly action-thrillers, better than this one.

The Blu ray release, again, is a god damn treasure. Getting a look behind the scenes of these Raid films is a treat for me. Like I said before, the fight in the car and watching it broken down kept me busy forever. Not to mention the entire featurette included called “A Violent Ballet”, which is focused solely on the choreography involved in the production of the film. Of course there’s also some director commentary (really worthwhile to listen – a lot of insight from a great filmmaker), and another featurette about shooting a sequel to the first film. These are all really wonderful extras. Highly suggest checking them out if you pick up this release.
Also thrown in is a four and a half minute deleted sequence entitled “Gang War” – this shows a group of thugs getting ready for what promises to be a massive battle, putting guns and grenades and ammo in bags, marching together down the street, and finally they meet another gang. This climaxes in a ridiculously wild and gory shootout between the gangs. I loved every last second of this. There are some great effects in the 4-minute span of this scene. Although, I can understand why Evans opted not to include this sequence in the finished film, it’s really fun to watch. An action packed deleted scene if there ever was one!
The Blu ray release is beyond worth the purchase. 5 out of 5 star ratings times five. I’ve spent hours watching the extras. The picture itself is worth seeing because it’s as close to seeing it in theatre as you can get. Really great experience. The fight sequences look incredible here. Evans’ work as a director shines when you can watch his film in such gorgeous definition. Recommended to the fullest – go pick this up and you will not be let down in the least by either the film or the Blu ray.

Seconds: The Future of Identity

Seconds. 1966. Dir. John Frankenheimer. Screenplay by Lewis John Carlino; based on the novel by David Ely.
Starring Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, and John Randolph.
Cinematography by James Wong Howe. Edited by Ferris Webster.
Paramount Pictures.
Rated R. 106 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Mystery

★★★★★ (Film)
★★★★★ (Criterion Blu ray release)

John Frankenheimer has directed a few incredible films, which includes Birdman of AlcatrazThe Manchurian CandidateThe Iceman ComethBlack Sunday, Ronin, and the fabulous sequel to the amazing French Connection. Despite those fantastic offerings, I believe Seconds is his best. It is a horrific vision of the future brought forward by an excellent central performance thanks to Rock Hudson, and a tight script by Lewis John Carlino adapted from David Ely’s original novel. Frankenheimer does a bang up job directing this film with some great help.
tumblr_mks6exfBm61qzr8nao1_500Seconds tells the tale of Arthur Hamilton who has lost interest in life. He has everything, seemingly, and isn’t happy. He comes across The Company. They specialize in giving those wealthy enough to afford it a type of transplant: they effectively transform a person into someone else, transplanting them into a new life. Eventually, Hamilton wakes up after a long debacle as Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson). From here, things get especially strange. His adapting to the new life is strange. Eventually at a party he has too much to drink, and starts rambling about the man ‘he used to be’. Things start to spiral out of his control.
He wants out of this new life, this second chance.

secondsI think the story itself is scary enough on the surface. There are so many different sci-fi horrors I can think of straight off; so many things could go wrong. It’s like how people think of being invisible as a great thing, making you capable of so much, but they forget that the capabilities can also be horrible instead of positive. In fact, the final seven minutes of Seconds gives us one of the more unsettling endings possible for such a story. As Hudson is being brought to his reassignment, after not being able to adjust to the new life he was given, we suddenly realize all the cruel implications of such a service. I think the last few minutes of the film are some of the more creepy and terrifying moments I’ve ever seen, in any film. It doesn’t need any outright horror, no blood or violence. All this finale needed was the talents of Hudson and the incredibly bleak, and wonderful, writing of its script.

seconds_cOne of the most notable things about Seconds is the cinematography. Right from the very opening scene we become aware this is a distorted view of reality. It is in our faces. The camera shows strange angles. Shots are edited at a fast pace. It’s evident from the start this film is anything but typical. There is no wonder James Wong Howe got an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography (Black & White) because for a film made during the 1960s the camerawork is astonishing, and refreshingly original. While a lot of filmmakers were going the way of Kubrick [not saying this is a bad thing – I love Kubrick’s films, as do many – this is simply his school of film thought, in my opinion], that is to say many of them were focusing on framing scenes symmetrically and the like, Frankheimer and Howe chose a unique way to present the film. It helps the themes found in Seconds. The odd angles come at perfect times.

