Archive for the ‘I’ll Wait For The DVD’ Category

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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Maniac (2012) (directed by Franck Kahlfoun)

So why didn’t I see it in the theater?  Well, quite frankly, I didn’t have any other choice.  It had been on my radar forever but never came to Austin.  Hell, I even bought the soundtrack to kill the time before it was finally released.

So why did I buy the DVD?  I’d heard nothing but good things.  Elijah Wood rarely goes dark but I remembered his turn as Kevin in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City which was nice and creepy.  Plus, as you may well know, I’m a goon for horror.  This one was a no-brainer.

So was it worth it?  Definitely.  As mentioned earlier, I had bought the soundtrack after hearing rave reviews about it.  It was like the bastard love child of Tangerine Dream and Goblin and is easily my favorite score of the year.  It painted a picture of what I would eventually see in the film.  That the Blu-ray was released during October played well into my month-long horror movie marathon and I was excited to finally sit down to watch it.  To say it was worth the wait would be an understatement.

So what’s it about?  A remake of the classic 80’s grindhouse slasher starring Joe Spinell, this film changes coasts and offers a unique and disorienting first person perspective to deliver a cracker jack horror flick that dares you to sympathize with its sociopath ‘protagonist’.  Elijah Wood steps into the role of Frank Zito, the proprietor of a third-generation family store that restores antique mannequins.  At night, he finds himself on the streets of Los Angeles stalking those unfortunate women who’ve caught his eye.  We see him trying desperately to make a human connection but he is haunted by the ghost of his mother, a neglectful woman who was more concerned with her own lascivious desires than the well-being of her child.  His best efforts are doomed to failure and would-be paramours fall like dominoes to the madness that eats his beyond damaged soul.  A glimmer of  hope presents itself in the form of Jessica, a photographer, who happens upon his store and sees a beauty in Frank’s work.  She’s wants to use some his mannequins in a photo exhibit she’s putting on.  The two strike up an odd friendship.  But Frank wants so much more.  And Jessica’s inability to see the monster that lies beneath the artist she admires might doom her.

So what’s my grade?  A very solid and well-earned A.  Elijah Wood is strong in a role in which he is very rarely actually seen.  All of the action is shot from a first-person perspective.  The viewer is quite literally experiencing the movie through the eyes of a crazed killer.   When we do see him, it’s most often in mirrors, a clever effect that never betrays the conceit.  We see his sunken eyes, his desperate hope, and his unhinged fury.  Occasionally, the camera pulls away from Frank’s perspective and shows him in action.  This most often happens when he is extremely happy or extremely enraged.  It’s used sparingly and to great effect.  Genevieve Alexandra is Jessica.  She is alluring and a bit coquettish and ably embodies the type of woman who could set a man back on the right path or knock him hopelessly off course.  Their roles are the centerpieces of a great film.  Throw in that wonderful perfect music by French composer Rob and you’re in horror geek nirvana.

 

Maniac is available on Blu-ray, DVD and on Netflix Instant.

Sometimes you just don’t get around to catching a flick

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Side Effects (d. Steven Soderbergh)

So why didn’t I see it in the theater?  Well, to be honest, it just looked a little boring and there was other stuff out that I wanted to see more.  I kept putting it off and ultimately decided that it would just have to wait.

So why did I buy the DVD?  Because I have a sickness called compulsive Blu-ray/DVD buying.  Seriously though, there were a few reasons.  It’s allegedly Soderbergh’s last feature film and, unlike many of my friends, I’ve actually rather enjoyed his last few movies such as Haywire and Contagion.  At some point, I was able to pick it up for $10 so I decided to pull the trigger on a purchase.

So was it worth it?  I’m going to have to say, “No.”  I probably should have saved 5 bucks and just bought it on demand.  The acting is fine and it looks good but the story ultimately felt a bit flat to me.  One of the things that kept me from seeing it in the theaters was that I thought it would be about prescription drugs and ‘Big Pharma’ and that didn’t really seem too interesting to me.  As it turns out, that was the most fascinating part of the movie.  Once it turned into a paint-by-numbers psychological thriller, I lost interest.

