The Raid 2

I loved the 2012 Indonesian action film The Raid. It was the most brilliant and inventive action film I had seen in years, and was my movie of 2012. But sequels are tricky buisness and don’t tend to live up to the original. Can The Raid 2 buck the trend?

Set almost immediately after the events of the previous film, Rama (Iko Uwais) is sent undercover in prison in an attempt to root out police corruption and becomes involved in the workings of a big crime family in Jakarta. 

I’m glad Welsh director Gareth Evans stuck to his guns and decided to make this film rather than going to Hollywood and working on Die Hard 15 or whatever project they would have had in store for him. The Raid 2 was his passion project. Original titled Berandal, this script was considered too expensive to make when Evans first wrote it, so instead he put together a smaller, cheaper film and that is how The Raid was born. So it’s exciting seeing the script that started it all finally on the screen, and for the most part I’m not disapointed.

After the success of The Raid it would have been easy to alter this film to repeate that successful formula and have another garenteed hit. I’m glad Evans went with his vision. The Raid 2 is broader in scope, spanning years, multiple characters and complicated allianses.   Ewo is given more room to show off his acting chops here as much as his fighting skills. The father/son crime family are an interesting bunch, with the father Bangin (Tio Pakusadewo) a more practical and reasonable crime boss than we’re used to seeing in this kind of movie, while Arifin Putra as his son Uco make a convincing little shit with high ambition and few morals.

The fighting is still as gory and inventive as the original, continuing its trend for using everyday objects as weapons. In this film we get bar stools, seatbelts and broom handles all used as weapons as well as the usual knifes and guns etc. There are some classic action scenes including a nail biting car chase and Rama’s rampage at the climax of the movie. For those who faint at the slightest bit of blood -stay away. It is incredibly gory and often shown in close up.

On the downside the film loses the urgency and claustraphobic tension that the original had. While I’m glad they didn’t have Rama  stuck in another building for an hour and a half its still is not quite as nerve wracking as the original. It is also suffers from being way too long. Still it’s probably one of the best action films you’ll see this year.

Rating -4/5- the dream team of Iko Uwais and Gareth Evans continues to impress

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Saving Mr Banks (2013)

You would imagine that someone as big and powerful as Walt Disney would just have to click his fingers and get whatever film rights he wanted. However this oscar-bait movie shows that not everyone is susceptible to the charms of Disney.

Its 1961 and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) has been trying  20 years to secure the film rights to P.L Travers’(Emma Thompson) popular children’s story Mary Poppins. Eventually Travers agrees to go to Hollywood but only due to her financial struggles and insistence of her agent. As Walt and his team try to convince Travers to give over the rights to her story, flashbacks of the author’s childhood showed what shaped herself and her beloved novel.

Looking at this cast you can’t fault their performances. Thompson-as always-is brilliant as the author whose blunt and harsh demeanour is hiding an emotional connection to her characters that go beyond an author merely being possessive of her work. I loved her interactions with the composers and  scriptwriter (wonderfully played by B.J Novak, Jason Schwartzman and Bradley Whitford), fighting them at every stage and making impossible demands that she knows are unreasonable. While her interaction with her chauffeur Ralph (Paul Giamatti) also help  showed a softer side to Travers.

At times it does feel like the same old ‘stuffy, uptight Brit meets the relaxed American’s routine. However the experience of Hanks and Thompson makes sure that these characters don’t stray too far into that tired old story.

I could have done without so many flashbacks to Traver’s family. I know it’s important back story for what inspired the book, but I think they could have been cut down as I felt like they were dragging me away from the main plot line and pulling me out of the story. I’m also not too sure how accurate some of Traver’s interactions with Walt were or how she felt about the finished product.

What this film does establish though is bringing a deeper meaning to the characters in Traver’s story and makes you want to re-watch Mary Poppins with a newer understanding of what Traver’s characters meant to her.

Rating 3.5/5-perhaps too whimsical for Travers’ taste but this film has bundles of charm to get you swept along

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Why can’t a girl like Jane Austen and Sci-Fi?

It’s odd that in this day and age a few people still find it surprising if I admit to being a sci-fi/fantasy fan. This is at a time when it’s acceptable to publically admit watching a Star Trek film and Game of Thrones is a now a huge hit (BTW I will go all “Red Wedding” on anyone who dares reveals any season 4 spoilers). Yet every now and then someone will make a comment that makes me wonder why some people assume women can only enjoy watching chick flicks.

I was recently told by a guy that he was surprised to find I like Jane Austen adaptations and  Sci-fi movies. It didn’t bother me at the time but later I started thinking why some people still assume a girl can’t enjoy a good rom-com and then watch an action or supernatural  movie straight after.

