Friday, January 31, 2014

The Raid: Redemption (2012)

The Raid: Redemption
Before I get to talking about this movie let me get three quick things out of the way. First, the original title of the film is The Raid but "redemption" was added to the title for its American release, apparently due to copyright issues. This makes sense since I didn't really see the where the redemption was supposed to be. Second, The Raid was released in 2012 in the USA and most other countries so I'm going with that year even though the film debuted at some film festivals in 2011, which is the year used by IMDB. Third, I watched the "original uncut" version with subtitles on Blu-ray.

The Raid was a surprise hit in 2012 since it was an Indonesian film with a relatively low budget from a young director (Gareth Evans) and a cast of unknowns. It is unusual for a recent foreign film that isn't an Oscar contender to get this much attention. Despite the low odds of success, The Raid debuted to widespread critical praise and immediately found an audience. However, not everybody loved The Raid. Roger Ebert harshly criticized the movie's dearth of plot and lack of character development. Where do I fall in assessing The Raid? I though it was a solid action movie, though Roger Ebert did have some valid points.

The story and characters in The Raid were satisfactory for a movie which focuses on the action, but I still feel that they easily could've been better. It doesn't matter how good action scenes and fight choreography are in a film if we don't care about the characters and what is happening. While there is actually more plot and character work in than The Raid than I was expecting, we only have stubs for them which should have been expanded. The story is straightforward: a 20 man SWAT team must go on a mission to take down the powerful crime lord, Tama, who lives in a well defended apartment block. Again, this is a fine starting point for a movie that focuses on martial arts, but it still could've had some more meat on the bones in terms of character depth and plot. The dialogue is fine and knows when to back off, which is important for a film that focuses on the visuals. The acting is also good as we feel like these people have truly been put through hell both physically and emotionally.

Our protagonist, Rama, is a rookie police officer. Although this mission is his first true test, he didn't really change over the course of the movie. At the beginning we see Rama leaving his pregnant wife to go on the mission. While this scene is there to make us root for Rama, there could've been more conflict here. For example, his wife could've asked Rama to quit his SWAT team job and choose a safer profession for the sake of her and his unborn child. Rama would then insist on staying on his job and the mission with his motivations (saving his brother) now being hinted at early on, instead of simply being revealed out of nowhere later in the film.

Lieutenant Wahyu and Sergeant Jaka were memorable characters but we could've gotten deeper into who they are (and for Wahyu, the reasoning behind the choices he makes) throughout the course of the story. Rama's brother, Andi, enters the film about halfway through as one of the criminals. This was a great idea as the brothers care about each other but are still at odds given their opposing ways of life. We simply needed more of it through the entire movie. The Raid tries to play this off as a midway plot twist but I feel this was a mistake. If we knew that his brother was a criminal in the apartment from the beginning the other cops might not trust Rama and the audience wouldn't know where his true allegiances lie. Even if the cops didn't suspect Rama of being a criminal, they might think he would jeopardize the mission by not being able to kill his brother if necessary. Not to sound like a broken record, but I also would've liked to have known more about the main villain, Tama. Was crime his only path? Tama is clearly a brilliant leader so I would've liked to have seen what made him choose the life of an outlaw. Perhaps he is motivated by corrupt police officers. Tama's best henchman and right-hand man, Mad Dog, is handled perfectly as the mysterious evil bad-ass.

The action scenes are as amazing as advertised, with the hand-to-hand combat choreography being particularly impressive. A few fight scenes went on too long which got a bit repetitive for me. However, I loved how Rama and his squad had to get creative and use their limited surroundings (such as a refrigerator, a meth lab, and cutting through floors) in order to survive. I also liked how the type of fights change as Rama gets closer to the top. The team enters the building wielding guns but once they run out of ammo must resort to knifes and eventually their own fists.

What I loved most about The Raid was the directing and camerawork, which is something that even fans and critics who loved the film don't talk much about. I guess this is because they simply focused on the awesome action sequences but there is more here than just that. The color scheme is generally drab and subdued, which fits well with the gritty tone of the film. The cinematography is very good, which may be due to the fact that two cinematographers worked on the film. One scene in particular which sticks out to me was early on as the police get past the first few floors. As they reach the next floor, the camera has a close up on a boy in a hallway with the SWAT team out of focus in background. The camera doesn't move as the boy turns his head to face the team. Once his head is turned the team comes into focus as we see from the boy's perspective. The scene is also very tense as we don't know how the boy will react to the police squad. Will he alert the criminals in the apartment block or let them pass by undetected?
My favorite part in the film was probably the most suspenseful. In that scene Rama is hiding in a closet with an injured fellow officer within a room belonging to tenants not affiliated with the police or Tama. The criminals suspect cops to be in the room so they force their way in to search for them. You'll have to watch the movie to see how it plays out. Another fantastic scene is when a character is asked to show his hands, even though that would give himself away to his enemy.

