Shahid’s Blog: Quick Thoughts on The Raid 2

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The Raid: Redemption, released in 2011 by Gareth Evans, was a revelation – an underrated action masterpiece that soon became a cult classic.  It’s premise was simple – a SWAT attempting to escape an apartment building while apprehending a local crime boss.  But the action was unprecedented in its realism and artistic brutality. Along with Dredd 3D, The Raid provided a slick, stripped down, old school action film with no fillers or nonsense.  It actually served of a more polished version of Evans first film, Merantau.  Both films starred Iko Uwais aka Muslim Tony Jaa, and introduced the Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat to the film universe.  Even though the film only grossed 15 million dollars, it cast a large shadow upon the action genre, and led for plans for both a sequel and an American remake.

I’ll keep this review succinct – if you were a fan of the first film, or just a fan of martial arts and Hong Kong action movies, then do yourself a favor and see The Raid 2 ASAP.  It’s a lot longer and expanded than the original, and definitely has influences from John Woo and similar crime dramas.  Beginning soon after the first film, Iko Ukwais is tasked to go deep undercover to join an Indonesian crime family, with the goal to expose police corruption.  It’s a simple story, but given plenty of time to add emotion and depth to the various characters.  The bottom line is that it serves its purpose of providing the most visceral action I’ve seen on film….ever.  Every punch, kick, stab, gunshot and slam is given the greatest care, and is presented as an elegant ballet of violence.I can’t count how many times I exclaimed, covered my eyes, or just stared in awe at the myriad of set pieces and events, all of which looked painstakingly authentic.  Iko Ukwais has acquired the “baddest man alive” title from Tony Jaa,  and carries the film with a combination of artistic lethality and quiet grace. He’s joined by a wide array of characters, both old (Yayan Ruhian aka Mad Dog from the Raid) and new…lets just say you’ll never look at a baseball bat or a hammer ever again.

I could go on for hours, but there’s no point – go see this movie.  But be forewarned, it will be difficult to be impressed by regular action movies once you attend the Raid 2. -Shahid

Jeremy’s One Paragraph Movie Reviews: Blue is The Warmest Color (2013)

blue-is-the-warmest-color-poster“Blue is The Warmest Color” really warrants more than one paragraph but there are rules for a reason. Sure I decided to give this film a try because it was granted an NC-17 rating for copious amounts of graphic lesbian sex but don’t be fooled, the film does manage to work in a totally erect penis. Seeing this film described as “intensely erotic” totally misses the point. Yeah the sex scenes are graphic and overly long but they are a small part of what is a very difficult, well-acted and well plotted story. The film deals with some heavy themes such as sexual coming of age, the confusion of identity, the pursuit of love, the loss of love and acceptance. It wouldn’t work at all if it wasn’t for the stellar acting of the two leads. Their performances make the three hour running time move quickly so don’t be scared off by the running time. The film does seem like a battle at times due to the heavy-handed direction of Abdellatif Kechiche . His decision to utilize predominately tight camera shots and narrow world view taint what should be a great film. The story and acting though overcome these issues and make what is in no way easy viewing but it is a rewarding experience. -Jeremy

Jeremy’s One Paragraph Movie Reviews: Bounty Killer (2013)

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I have no problem admitting that I like the remake of Death Race and “Bounty Killer” reminds me a lot of that flick. The announcer type narrator and ridiculous premise are the two things that they share.  There is even a touch of Indiana Jones in it as the story flows along a map. Apparently this movie is based off of a graphic novel or as a comic reader likes to call them, comic books. The movie had potential but the limited budget did it no favors. Also the running time severely handicaps the story. If given time the world and backstories could have been explained more. This would work as a Cinemax series. No, not one of the Skinemax flicks but more along the lines of Banshee and Strike Back. There was definitely potential with this movie and this story but it ends up just being a ho hum, low budget action flick with big ideas. -Jeremy

Jeremy’s One Paragraph Movie Review: Alyce Kills (2011)