If I was to repsond now I would say I’m not a fan of any particular genre-I just like good stories. Isn’t that what films are about after all? Great storytelling?

Sometimes when I buy one of my film/genre magazines I’ve had the guy at the checkout mention in a friendly way that I’m buying the magazine because Chris Evans or Ryan Reynolds is on it. I’ve also brought Empire magazine when Godzilla was on the cover so I’m not sure what he would try to imply about that.

If I only watched sci-fi films becuase a handsome man is in it I would have watched Green Latern several times and brought the dvd-but even  Ryan Reynolds could not make me watch that dud.  I watch films that I think may have an interesting or entertaining story to tell. Having a good looking actor in a film is a bonus not a requirement. 

Still these experiences are in the minorities and I discuss with most people in day to day life and in the blogging world about a variety of films and genres and I like to think we all repect each other’s views and opinions.

But I’d like any female bloggers to share any similar reactions they’ve had if they admit to liking sci-fi or other typically “male” genres? And guys, is there any films you’re afraid to admit liking in case it’s  seen as a “chick flick”?

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World War Z

First it was vampires being overexposed in films and now it’s the turn of zombies. Still I was excited when I heard Max Brooks’ novel World War Z was coming to the big screen, as well as confused as how they would be able to distill this multi-narrative book that spans across the whole world. Will Brad Pitt’s star power be a help or a hinderance?

Former UN negotiator Gerry (Brad Pitt) finds himself and his family unexpectedly in the middle of a zombie outbreak. Due to his former job they are rescued and taken to a U.S Navy vessel. But Gerry’s rescue comes at a price. The US want him to help find a cure in return for his families protection. Soon Gerry’s mission takes him to South Korea, Jerusalem and Wales  in order to help save the world and fight the zombie plague.

Anyone who has seen the trailers for World War Z would know that this isn’t a faithful adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel. Instead of having a worldwide perspective of the plague with different voices showing how each country is dealing with the outbreak we have Brad Pitt saving the world. One of the interesting aspects of the book was seeing how each country dealt with the outbreak and what extreme measures they would go to in order to help save their people-and whether they were successful or not. I know it wouldn’t be realistic to make a completely faithful adaptation of Brooks’ novel but I don’t understand why they couldn’t have had multiple protagonists like in Contagion. By reducing us to one protagonist the movie becomes another generic Zombie film.

Besides Gerry, most of the other characters don’t get much development. The most interesting was a female Israeli soldier who joins Gerry for the second part of his trip. Michelle Enos as Gerry’s wife is unfortunately underwritten. I would have also liked to have seen much of Peter Capaldi, who plays a scientist in the film’s climatic scenes.

There are some positives about the film. The acting isn’t terrible. There are some tension-filled scenes when the zombies attack and although I prefer my zombies to walk slowly rather than run, the way these Zombie’s moved was effective.

I was wondering if I would have had a different opinion of the film if I hadn’t read the book. However these doubts were quickly put aside when my mum, who was watching the film with me, said at the end “Brad should be ashamed he made that film.” While I wouldn’t say that this was the worst Brad Pitt film I’d ever seen (that accolade would have to go to the bore-fest that was Legends of the Fall), I won’t be watching the inevitable sequel when that is unleashed on the world.

Rating 2/5 – despite the good source material World War Z fails to live up to expectation

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As Good As It Gets (1997)

Drama may be tough, but comedy is even harder to pull off, especially when you may risk alienating your audience with a potentially controversal  main character. Which brings us to multiple Oscar winner  As Good as It Gets

Melvin (Jack Nicholson) is an obsessive compulsive, best-selling author who is notoriously terrible to everyone he meets. However his tightly ordered world is upset by interactions with waitress Carol (Helen Hunt) and his artist neighbour Simon (Greg Kinnear), and despite themselves some unlikely friendships begin to emerge.

It’s a brave move having your main character as unlikable as Jack Nicholson’s Melvin. In fact not just unlikeable-he’s a racist, homophobic misanthrope who is rude to everyone he meets. So it’s a testament to Jack Nicholson and writers Mark Adas and James L. Brooks (who also directed) that through the course of the film you start to like Melvin, and even in some cases feel sorry for him.

I liked that Melvin’s love interest Carol is a proper character and not just the love interest. She has her own issues and faults and her subplot with her ill son is engaging. Despite what Melvin wants she is not going to submit to his every whim even if she is the only person to tolerate him.

One of my favourite characters was Simon played by Greg Kinnear as Melvin’s gay neighbour. He is so likeable and nice but even his cheery demeanour starts to break after a series of unfortunate incidents happen to him. I just wanted to give him a hug every time something bad happened to him.

