The Raid: Redemption

Do you love non-stop, hair-raising martial-art fights and stunts ? Then ‘The Raid‘ will be an unforgettable movie experience for you. Its very rare these days to find even a decent quality, old-fashioned, hand-to-hand combat rich movies, but this little Indonesian flick will remind you what you have been missing in this genre.

The plot is simple. A small group of rookie combat team try to capture a notorious crime lord by breaking in to his impenetrable fortress of a building in which he had given residence to the worst, brutal and the vilest creatures of the city – murders, rapists and pure, uncut psychopaths. Within moments of entering the building, they are detected and, as they say, everything goes haywire. Enormously outgunned and outnumbered the security forces get decimated, except for a few, and the rest of the story deals with the absolute mayhem through which they must find a way out of that hellhole.

In the beginning, things are under control. There is a sense of urgency in the camera work and as a viewer one could feel the anticipation to something dramatic build up. But nothing really prepares you to what is about to follow. The building itself is deceptively unassuming of the horror it houses. From the outside its just rectangular block of concrete with bleak walls and rain damaged exterior. On the inside though, as we learn later, death itself becomes an inviting prospect. And our hero, a rookie soldier, must use every bit of his training, inner strength and the sheer will to live to get himself and his fellow men out of this pit in hell.

After the initial gun fight, the story turns into a violent cat and mouse game, where every machete wielding psycho in the building is out to get our protagonists. The main character, Rama, is the center piece for majority of the story, but its a little hard to see him entirely because his hands move too fast to follow. With extremely swift and lethal force he takes down one thug after another as he makes his way through the dilapidated rooms and claustrophobic hallways. It was like watching vintage Jackie Chan of the 70’s, without the humor. Something to note hear is how natural the fight scenes were. Although each move must have been choreographed down to the tiny detail, the fist fights were absolutely realistic, to the point that there were more than a few audible gasps from the audience when a particular punch or searing blade landed on its target.

That reminds me of the gore and blood shed in this movie. It is one thing to see blood spurting off a guy when shot or maimed, but to see it happen every few minutes, involving different body parts sure sends an uneasy chill down one’s spine. We know the characters inside the building are inhuman monsters but we don’t realize what they are capable of until we see them running towards you with nothing but murderous terror in their eyes. And then there is the Mad Dog.

As often the case in these types of movies, the villain has one special henchman who is above all of the villains staff when it comes to being a total lunatic psycho. In this movie, that henchman is the, aptly named, Mad Dog. He seems menacing in the beginning, but his full repertoire does not reveal itself until his fight with Jaka, the veteran captain of the security forces. Mad Dog has Jaka at gunpoint, but calmly puts it away and starts a fist fight which lasts for a full 5 minutes. Needless to say Jaka gets killed, but not before he wishes he had been shot instead if only to not endure the Mad Dog’s brutal wrath. After that fight, I honestly thought our hero could never escape this building, not at least while Mad Dog is still alive.

The minor, but important plot twist plays a role in the eventual encounter between Rama and Mad Dog. By the time they square off, you are just about saturated for eye-popping stunts, but then, like many sections in the movie, you just end up slack jawed in amazement when its over. I can honestly say that it was one of the best hand to hand fight scenes I have ever scene in a movie. The men fight with everything they have got, and young Rama, facing certain death, puts in an incredible fight of his life. They trade small advantages back and forth, and this goes on and on for minutes on end until they look like they might die from exhaustion. I would have paid the entire ticket price just for this fight scene alone.

There are certain bits in the end about corruption, family and loyalty, but none of these things linger in your mind when you leave the theater. All you can remember brutality, violence and the masterful exhibition of martial arts.

Those are lot of words. Most of my movie reviews tend to be short ones, but this is certainly longer than any that I have posted here. This is one of the rare movies that, in the age of computer generated superheroes and robots, reminds you what a true action flick can be.  I was truly amazed by the craft and performance delivered through this movie and I can’t wait to see it again on Netflix. That is very high praise for an low budget Indonesian movie with English subtitles.

[Post: 260 of 365] [Days Missed: 75]

Act Of Valor

Act of Valor must be the last and final movie about the US Special Forces. Oh, there will be many more I am sure, but I hope this is the last, because it is impossible to top this one. This is not a pro-war movie or a pro-military movie or a pro-America movie. Whatever prejudice you had formed from watching the trailer, leave it at the theater door and you will witness one of the best real-life based action movie ever made.

