Archive for July, 2014

Part 4 of My 100 Movies of Summer 2014

The Raid 2 (2014, w & d by Gareth Evans)

Back in 2011, Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais delivered unto us an adrenaline-fueled siege movie called The Raid.  It was a super-charged shot of adrenaline for action junkies who hadn’t seen anything quite like it in some time.  A sequel was ordered and it finally arrived back in March. I was really excited to see it.  But I never did.  I missed out on a certain chance to see it at SXSW.  I waited for a theatrical release.  But it came and went so quickly from a local multiplex, I never had the chance.  I kept an eye out for it to show up on VOD.  It never did.  I knew I’d have to wait for the Blu-ray.  And FINALLY, a few weeks after I bought that Blu-ray, I watched it.  It was worth the wait.

One of the more common criticisms lobbed at the first film was its lack of a real plot.  It was pretty one-dimensional.  Get in a building.  Get the bad guy.  Kick anyone’s ass who gets in your way.  Still, I rather liked it as did many.  As the film ends, Uwais’ Rama is left to an uncertain fate with a few dangling plot threads swinging in the wind.  Here, Evans quickly resolves those issues in rather brutal fashion setting Rama on a new path of dealing with the police corruption that caused the drug den raid to go tits up. He is tasked by an internal affairs officer to infiltrate a criminal organization that works closely with the dirty cops.  He accomplishes this by having himself incarcerated so that he can ingratiate himself to the gang leader’s son who is also serving time.  His stay is a bit longer that was anticipated but once he’s released he’s given a position in the gang because of his service to the son in the prison. So positioned, he begins his task of exposing the corrupt officials who allow the gangs to run rampant.

And, oh yeah, there’s a whole lot of fighting going on.  In the prison.  In bars.  On the streets.  And in cars.  There are a ton of elaborate set pieces where the skilled martial artists are really allowed to stretch their wings in a way that the confines of the previous film’s building setting couldn’t allow.  The fights are perfectly paced as well.  Whereas the first film played like one long extended fight, here they move the plot, throwing it in new directions, all of it leading to a somewhat subdued and more personal ending.

Rama.  The Assassin.  Hammer Girl.  Baseball Bat Man.  All of these characters have their chance in the spotlight.  And all of them shine. But my favorite character might be Prakoso.  He’s portrayed by Yayan Ruhian and while you may not be familiar with the name you’ll most definitely recognize the actor if you’re a fan of the first film.  There, he portrayed Mad Dog who famously faced Rama and his brother in a brutal fight.  He had this crazed monkey style of fighting that was a treat to watch.  If he wasn’t such a son-of-a-bitch, you’d almost be rooting for him.  Here, his appearance has been changed enough to not be distracting but he still fights the same.  His character gives Evans an opportunity to bring some pathos to the proceedings and his story arc is surprisingly moving. It’s an emotional moment in a film that actually has a lot of them.

And I think that might be Evans’ biggest accomplishment with this film.  He’s delivered yet another thrilling movie, filled with action and brutality, but accentuated with an effective and moving crime drama plot that I would put up against any of the Chinese films of that type.  It’s a two-and-half hour movie that leaves you wanting more.

And that right there is a hell of a thing.

The Raid 2 is available on Blu-ray, DVD, Amazon Prime and VOD (Finally!)  If you’ve seen the first, you’ve probably already seen this one.  Watch it again.  You know you want to.  If you haven’t seen the first one, watch that.  Then watch this.  Then wait impatiently for the third one with the rest of us. Man.  I hope there’s going to be a third film.

If you’re at all curious as to what I’ve been watching this summer to reach my 100 movie goal, check out my Letterboxd account.  I’ve already seen 60 movies with 43 days to go.  I think I’ll make it.

Previously in My 100 Movies of Summer 2014:

The best thing I saw that one week in June

The best thing I saw the week after that

The best thing I saw two weeks ago

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Part 3 of My 100 Movies of Summer 2014

Rewind This! (d. Josh Johnson)

For pretty much anyone over 20, VHS and the magical VCR were their entrée into the world of home video.

I finally convinced my grandfather to purchase a VCR in the mid-80s.  I quickly got him to get a membership at a neighborhood VHS rental store.  In those days very few movies were priced for ‘sell-through’ so rental was the only way to go.  I don’t remember the first movie I ever rented and honestly I didn’t get a chance to rent that often.  But when I did, I was overwhelmed by the number of choices available to me.  Movies I’d never heard of with box art that blew my mind.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I saw the box for I Spit on Your Grave.  If you’re a dude, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

As the years went on, I still refrained from buying very many movies.  I did always maintain a membership at any place I could wherever I was living at the time.  And of course, I racked up plenty of late fees along the way.  I started collecting heavily though once I bought my first DVD player and those habits have carried on through all the way to Blu-ray.  I love my collection.  I love having a movie available at a moment’s notice right there at my fingertips.

Let’s be honest though.  As awesome as DVD and Blu-ray’s are, the number of movies available in the formats is just a fraction of those that were available on VHS in its prime.  This is why for many folks VHS will always be the King of Home Video.  This documentary is a celebration of the format and its fans.

It’s as thorough a history of the hallowed format as you’re ever likely to need.  It tracks its origin, the battle with Betamax, its rise to prominence, its expansion into the adult industry and the direct-to-video market, its peak and inevitable decline, and finally its death in the shadow of the rising DVD market.  Along the way, you get to meet the industry people who saw the value in a home market and pushed heavily to make movies easily available.  You meet the people who ran (and some who still run) the mom-and-pop stores, making money hand over fist as anxious people lined up for the latest releases.

And you meet the fans.  Those people with houses filled with those obnoxious, plastic clam-shells and those flimsy dusty slipcases.  Those people who hit up every Half Price Books, every flea market, every garage sale looking for unexpected treasure.  They each have their own reasons for having an extraordinary number of movies.  And if you’re a collector, you can only smile.  Because you have your reasons too.  You understand them.  You understand that totemic aspect of physical media.  It ties you to a specific time, a specific place, a specific memory.  Physical media is in its death throes, as the film ultimately acknowledges, but it may never ultimately die.  It can’t and won’t.

Not as long as crazy old dinosaurs like me and the people featured in this fine little film are still kicking.

Rewind This! is available via streaming on Amazon Instant.  But come on.  Do the dinosaurs a solid and buy the DVD.  Hell, buy the VHS.  Yeah.  There’s a VHS.  How cool is that?

 

If you are interested in seeing what other films I watched this week you can always check out my profile at Letterboxd.

 

Previous entries in My 100 Movies of Summer 2014 series

The best thing I saw 3 weeks ago

The best thing I saw the week before that