It’s not surprising that Nicholson and Hunt both won Academy Awards for their roles in this film. Sometimes comedies tend to get overlooking when it comes to awards as they are seen by some as “fluff”-when actually to have such good comedic talent and timing is very difficult. Then to put an emotional heart into the film like these actors do is wonderful. I’m glad they were were awarding for this. It’s a pity that Kinnear didn’t win but that year Supporting Actor went to Robin Williams for Good Will Hunting.

Rating 4/5 – a great comedy that has many witty lines and memorable characters

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

After some exciting trailers the highly anticipated sequel to 2011′s Captain America film is here! But with all that hype can Steve Rogers and co possibly live up to the expectations?

Two years since the events of The Avengers and Steve Rogers is working for S.H.I.E.L.D and trying to find his place in the modern world. However as he finds himself involved in a conspiracy that threatens the world’s freedom he’s left wondering who he can really trust.

I liked the film, I really did, but I didn’t love it like I hoped I would. I think what I missed was a sense of fun that Marvel normally brings to its films like in Thor 2, Iron Man 3 and The Avengers. Thats not to say the film isn’t funny at points, it is, I just wanted more. But then that might have jarred with the conspiracy thriller feel that this film is going for.

I also found some of the twists a bit predictable and they took too long to reveal the identity of the Winter Soldier, especially considering most fans already knew who he was (granted some people may not have known but still I think this should have been revealed earlier in the film).

However despite this the film did have a lot of good points. Chris Evans is his usual charismatic self, making Steve Rogers a charming and noble man rather than the do-gooder bore he could have been. I liked seeing more of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) this time around and even though they played up the possible chemistry between her and Captain America I’m glad she wasn’t relegated to playing the ‘love interest’ role.

Again Marvel cast their supporting players well. Regular characters such as Nick Fury(Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) get a welcome return. We also get some brand new characters with Anthony Mackie’s first appearance as Falcon. I did feel we could have learnt a bit more about his back story but at least he was more well-developed than just being Captain America’s  black best friend.

As ever the fight scenes in the movie are great and are just as thrilling as anything Marvel has ever done in their other films. I also liked the fact that Anthony and Joe Russo-mostly known from directing tv shows such as Community and Arrested Developement- tried something different with this movie, making it more a conspiracy action film than the usual Marvel movie. Theres also for once a great mid-credit scene featuring some new characters to be seen in the next Avengers movie.

Rating 3.5/5 – solid work from Marvel but lacking a bit of fun

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300 (2007)

With the sequel to 300 having just come to the big screen I decided to catch the original when it was on tv recently. But can I handle all the manliness and shouting for 117 minutes?

The King of Sparta Leonidas (Gerard Butler) refuses to submit to God-King Xerxes causing problems between the Persians and the Spartans. Denied by the Ephors to take his army to war Leonidas takes 300 of his men to fight against Xerxes army of thousands.

The opening part of the film describes how Spartans take new-born baby boys and throw away the ones who are weak, disabled or just not worthy. Then the ones who are deemed strong are made to fend for themselves in the wild when they are ten and if they come back they are good enough to be Spartans. Baby killing in your opening minutes? I must admit that didn’t really make me warm to our heroes.

But the thing with 300 is that everything is very, very silly and over the top. And overly macho in a homo-erotic way. It’s also very enjoyable. You can enjoy the story even while you question the plausibility of everything on-screen. Take their battle suits for example. I know the Spartans are probably so bad-ass they don’t need things like clothes but  is a jock-strap and a cape really the best amour for battle (just look at The Incredibles to show why capes are not a good idea to fight in).

The green screen did bothered me, becuase it was so obvious that the backgrounds looked so fake, although I guess the overall look did create a comic book feel to it. And while sometimes director Zack Synder sways towards style over substance, the style can be pretty impressive at times.

I’m not sure why Gerard Butler made the acting choice TO SHOUT. EVERY. OTHER. LINE. But I have to say he brings a strong presence to the role, you could see why these men would follow him into a hopeless situation. The rest of his men fade into one another, although it was amusing to spot a pre-fame Michael Fassbender among the soldiers.

Female characters are scarce in this film but at least they are well presented by Lena Headey as Leondias’ wife Queen Gorgo who shows that Spartan women are every bit as strong as their men-and you really don’t want want to see her angry.

I don’t know if the sequel can possibly live up to this gory, unintentionally hilarious fantasy/action movie but it’s easy to see why people are such fans of the original.

Rating – 3/5 a fun mindless way to spend a couple of hours, so go ahead and submit to Sparta

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