It’s not fair to call this film a movie because, too often, it looks like a documentary. Scripted lines seem too far and few in between and the action sequences are too raw and jarring to be scripted. None of the characters say any punch lines before taking out an enemy, no one gives a rallying speech before beginning a mission and nor does anyone forget their roles. Their roles are about bringing their ballsiest career choice and its complexities in front of the camera and they do it with an ice-cold resolve that is hard to miss. Did I mention that almost all the actors in this film are not actual actors but real life active US marines and special force operatives ? Right from the beginning, when the captain and his lieutenant of SEAL team 7 go for surfing in the US pacific coast, it is clear that acting and delivering lines are not among their specialties. Their specialties involve executing strategic and tactical missions, operating some fearsome machinery and some soft skills that are hard to define, like leadership, loyalty and, of course, valor.

The movie showcases almost every aspect of the overwhelming capability possessed by the American elite forces. Air strikes and hot evacuations, submarine deployments, unmanned flight surveillance, amphibian combat interceptions and, the most impressive of all, the extremely precise on-foot search and sweep missions to neutralize criminal-infested shanty towns laced with civilians. The operating environment, whether its a rundown factory controlled by murderous Mexican drug cartel or one of the most remote and densest forests of Indonesia were captives are held, has little to no impact in the outcome of the SEAL team’s missions. And by outcome, I mean the mission’s objective. People -soldiers and civilians- get shot, injured and killed, which are never part of the desired outcome, but nothing compromises the primary objective. And every team member makes sure of that.

Although, from the surface, the high-tech weapons and gadgets seem to be their best strengths, when the film ends, one understands that they are just tools aiding these hardened men and women. Their real strength and their perceived invincibility comes from their own fellow team mates. The trust among them is unquestionable and they operate, always, as one unstoppable force that leaves nothing standing in its wake. This is clearly visible during missions when the unexpected happens. No one stops to wonder what to do; their roles and functions are burned into their muscle memory and they operate and change maneuvers by unadulterated instinct. With chaos and death often enveloping them they fall back on each other to push through all the improbabilities of active combat. This movie makes Black Hawk Down look like Black Swan.

I have not mentioned anything about the story-line deliberately, because the story is only secondary in this film. It’s the usual and common narrative about national security with very little twist and, I think, rightfully so. For this movie, the story is not in the script. The real story is about the men and their choices. The movie makes no explicit attempt to glorify the SEAL teams’ actions, barring the heavy sound track. Unlike many popular military movies, there are very few wise-cracks and emotionally charged epithets. A lot is left unspoken and the viewer is simply expected to get it, even when someone makes an unthinkable and ultimate sacrifice. No one stops to cry or make a moving monologue, except at the very end; they proceed with the mission and the audience is expected to just get it. My guess is that many in the theater did get it which they expressed, more than a couple times, with loud and collective applause.

It would seem that its almost a shame that these remarkable men and women get to live with us. Us, the commoners with our common and relatively insignificant problems. We get pissed-off when there is no cell-phone connectivity or if someone messes up our lunch order. But may be its not fair to compare us with them. If we have all got our own wars to fight, then there is a lot for us to learn from these guys. All we need is an impressive array tools and some soft skills, like leadership, loyalty and, of course, valor.

[Post: 216 of 365] [Days Missed: 66]
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Safe House

With the tag line ‘No One Is Safe’, I thought the movie was about end of the world or some similar fatalistic premise but ‘Safe House‘ turned out to be just another Corruption-CIA-Action movie that we have known and loved for many, many years. It’s a ‘Bourne’ movie with lot more political undertones and a lot less emotional core. Also Jason Bourne of this movie is a good-guy/bad-guy guy. He is also black.

Denzel Washington is like the African-American version of Liam Neeson. No matter what he does he makes them look cool, easy and impressive. There is extreme confidence and subtle menace in his actions and he delivers a powerful and immensely believable character making all the exaggerated description of his skills and past exploits made by the CIA bosses redundant. Denzel Washington’s name in the movie is Tobin Frost – making it exceptionally clear that he is bad-a$$ at something. As the name implies, he is cool, unpredictably deadly and too mysterious to comprehend.

Matt Weston is the main character of the story who goes against, and then for and then against and finally for Tobin Frost. As the movie trailer says, he is an aspiring CIA field agent who is assigned the crushingly isolated task of being a ‘housekeeper’ at one of CIA’s safe houses in Capetown, South Africa. He is bored out of his life and is begging his supervisor to give him something that does not involve ‘just sitting in a chair watching a wall’. He is denied field work and is stuck with isolated boredom.