The Raid came out the same year as Dredd, which is interesting as both films are intense R-rated contained action thrillers following lawmen going up a large apartment block to take down the criminals who live there. After I post my review of Dredd I'll write a brief article comparing and contrasting the two movies.
I should also mention that The Raid is infamous for having a very poor English subtitles file making it's way on the internet. Avoid those subtitles unless you have already seen the movie and want a laugh. In that version the movie's title translates to "Entry Fee" and the Lieutenant is named Login!

Despite its flaws The Raid is worth the watch, especially for fans of action and martial arts movies. Just keep in mind that the flick is brutal and extremely violent, so you need to be in the right mood for it. Director Gareth Evans is clearly talented and I look forward to his future films such as The Raid 2 which comes out later this year.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lockout (2012)

I saw this movie over a year ago and took scant notes so my review will be short. To get things started, Lockout was originally edited to get a PG-13 rating when released in theaters. I watched the Unrated Edition on Blu-ray.
Lockout is the first feature film from directors James Mather and Stephen St. Ledger, who previously collaborated on the short film Prey Alone. Most of Mather's movie credits are as a cinematographer. Luc Besson (director of Léon: The Professional and The Fifth Element) has writing and producing credits on the film.
When I saw the trailers for Lockout I thought it looked like a lot of fun even if it didn't end up very good. After having seen the movie I can attest that is exactly as advertised: an enjoyable action B-movie.

The story is pretty simple. A former government agent, Snow (played Guy Pearce), is framed for a crime he didn't commit. Snow makes a deal to gain his freedom in exchange for rescuing the President's daughter from a space station prison orbiting the Earth where the inmates have taken over. As you can probably tell from my plot synopsis, this flick takes a big influence from the Snake Plissken movies since both feature a rogue coerced into undertaking a dangerous mission to a prison area overrun with inmates in order to save the President/President's daughter. Lockout is probably as close as we'll ever get to the proposed "Escape from Earth" Snake Plissken movie. While Lockout isn't as good as Escape from L.A. let alone Escape from New York, it's still a fun throwback romp. There isn't much new here, but Guy Pearce manages to elevate the material by making his character Snow always fun to watch. Snow has some great witty dialogue, including plenty of one liners. I think it's fair to say that without Guy Pearce Lockout probably wouldn't have been anywhere near as entertaining. Luckily Pearce is here to make Lockout a blast and he is by far the most memorable part of the movie.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Superman: Unbound (2013)

Superman: Unbound
Superman: Unbound is a DC Universe Animated Original Movie based on the comic "Superman: Brainiac" written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Gary Frank. Although I haven't read that particular comic yet, I am familiar with work from both Johns and Frank.
The basic story of Superman: Unbound is that Superman encounters drones which were sent by the cyborg Brainiac. Superman tries to stop Brainiac before more drones attack Earth, while also having to deal with his changing relationship with Lois Lane and helping his cousin Supergirl adjust to life on Earth.
I really liked the characterization of Supergirl in this. Supergirl is a character that I never cared much for in Superman: The Animated Series, but I found her quite interesting in this story and was actually glad she had a lot of screen time. Supergirl aka Kara is chronologically older than her cousin Kal-El. However, she arrived at Earth later than Superman and struggles to adapt to her new planet since unlike Superman, she grew up on Krypton. Later on in the movie Supergirl discovers that her parents are still alive in Kandor, a Kryptonian city captured by Brainiac. I also enjoyed the spin on the Lois/Superman relationship as well as Lois' "rude gesture" to Brainiac. It was nice to see that both supporting female characters Lois Lane and Supergirl were given solid character arcs.