So what’s it about?  A young woman (Rooney Mara) is excited that her husband (Channing Tatum) is being released from prison after serving four years for insider trading.  She suffered a miscarriage while he was incarcerated and has been battling depression.  His release does nothing to relieve her malaise and ultimately she purposefully drives her car into the concrete wall of a parking garage.  A doctor (Jude Law) on call in the emergency room recognizes her illness and she agrees to visit him for treatment.  They try different meds before they settle on an experimental new drug known to cause sleepwalking.  A terrible accident occurs shortly after that puts her freedom on the line and the doctor’s career in jeopardy.

So what’s the grade?  I really hope this isn’t Soderbergh’s last movie.  It’s not terrible but it’s not a particularly great way to close out his cinematic career.  There’s just nothing special here.  If you like stars, I gave it 3 out of 5.  If you like grades, it’s a solid C+.

Sometimes you just don’t get around to catching a flick 

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Killing Them Softly (d. Andrew Dominik)

So why didn’t I see it in the theater?  There was a wide gulf between audience and critical responses.  CinemaScore, an audience polling group, assigned the film an ‘F’, a rarity with easy to please mass audiences, while Rotten Tomatoes, the critic aggregate site, gave it a ‘fresh’ rating of 76%.  The great disparity gave me cause for pause and the film was gone as quickly and as quietly as it arrived.

So why did I buy the DVD?  The disparity.  The truth is I don’t generally trust the movie going public.  These are the people who have made Adam Sandler and Kevin James billionaires.  The eventual explanation for the audience response was that they were not presented the movie they were expecting.  The previews led one to believe they were getting a typical Mafia movie but Dominik and star, Brad Pitt, delivered an offbeat, slower moving art house flick, more concerned with characters and motivations than with bloody shoot outs.  Hell, that’s not the movies fault that’s the ad agency who was trying to get butts in seats.  One should never judge the movie they think they’re going to see.  One should judge the movie they actually see.

So was it worth it?  Oh, hell yeah!  I was more than pleasantly surprised with the film.  There’s a brilliant scene towards the beginning that is so filled with anticipatory dread that I could barely contain myself.  It’s filled with great performances from familiar actors like Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, and Ray Liotta.  Oddly, it reminded me a bit of my favorite film of 2011, Drive, which also subverted audience expectations.  My only real complaint is that the second act felt a bit light.  At 99 minutes, the movie is very streamlined and its admittedly spare plot gets straight to the point. Allegedly, the director delivered a much longer first cut at 2 1/2 hours which he willingly edited.  I’d be very happy to see that first cut.

So what’s it about?  It’s the fall of 2008.  Barack Obama is about to be elected president.  The economy is in collapse and the job market sucks.  A shady businessman, Johnny Amato, enlists two petty criminals, Russell and Mickey, to knock off a Mob protected high stakes poker den (the aforementioned tense scene) run by Markie Trattman (Liotta), who’s got a bit of a reputation when it comes to busted up card games.  In response, all the other action around town is shut down.  Nobody’s making money and they’ve got mouths need feeding.  A cool as ice hitman, Jackie Cogan (Pitt), is called in to clean up the mess.  He quickly susses out the perpetrators but is having a difficult time getting the okay to take care of business from Driver (Jenkins), the mouthpiece of the men running the show.  After some negotiations, he’s allowed to bring in another shooter, Mickey (Gandolfini), to split the hit.  Mickey’s glad to take the assignment cause he needs the cash and is facing some legal issues back home.  These sordid characters bounce off each other leading to an ultimate and cynical realization that the good ole’ US of A isn’t just a country, it’s a business.  And people need to get paid.

So what’s the grade?  I gave this 4 of 5 stars on Letterboxd which would translate to 8 stars on a 10 point scale. So if 10 stars were an A+ and 9 were an A, I’d be more than comfortable giving this film an A-.  However you grade such things the movie’s just plain good.