Predictably, Tobin gets himself into the safe house and, as they say, everything explodes. It truly does. Cars, doors, houses even people get blown away. About a billion bullets get fired and few of them even hit our main characters. There are a few big chase scenes with the shaky cam that could easily nauseate a person and the number of head-on collisions is truly impressive. It should be noted that the cinematographer for all three Bourne movies held the camera for this movie as well.

A big difference from Bourne Trilogy is that in Safe House, the story happens in just one part of one country instead of many places in many countries. These stunt choreographers have clearly mastered urban action filming to the point that you can literally do anything. All the chase scenes, either using vehicles or on foot, are brilliantly shot with urgency and chaos just oozing through the screen. The whole movie has a high contrast palette with what looks like sand paper filter making it seem like a rough and gritty dream.

The real climax of the movie happens some fifteen minutes before the actual ending. As expected bad guys get killed, Tobin gets his revenge-of-sorts and Matt gets his scars of honor in the field. Then comes the predictable fluffiness of movies of this genre, laying ground work for prequels and sequels at the same time. Corruption, as it turns out, goes right up to the top. Who knew.

If you like explosive action and stunts and Denzel Washington, you will love this movie. Even if you only like two of those three things, you should still give this one a try. Oh, by the way, did you know there is going to be a new sequel to the Bourne Trilogy?

[Post: 204 of 365] [Days Missed: 62]
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The Grey

Do you like death ? Wish to explore the multiple ways of horrible and grizzly death while Liam Neeson makes cryptically insightful thoughts about fighting the invisible enemy of life? You may enjoy the new movie ‘The Grey‘.

This is easily the most ponderously depressing movie one could see. The story is about death and the fight that leads up to it. Taken directly, it’s about a bunch of survivors from a plane that crashes into the frozen Alaskan wilderness who, unsuccessfully, defend themselves from blood thirsty wolves. Taken in abstract form, this movie is about a bunch of survivors from a plane that crashes into the frozen Alaskan wilderness who, unsuccessfully, defend themselves from blood thirsty wolves while Liam Neeson provides philosophical and fatalistic monologues in his faintly masked Irish accent.

That is not to say it was a bad movie. Every scene was crafted with the impending doom just lurking around the corner with the majestic snow-covered mountains of British Columbia, where the movie was filmed, providing a sense of true presence in that wilderness. Snow storms are bone chilling and the wolves are as murderous as they are cunning. The sound track made everyone in the theater jump more than a few times. Although Neeson’s monologue’s seem to stretch forever, for the keen ear it was a delight to follow, process and realize the meaning of those spoken words. The characters don’t dwell on the usual phases of character development, like introductions and personal conflict. They are revealed in morbidly touching moments throughout the movie as the stranded human pack fights for every surviving hour.

For someone who is more introverted than the average friday-night-movie-saturday-night-party person this film serves up some penetrating thoughts on life and all the struggle that comes with it. It seems like life is this one big battle field where forces unknown are always on the offense. Some battles are won and some are lost but the significant point is that one shows up for the fight because that is only thing which is under one’s control. The movie makes a point of people dying for no real reason while the rest of them march on. Some get killed by wolves, some die of frost bite and some fall down a cliff. Some fight till the bitter end and then give up when they can take no more, while others recite an Irish poem from childhood and then pounce on a rabid alpha of a wolf pack in their own freaking den.

Throughout the story, Neeson’s quest is to get as far as possible from the wolves’ den and into safety but in an unfortunate and all too realistic turn of events he wanders straight in to the last place he wished to be. The ending did not provide closure, but in a way it was fitting because, I thought, it does not really matter whether he killed the pack alpha or not. The fact that he took on the beast instead of giving up is the real and endearing point of the story.

This is probably one of the most morbidly dark movie made about loneliness and death and yet the takeaway is to always fight on; no matter if it’s a fight for life or fighting life itself.

[Post: 201 of 365] [Days Missed: 62]
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Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

Just finished watching Rise of the planet of the Apes – the prequel to Planet of the apes, and I must say, it was not entirely as I expected. Sure, the chimpanzee’s genes get modified by a promising drug and it goes on to lead its own primate army that eventually takes over the entire planet. That part is easy grasp just by looking at the movie title and its poster. The surprising part of the movie for me was how much of an insignificance that humans turn out to be. From the first scene to the last, at least one ape seems to be on-screen all the time. Not that I am complaining.