For instance, at a party when Hudson’s character has too much to drink, he starts spouting off about his former life. Unfortunately for Hudson, others who’ve undergone the same procedure as him are there, and they are watching him, keeping an eye on things, as they say. A bunch of men try to silence him. They drag him away, pin him down, and tell him what’s what. This scene could have been filmed in a very traditional fashion. Instead, we get fish-eye type views of the men, all gathering around, holding Hudson down. The camera makes it all frantic. You feel as drunk as the character, you feel as isolated and held down, both figuratively and literally. All in all, the camerawork really lends itself to the atmosphere and mood of Seconds, and the feelings it produces of being an outsider, or better an alien in someone else’s skin, in their life.
Seconds-2As a film, Seconds is absolutely a 5 star classic of a film. No doubt in my mind. There is not one thing wrong with this movie, and this is a reason why Criterion has chosen to preserve it. This film provides a masterclass in several areas of film: directing, writing, cinematography, acting. The whole masterpiece is a testament to collaborative effort. Without the work James Wong Howe did, for instance, there would be a hole left in the film. Likewise, the adaptation of Ely’s novel by Carlino is a solid work of writing. Without it the film wouldn’t have moved and flowed the way it does. Everything here is here for a reason. The whole machine works flawlessly. The story is absolutely incredible. I would rank this up there with any other psychological horror. This can also be seen as a real sci-fi horror, but it works so well as a psychological & dramatic horror I can’t help referring to it that way. Not to mention the fact Hudson is in this film; his own identity feels tied up in the role he plays, very much, and I think that adds a whole other level to Seconds.
F3.largeThe Blu ray Criterion release for Frankenheimer’s masterpiece serves the film quite well. There are a few wonderful interviews including Frankenheimer’s widow, Evans Frankenheimer, Salome Jens, and a great new interview with Alec Baldwin who knew Frankenheimer well. Of course there is also a visual essay by film scholars R. Barton Palmer and Murray Pomerance, and in the case itself Criterion provides a booklet which features an essay on the film by David Sterritt. Most Criterion releases are amazing. This is no exception to that rule.
The release certainly gets a 5 out of 5 rating. They could not have improved on the film technically any more. The picture is absolutely incredible. Black and white can sometimes transfer over to look choppy, but the transfer here is pristine; the picture comes across beautiful, each and every image stays striking and noticeable. I cannot complain whatsoever.
Particularly I have to mention the camerawork and how evidently gorgeous it looks on this release. Frankenheimer’s wife actually discusses a few of the more brilliant moments. Howe uses really sharp focus in a few points that really blows me away. Also, she references the scene with the diamond-shaped hallway, the strange look of it all, the dreamy & nightmarish qualities within. All of these bits come out in beautiful picture. The look of the film is just a revelation here. That alone is worth the price of this Criterion title.

See this film.  Seconds is a marvelous masterpiece.  I rave about it.  There are too many moments to discuss in writing.  I could sit with a group of people and talk about this one for hours.  Maybe even days.  Not only the look of the film, the camerawork, and all of it, but the story and all its implications.  See this immediately, and get the Criterion Blu ray – you will not regret it.