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Netflix recommended this movie since I must have watched some other crap horror film or something like a suspenseful intriguing thriller. Nevertheless “Alyce Kills” is a low budget movie that goes for the gore to make up for its bland plot. Most of the story follows familiar drug movie tropes ad then decides to change gears and tries becoming a gorefest. It doesn’t work. Everything in the movie is a paint by numbers experience and I quickly lost interest. I did manage to get to the end only because it was obvious the movie was coming to a brisk ending. The biggest issue with the movie is he title characters fall in to drugs and violence is wasted because she is not likeable form the first frame. She sort of sucks and thus her descent to madness and depravity rings hollow. Who cares if the annoying character gets worse and has no redemption? -Jeremy

Stunt Granny Movie Review: 300: Rise of an Empire

300-rise-of-an-empireReleased in 2007, 300 was an anomaly. An R-rated sword and sandals action film with starring relative unknowns based upon an obscure graphic novel, Zack Snyder and his iconic style was unleashed upon the world. Striking color schemes, slow motion fighting scenes, goofy scenery chewing speeches, super abs, old fashioned xenophobic savagery – 300 answered the eternal question of what would happen if an 18 year old uber nerd was allowed free reign to make a movie. A retelling of the battle of Thermopylae, in which a small group of Spartan soldiers undertake a heroic sacrifice against an overwhelming Persian army, 300 became a global phenomenon which helped launched the careers of director Zack Snyder, along with Gerard Butler, Lena Headey and Michael Fassbender (yes – he is actually in that movie). Any film that makes close to half a billion dollars worldwide will be mined for a sequel….which would be difficult since nearly all of the principal heroes die in the film.  Yet here we are with 300: Rise of an Empire, the sequel/prequel/interquel

First things first – if you’re a fan of 300, then you’ll probably enjoy this film.  Even though 7 years have passed between the two films, they share the same sweeping, thematic style.  Although not as groundbreaking as the original, Rise of an Empire is a beautiful film, although more muted than the original.  You’ll get plenty of slow motion spear thrusts, jumping sword slices, and every bead of sweat and blood, this time with the benefit of 3D. In fact, unless you engaged in geek research, you would have no idea that Zack Snyder didn’t direct this film, instead only serving as producer.  Instead, Noam Murro takes the helm – but it doesn’t really matter.  Rise of an Empire’s disadvantage is its status as a follow up film, not only being compared to the original, but also shows such as Spartacus.  The action still holds up, but doesn’t have the jaw dropping impact of the original.

Rise of an Empire takes a peculiar approach in regards to its story, serving as almost a visual appendix of the 300 universe.  Ever wonder what caused the Persians to be pissed at Greece, and what the hell the battle of Marathon was about? Any curiosity pertaining to the origin of Xerxes?  How did Sparta handle the aftermath of the death of Leonidas, besides doing crunches and bragging about death?  You’ll find out all of these things during 102 minutes.  Rise of an Empire solves the problem of following the previous film by telling a parallel story, involving the Athenians battling the Persians for freedom, as well as the aftermath of the Battle of Thermoplyae.  Shifting the focus of the stories from the Spartans to the Athenians helps the movie retain a certain freshness.  Instead of asshole brash killing machines, the Athenians are portrayed as noble flawed, yet skilled warriors, fighting for unity and justice of Greece. It’s also a more grounded movie than the original, with less fantastical elements, and a more adult story. As the leader of the Athenian army, Themistocles’ journey of freedom and redemption has more resonance than Leonidas ranting about DEATH AND GLORY while kicking messengers down pits. Personally, it allows for easier support and investment in the story. The movie spends an inordinate amount of time explaining the backstory and desires of the principal characters.  Some may enjoy the added character development, while others will just bide their time into the next set piece.