James Franco is an earthy actor who always makes his performance a low-key affair. In this movie, he easily plays second fiddle to Caesar – the main ape so to speak – and plays it very well. There are other characters in the movie, but they register only for a few moments. Frieda Pinto of Slumdog fame plays Franco’s romantic fling and she gets to say the usual corny things that are relegated to female lead roles. Tom Felton who played Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter movies gets a small and forgettable role as a brat with a pinch of sadism who gets killed in a mildly amusing way. Even famous, remarkable actors like Brian Cox and John Lithgow only get fractional screen time compared to Caesar and his primate gang.

Andy Serkis plays Caesar, the lead ape. Now, take a moment to assume a comprehensive meaning to that sentence. That is the extent to which Andy Serkis plays Caesar. To say that an actual guy played a chimpanzee does not quite capture what Andy seems to have pulled off here. With every single expression, every turn of his head and twist of his limbs, Andy portrays a chimp in the most realistic form. Given that Caesar has almost no lines to say other than screaming and grunting, the range of emotions that Andy delivers is astonishing. To top it all, the Oscar committee has disqualified Andy from the Best Actor category since he does not show himself in the film. Although it sounds a lot like the Oscar committee slathering themselves with hot turd, this is actually good. Now we will all remember Andy’s great performance more so for being snubbed by the Oscars.

If you have been paying attention, you would have noticed that earlier I said that Caesar “almost” has no lines. Yeah, even though he is an ape, he does talk a few lines. One of them is a shocking and completely unexpected retort to the famous “Get your stinking paws off of me you damn dirty ape!”. It might even be a little funny while watching it for the second time. The last third of the movie is when the story moves at a rapid rate and there are some hair-raising action sequences. There are a couple of explosions and a lot of closeup shots of screaming chimpanzees. It’s so close that you could feel their fangy teeth popping out of the HDTV.

The ending is where I lost the movie. It gets all sappy and the apes stop behaving like apes and more like soap opera characters and Caesar, for no clear reason, gives a vibe of a charismatic leader about to annex SFO to the red wood forests. I guess that’s a lead in for their eventual take over of the world. Its an entertaining movie that is worth watching once entirely and may be just the action sequences the second time around. Beyond that its just another prequel for a story that Hollywood studios won’t let go.

[Post: 180 of 365] [Days Missed: 60]
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Adventures of Tintin

I have never read Tintin books. I think I have seen a few Tintin cartoons but don’t remember too much from them. I remember his pointy hair, the flash light and a white fluffy dog. Saw the animated movie version today and I am dearly regretting not reading those books, not watching the cartoons and I surely regret that I forgot about the amusing duo of Thompson and Thomson.

The movie does not spend any time in introducing many things. Within the first few minutes almost all major characters are brought to the screen or at least referenced by a major character with little to no background information. For instance, in a particularly short but revealing scene, a wall shows several awards and news paper clippings, each celebrating Tintin’s crime discoveries. For someone who does not know much about the series, I did not find this kind of screenplay uninformative in any way because Spielberg wields his magic with expert precision. The movie is an adventure, as suggested by the title, but not a cliché in any way, at least for me, because there is nothing in the move that distracted me from it. And this from a guy who can’t keep his focus if his life depended on it.

The movie is in gorgeous animation format – I watched it with the effects magnified by IMAX 3D – and there is not much ground to gain in this sector. The scenes are so realistic, barring the people who are intentionally made more comic book looking, that its hard to see where it can progress from here. There are shots of reflections caught in bubbles on the ocean surface, distorted human faces shown through glass bottles that are empty and sometimes half filled, objects hurtling on all kinds of surfaces from sand in Saharan desert to high-strung cables in Morocco, from rusty old ship to airplanes. One particular action sequence is sure to invoke comparisons to the break neck chase sequences from old Indiana Jones movies. In fact right after the action scene ended, I remember exactly thinking that it closely resembled chase sequences from Indiana Jones movies. It was brilliant is what I am trying to say here.