Nightcrawler & the Vulture-like News Media

Nightcrawler. 2014. Directed & Written by Dan Gilroy.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, and Riz Ahmed. Elevation Pictures.
Rated 14A. 117 minutes.
Crime/Thriller

★★★★★

Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is a bit of an unusual film. First off, Gilroy has never directed a feature film, or anything else to my knowledge. His start came with screenwriting. The only particularly worthy bit of writing Gilroy has the credit for would be an interesting 2006 film called The Fall. Other than that his screenplays have mostly been for box office fodder like Real Steel or more recently The Bourne Legacy. Yet out of nowhere Gilroy both writes and directs a small film like this.
With not only Jake Gyllenhaal but also veterans such as Rene Russo and Bill Paxton. I say small because this film only had a budget of $8-million. Believe it or not that is actually small compared to most movies you see at the theatre. Compared with the $125-million budget of Gilroy’s previous screenwriting venture The Bourne Legacy an $8-million film is an indie. However, what Nightcrawler lacks in budget it makes up for in heart and storytelling.
nightcrawler-jake-gyllenhaal1-600x400 Gyllenhaal is a tour-de-force in Nightcrawler. His character, Lou Bloom, is a wayward young man. The first we see Lou it is in the early dark of night on the edge of the city. He has a trunk full of stripped copper wire, and is currently in the process of cutting out a section of chain link fence. A security guard confronts him. He claims being lost. After decking the guard, and stealing his watch, Lou visits a construction site where he proceeds to auction off the fence and wire. Right away the message is clear: Lou is a scavenger. Through mere coincidence he ends up witnessing a brutal car crash. As two police officers try rescuing the injured driver, Lou watches a guerilla television crew trying to get exclusive, gruesome footage of the accident. Lou asks a member of the crew (Paxton) if he could get a job, but is shooed away.
On the morning news the following day, Lou sees the same footage he witnessed being taped the previous night, and is in awe. It brings a smile to his haunted looking face. This chance encounter leads to a new obsession Lou sets his sights on.

Essentially, the film is a look at modern society. Gyllenhaal plays a seriously motivated and possibly (no, definitely) very unstable young go-getter who only wants to find something at which he can be successful; something at which he can excel. I believe Gilroy is attempting to present a look at not only how the media is a cutthroat and vicious business, but how we as modern viewers are also demanding more and more of this extreme footage. We, as much as we may hate it or try and deny it, are a part, a big part, of the process. No longer are news channels simply a NASDAQ scroll on the bottom of the screen while reporters talk about elections and local events, global news, the like. Today the news is almost like a horror film reel at times from images of war to school shootings to all sorts of awful, terrible stuff.
Lou Bloom represents the younger generations today and how we widely hold the view that anything can be a career. Even in this case, where Lou risks his own safety and the safety of those around him to get even 60-seconds of footage to auction off at the highest price for different television networks competing against each other. In a day and age where the grotesqueness of reality television dominates ratings it isn’t hard to imagine there are already plenty of Lou Blooms already out there exploiting car crashes and victims of gun violence (et cetera) for money.
Point being: Nightcrawler is highly relevant to the day and age its been released, no doubt it will probably come to be – unfortunately – even more relevant as the role of the media and technology in media changes over the years ahead.
Night-crawler Most reviews of Nightcrawler have been positive. I cannot disagree at all. It is a cracking good film. Technology aside, it reminds me of a movie we could very well have seen in the late 1950s or 1960s. It’s like a creepy noir-ish style thriller. Gyllenhaal himself is worth the price of admission. He physically embodies the character of Lou; the way he walks and talks all frame him as a ghoul, out in the night to find dead bodies and other nasty business, or even dig up the damn graves if he has to – whatever it takes. It’s really remarkable to see the young kid from Donnie Darko continually choose challenging, unique roles now that he’s older.
Another thing I particularly liked about this film is the lack of a forced in love story. Gilroy utilizes Rene Russo, playing a television network executive, here as a strong female character who is both complicated and flawed. He does not write her as a typical love interest so common in a lot of other mainstream films. Although there are a few sexually charged moments between Gyllenhaal and Russo, the film never falls prey to pushing anything in our faces, and stops very short; the plot never gets bogged down with unnecessary love scenes of any kind. It’s refreshing to me.

I can’t help giving this a full 5 star recommendation. Though I often try to avoid nitpicking a film to death because it ruins the fun, I’m definitely capable of admitting when a movie is not the greatest. Even if it’s one I personally enjoy. But there is nothing about Nightcrawler I can pick apart. It’s a great film with a tight script, beautiful camerawork, and a genuinely starmaker performance from Jake Gyllnehaal. Get out and see this. Now.