While I liked the way Superman: Unbound handled those characters, I wasn't thrilled with the portrayal of Brainiac. I prefer the Brainiac from Superman: The Animated Series, though to be fair I've heard that was different from how he normally is in the comics. I would have liked more back story on Brainiac to explain why and how he was created, especially since I'm not familiar with the usual back story of the character. There was a line that implied Brainiac was extremely old and not a Kryptonian supercomputer, but I think this should've been fleshed out more. His motivations were fine and not too different from the Brainiac in Superman:TAS.
Superman: Unbound was directed by James Tucker. While this is his first feature length project, he previously directed episodes of animated superhero TV shows such as Batman Beyond.
The animation in Superman: Unbound was good though I wasn't big on this style. I guess I just prefer a more classic or retro style of animation for Superman. The poster for this movie is pretty cool, but doesn't represent the actual animation style used in the film.
They probably should've kept the title from the original comic as I'm still not sure what "unbound" is supposed to refer to. My guess is that it's a reference to the fact that Clark Kent is no longer hiding his relationship with Lois, but that doesn't have anything to do with Brainiac.
After having seen Man of Steel (my review is forthcoming), Superman: Unbound is still my favorite Superman movie of 2013!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Godzilla (1998)

I have only seen two Godzilla movies so far: this one and Godzilla vs. Megalon. At some point I will watch the original film, but until then Godzilla vs. Megalon remains the best Godzilla movie I've ever seen! This is also the third movie I've seen directed by Roland Emmerich. But unlike Stargate and Independence Day, Godzilla 98 (as it is often referred to as) is awful.
Matthew Broderick plays the main character, a scientist brought in to help deal with the threat of Godzilla. Broderick is miscast and feels out of his element. I guess he was only brought in for his comedic chops, but it doesn't help that most of his dialogue isn't funny. The most infamous example is the dumb line "that's a lot of fish" which is a statement, not a joke. One of the few acting bright spots is Jean Reno, who plays a French DGSE agent who tries to help take down the creature while also covering up his agency's role in creating the monster. We also have live-action appearances from three actors who are regulars on The Simpsons: Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, and Nancy Cartwright. They do fine as usual but I found their inclusion in the movie was unnecessary and distracting. Speaking of strange acting/casting decisions, the mayor and his aide are obvious parodies of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. But as Roger Ebert himself mentioned, what is the point of doing that in a Godzilla movie if you aren't going to have the King of the Monsters stomp on them?
Although it is made clear that this is the first appearance of Godzilla in the universe of this movie, a Japanese fisherman recognizes the creature as "Gojira." I guess this was just intended as a nod to the fans but I found it confusing and out of place. As for the rest of the story, I'm just going to sum up everything, spoilers and all. Godzilla attacks New York City, is revealed to be pregnant (?!), and eventually gets killed after rampant destruction. But fear not, we have a teaser for a sequel (a Godzilla egg hatches!), which thankfully never happened.

Despite having budget that would still be quite big today ($130,000,000) the CGI hasn't aged well. This might be more of a commentary on CGI in general than the production itself since the visual effects were praised at the time. But if you compare the specials effects of this movie to Star Wars: Episode I which came out only a year later, The Phantom Menace effects still look quite good and they had to work on more types of ships and creatures than just Godzilla. But even if Godzilla had great special effects this movie would still suck!
One of the few positive things I can say about the film is that it had a clever and effective marketing campaign. It's just a shame that it didn't have a good movie to go along with it.
Godzilla has a lot of characters, tons of destruction, and weird attempts at comedy that make it an epic event movie somewhere between Emmerich's own Independence Day and Michael Bay's Transformers movies (which like Godzilla also feature Kevin Dunn). Godzilla is not just bad but is also too long which really makes the film drag at times. I'm not sure why this movie felt it needed to be 139 minutes as the plot and characters are pretty straightforward. But at the end of the day there are still enough unintentionally humorous scenes for Godzilla to be watchable for fans of crappy movies.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Steel (1997)

After DC comics killed off Superman in the 1990s, several characters stepped in to fill his void. One of these was John Henry Irons, known as the superhero Steel. DC pushed the character heavily in the 90s as he was not only involved with Superman's storyline but also had his own solo series and even appeared in Superman: The Animated Series. Michael Dorn did a good job voicing Steel in Superman: TAS and I think he could've also played the role well in a live action movie.
I love Shaq but he is pretty bad here. Of course he doesn't have much to work with other than some hilariously awful basketball puns. It's a shame that Shaq had to be in this movie and Kazaam instead of Space Jam where he would've been a good fit. 
Judd Nelson plays the villain, a corrupt military man. Although Nelson is over the top it keeps things somewhat interesting. Richard Roundtree has a small role as "Uncle Joe." I'm pretty sure that Roundtree was only brought in so that parents could listen to the Shaft theme in their heads for the rest of the movie while their kids fall asleep. As for the rest of the acting, Annabeth Gish's character functions like Barbara Gordon as Oracle in the Batman comics and Charles Napier is also in the cast.