The story itself is, I am told, constructed from three different stories stitched at the right sections to make it into a standard length movie. I did not notice this while watching the movie because of the previously mentioned magic wielding by the director. The plot is nicely stitched together and with no noticeable flaws in logic and the dialogues are kept pretty much straight forward. For an almost-first-time viewer, like me, Tintin did not seem like a guy who makes sarcastic, unkind or even rude remarks at anyone. Captain Haddock lays out some profane-sounding-but-totally-family-friendly phrases but they are either a drunk slur or a thick Irish accent. Fun fact: Majority of field tests have proven that Irish accents and drunk slurs in any language are very much identical. In any case the writing is splendid and, barring some of the Captain’s lines, always progressing the plot. The place where the story starts or Tintin’s nationality and origins are kept unopened in the movie but you don’t really think about them until the movie is over. Again the credit for keeping us so engrossed in the story goes to the – say it with me – magic wielding by Spielberg.

One of the oddest thing about this story is the lack of female characters. There are only a few who even show up on-screen and only two of them get to speak lines. If you guessed that Tintin does not have lady in his life you are right (he is actually just a kid), but you may also rejoice in the fact that no other character has a marital partner either, unless you prefer to think that Thomson and Thompson have something going on.

I thought about how to finish this review. I did not want to say anything about the story, just because I don’t see why I should. I’ll say the movie has lots of action scenes. It employs impressive cinematography and exquisite quality of artwork. The story is thrilling and the sense of adventure lingers a bit even after you exit the theater. It’s an awesome movie.

I guess, if you don’t like awesomeness for any particular reason then don’t watch it. For the rest of you sane people, you really don’t have a choice.

[Post: 167 of 365] [Days Missed: 58]
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Sherlock Holmes II: Game Of Shadows

It was a good movie. Not great or anything like that, but for the most part it was a good movie.

To be honest I did not really enjoy the first movie and that was mainly due to Robert Downey Jr, who plays Sherlock Holmes in both movies, and his fake English accent. To be double honest I never enjoyed fake English accents; okay, my dislike for fake accents covers all dialects. In any case, the first movie showed clearly how even a story about a famous, smart and witty man can be ruined by changing the man into a swashbuckling Englishman who is insufferably arrogant and yet commanded a good amount of loyalty and adoration. The side kick, Watson, is played by Jude Law who is a real Brit, and has real English accent. The thing about fake accents is that their fake-yness is exaggerated when placed next to an authentic specimen. Next to Jude Law’s English accent, Robert Downey Jr’s accent was as out of place as having a Terminator robot character in an Indian movie.

This annoyance continues in the sequel which was released for this year’s holiday season. I’ll admit that the movie did not suck as bad as the first movie, even though they kill off Rachel McAdams at the very beginning and replace her with some lady who does not act that well, does not have that big of a part anyway and does not look that sexy. Also, the middle part of the movie was a bit boring. See, It took a while for me to get accustomed to the British accents, but then again, Sherlock Holmes II does not do a good job explaining the plot that well either. S.Holmes being smart and having Jedi like thinking skills, figures out a whole bunch of logic far ahead of time and as a viewer I have not caught up to that point in the story yet. By the time the story reaches the stage where he explains why he did something earlier, I had already forgotten that he had done that thing. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like movies I don’t understand that much.

Stunts were the best part of the movie. Well, that and cinematography. All chase sequences, any scene with guns and canons and scenes involving an automobile, say a groups of cars or a train, feature eye-popping stunt work and they don’t seem exaggerated either. They are punctuated heavily with Holmes’ characteristic dry and sarcastic humor and Watson gets to crack a few jokes as well. The villain and the goons don’t say too much but they do get to shoot a lot. They employ all kinds of weapons including automatic guns and machine gun turrets, some of which seem a bit too early for their time. The movie involves a plot for an impending World War so may be this can be forgiven. Yes, I forgive, because I have the power to do so. But the stunts were great. Camera work was excellent as well especially the ultra slow motion tracking shots which was liberally used throughout key scenes of the movie.

I am not sure if I can be impressed by protagonists like Holmes anymore. They have great skills and loyal friends, but they treat them like garbage and yet everything ends well for them. From my personal experience, it’s completely out of sync from real life. They get into incredibly dire situations with little chance of escape but somehow the bad guys always get beaten and Holmes gets to go on his merry way. This is understandable since he is the hero and this is a movie, but at least make him a bit likeable. When was the last time you saw some a$$hole getting all the adoration for being an a$$hole? Seems made up. But then again, fantasy is supposed to be removed from reality. If that’s the case, Holmes’ story shows what dreaming is all about. There are lots of excitement and hiccups but in the end, everything works out pretty well. There is tragedy and warmth, but there is always room for humor. That last part, I really like. Also in this particular case, there is also fake and totally annoying British accent.

[Post: 165 of 365] [Days Missed: 58]
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