Anyone who watches genre movies understands that it takes skill to add believability and soul to an often ridiculous setting.  Gerard Butler was the primary reason for 300’s success, and his shadow looms large throughout the film. The movie makes a wise decision in presenting Themistocles as a more human character.  Played by Sullivan Stapleton of Cinemax’s Strike Back, he’s portrayed as a quiet thoughtful warrior wracked by responsibility and guilt, yet resolute in his dream of a united Greece.  My first impression was that he was a bit dull, until I realized that I was comparing him to Leonidas.  In actuality, he serves as the heart of the film, playing a more difficult character.  Lena Headey aka the chick from Game of Thrones reprises her role as Queen Gorgo, basically serving as the narrator of the film.   From her initial haughty arrogance when rebuffing Athens call for help, to bitterness and sadness from her husband’s death, to her eventual resolute fury when seizing revenge, she plays her role effectively. But the star of the movie by far is Eva Green, as Artemesia, naval commander of the Persians and the primary antagonist.  As a Greek who swears vengeance on her own people, I can’t recall the last movie which starred a terrifying, sexy, powerful, psychotic and charismatic female villain.  Every scene is dominated with her presence, almost to the point of her serving as an anti-hero.  Similar to how 300 was the Gerard Butler show, this film is her personal playground.

Watching a violent yet erotic sex scene in 3D in a crowded film is an experience in itself.  If you need one reason to see this movie, then see it for her.  As for the other characters, they serve as bridges from the first film, as well as plot devices to give weight to the primary characters.  I haven’t mentioned Xerxes as a major character, because quite frankly, he doesn’t earn that role.  But there’s nothing wrong with a towering walking Oscar statue prancing around like a prima donna.

I definitely recommend this film.  It’s not without flaws – there’s less humor than the original.  In addition, although it tells a nobler story, it has less weight of consequence due to its status as a prequel/interquel as well as sequel. And it also has a rather infuriating ending.  However, if you like seeing men with 8 packs fighting on burning ships while riding a horse under water, then go see 300: Rise of an Empire.  And seize your damn glory. -Shahid

Jeremy’s One Paragraph Movie Review: Bad Ass (2012)

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Danny Trejo has made a nice little film career for himself with the Machete films. Those are enjoyable flicks that move fast and are full of ridiculous action and story it is hard not to like them. Trejo continues what I am coining Mexsploitation films, with Bad Ass. The film is based off of the actions of that crazy old coot that beat down a guy on a public bus in Oakland some years ago. The movie has all of the elements of the Blaxploitation genre as it relates to race, sex, humor and action. The big problem with this movie though is that it gets increasingly difficult to figure out what is supposed to be funny if any of it is supposed to be funny at all. The action and plot get so ridiculous you are waiting for a wink from Trejo. You get some near misses but nothing definitive. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is fun and move at a brisk pace. It never seems to take itself too seriously, I guess but again that is the overall problem. -Jeremy

Jeremy’s One Paragraph Movie Review: Barbarian Queen (1985)

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On the Mount Rushmore of old sword and sorcery movies you have anything named Conan, Red Sonya and Marc Singer’s gorgeous blonde bob from Beastmaster. Of course you need four faces; so may I present to you Barbarian Queen. How this isn’t held in the same regard as those other films may have something to do with the fact it is rather terrible. Holy shit this came out in 1985? Incredible, just incredible. While watching this I was convinced this was a late 60’s erly 70’s schlock movie. It make sense now why this was made.You know exactly what you are getting four minute in to this flick as you get, redneck barbarian, titties and a rape of the soon to be queens sister. See, this may be named Queen of the Barbarians but the chick, the late Lana Clarkson,  never marries the king. She isn’t a damn queen. Her village is pillaged and her ceremonial htu is burned to the ground, well, sort of. She really isn’t much of a barbarian as well. But then when compared to the King Aragan she is a rather incredible warrior. This is definitely one of those really bad movies that is absolutely enjoyable to watch. How this isn’t a cult film is beyond me. The production is awful, the sound dub and mix is terrible, the sets are plastic and the story is barely rudimentary. It seems this was more of an excuse to see just how many bare breasts they could expose through the movie. In that regard this movie is a rousing success. -Jeremy

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