You may have noticed that I haven't gotten to the plot of the movie yet. That is because I don't remember it. I seem to recall a subplot about a grandmother making soufflé but that's about it. Upon looking it up, the story was reminiscent of Iron Man with a weapons designer becoming a superhero and the unauthorized use of the superhero's weapons. To be fair, it has been a year since I saw the movie and I didn't take many notes. But this movie is pretty forgettable and I probably didn't think about it even a week after I saw. However, there is one part of this movie that is very memorable: the theme song! It is stuck in my head as I am writing this and I'm not ashamed because it is pretty awesome! It's too bad that it had to be used in such a bad movie. Therefore Steel has a bad case of Pluto Nash Syndrome, meaning that it's a crappy movie with good music.
Steel was directed by Kenneth Johnson who has mostly done TV work and has only two theatrical movies (the other is Short Circuit 2) to his credit. This makes sense as Steel has the look and feel of a TV movie. Johnson has some recent TV credits but, to nobody's surprise, hasn't directed a theatrically released movie since. Given the current state of superhero movies it's kinda funny to be reminded that there was a time not too long ago when not all of them had big budgets or well-known stars.
Steel is certainly bad but still in watchable territory. I'll take Steel over Kazaam any day but that isn't saying much, is it?
Steel doesn't bother to mention Superman or any other elements of the DC universe. Like in Catwoman, that is for the best. Though I kinda hope there is an alternate universe where Tim Burton's Superman Lives was actually made and features a cameo from Shaq as Steel!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Catwoman (2004)

Going into Catwoman I knew I was going to get a bad movie. However, I didn't know that this Catwoman was not the DC comics character but a new, very different version for the film. Halle Berry's Catwoman is named Patience Phillips and doesn't act much like the Selina Kyle of the comics. For example, Phillips is a shy artist working for a cosmetics company before she becomes Catwoman. What is the origin story of Catwoman in this movie you ask? Well, Phillips is resurrected by cats after she dies in a sewage pipe... I don't care that this is not like the comics, it's just stupid.
The story is pretty weak as it doesn't feel like there is that much at stake. A cosmetics company is going to release skin care products with bad side effects because it's cheaper than recalling the items. Sure that is deplorable, but why can't the FDA handle this? Or does it not exist in this universe?
Sharon Stone plays the main villain, Laurel Hedare, whose husband owns the cosmetics company that Catwoman works for. The owner of the company is played by Lambert Wilson, best known to me for his role as The Merovingian in The Matrix sequels. Halle Berry isn't the problem with the movie as she doesn't have much to work with, though she doesn't do a good job either. Sharon Stone could've been a great Selina Kyle Catwoman, but it's probably too late now unless she only voices the character or we get a live action adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel "The Dark Knight Returns."

had a $100 million budget but the production values feel a lot cheaper. I'm assuming most of the budget went to Halle Berry who was coming off her role as Storm in the popular X-Men movies.
The director of Catwoman is Pitof. That's right, only one name. But at least it's still a better name for a film director than McG. It's no surprise that Pitof hasn't directed a theatrical feature film since this dud.
As you can probably guess, this movie doesn't take place in any sort of DC universe as there is no mention of Batman/Bruce Wayne let alone Gotham City. I found this odd since Batman Begins only came out a year later, but trust me, it's a good thing. People complain (usually unfairly) about Batman & Robin but at least that movie was fun. Although Catwoman is feels like a quick cash grab, it's still watchable for anyone who enjoys dumb Hollywood train wrecks. Catwoman came out same year as some much better super hero movies such as Hellboy, The Incredibles, and Spider-Man 2.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Return from Hiatus

After going on a hiatus from this blog since April 2013, I have great news. I'm back! However, I have a lot to catch up on since the main purpose of this blog is to chronicle every film I watch. So please bear with me while I get back on track as I have seen many movies during my long break that I haven't written about yet. This means that my posts will be a bit shorter than usual, as well as more informal. But hey, they should be fun to read! I'm going to hold off on Tales from the Archives posts for a while, but don't worry, they will return at some point after I get caught up since I have a lot of interesting material to share. So sit back, enjoy the ride, and watch (or stay far, far away from) some of these movies!