For another stellar review of Nightcrawler, see Thy Critic Man’s review here.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is Celluloid Terror

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  1974.  Dir.  Tobe Hooper.  Starring Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, Wiliam Vail, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, and Gunnar Hansen.  Vortex.  18+.  83 minutes.

★★★★★

Between a mix of Tobe Hooper’s raw filmmaking style, and my ability to empathize fairly well, I was absolutely shaken when I first saw The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s the reason why horror filmmakers are perpetually fascinated by that same recurring plot of “murderous cannibal family lives in the woods and kills people off who wander into their home”. It’s one of the reasons I love horror films in general.  It influenced, and continues to influence, a number of generations of horror fans and filmmakers alike.texas1z.png I remember my mother, who isn’t a stranger to horror (she read most of Stephen King’s work when I was growing up and passed all the books of his she owned onto me), telling me about the first time she watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and said it’d terrified her; quote unquote, the scariest thing ever. Of course, being a young male and thinking my mom couldn’t possibly offer me any insight on the horror genre, I went ahead and watched it anyways.
Needless to say, my mom has a fairly accurate opinion about what a scary film is. The first time I saw the movie is forever imprinted in my brain.

There’s something never right even from the very start of TCM, as we get the cringe-worthy sound accompanying the camera flashes while viewing macabre images. Then of course it kicks up a notch after the gang we’re going on a trip with along the Texas highway picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be far beyond stable. Hooper works in a lot of suspense, and an absolutely unparalleled air of dread before finally letting Leatherface loose for the first time. I remember first watching this when I was 12 years old (I was only born in 1985, so it would have been around ’97 somewhere), surely not supposed to be according to my parents. When Leatherface first blows through that door with that shriek of his, attacking the unsuspecting victim, I was absolutely terrified.
The-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-75Even 20 years or so after first scaring audiences in the mid-seventies, it was still working its magical horror on people on my sorry ass. Today, I can still throw it on and be shocked when first meeting Grandpa; the scene where they try to get him to take some of her blood is at once horrifying, and also darkly comic. After all the years of desensitizing myself with horror of all kinds, I can still find a creepy thrill from TCM.
I put myself in the shoes of these people- imagine encountering something like Leatherface. You’d be petrified. The whole family are disturbing characters in their own right, and they bring some black comedy to such a wild horror film. Hooper’s raw way of filming TCM brought a whole new element to the idea of horror, and people for years to come (and still continuing on into the foreseeable future) would try emulating its feel, but nothing can ever top it for the gritty terror it induces.
You can pretend all you want, but if Leatherface burst out from some shut-up door in an old house where you were looking around, you’d not only be terrified, you would most likely die. Along with letting loose most bodily functions. Isn’t that terrifying enough? Hooper didn’t have to add much to make this terrifying for me except the script itself, and the performances that came out of it. I feel a lot of it, if not all, was very natural, and very much how I would imagine people might really react.
THE-TEXAS-CHAIN-SAW-MASSACRE-1974-450x252All in all, this movie gets a full 5-star rating. Hands down. One of the best, and continually most frightening horror films I have yet to see. It always makes me wonder when I am deep in the woods camping somewhere, or hiking, if there really may be people out there living in a big creepy house, killing whoever they can manage to get through their doors. Any film that lingers in your mind, making you wonder the impossible is a solid film to me.
I also love how Hooper was partly inspired by the tales he heard of the infamous Ed Gein, whom always played Muse to some of other very famous horror icons including Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, as well as the iconic mommy’s boy Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho; Gein used to make things out of skin, including a ‘woman suit’ he apparently used to put on and howl at the moon. You can clearly see where the inspiration for dear ole Leatherface came from while peering into the dark world of Gein. Not that he was like Leatherface much more than at face value (get it – face?), or any of the other characters, but there are bits and pieces of Gein littered throughout them. The most outrageous, of course, are here in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and I love every last second of it.