Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

The Raid: Redemption (2011)

June 17, 2012

[rating:1.5]

At least 20 throats were cut open in this movie. I am not kidding. The violence in this movie is pushed to such extreme that I do not think there is more than 5 minutes when someone is not dying or being ripped open beyond any reparation.

The Raid is an Indonesian movie directed by Welsh director Gareth Evans. It has been hailed as a game changer of the action genre, scoring 83% on the tomatometer and 8.1 stars on IMDB.

The plot is minimal – the SWAT team is on a mission to raid a building occupied by a gallery of mobsters under the reign of the sadistic crime lord Tama. Among the SWAT team is Rama, whose goal in this mission is also to capture and return his brother Andi, also the righthand man of Tama. They start sweeping the lowlifes in the first level, and each level up means they will be encountering more violent resistance from more skilled and savage fighters.

Violence has been a tool for the filmmakers to develop certain plot point or certain conflicts between the characters. Ang Lee, regarding “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, once said that Kung Fu to him is like ballet, he uses it in favor of the plot and character development.

Plot in The Raid is just enough to create situations, in which the characters are required to punch each other into pulp. Its structure is similar to that of a porn movie, only the minimum of plot is served to create a situation where the characters can perform the sex. Yes, this kind of movies targets an audience for whom the plot or character development is a distraction rather than the driver.

There is a huge market for this kind of moviemaking considering the amount of praises The Raid is receiving. The problem is that it is technically brilliant, and it could be mistaken as a masterpiece. I enjoyed some early fight scenes until it was obvious this was all it could offer. However, it is not a great movie in the traditional sense of the art of movie making. A great movie uses plot and characters in order to reveal a certain quality of humanity or raise intriguing questions that deserve answering.

The Raid reveals nothing except cynical savage violence.

The Raid is directed and written by Gareth Evans, starring Iko Uwais, Ananda George and Ray Sahetapy.

Prometheus (2012)

June 13, 2012

[rating:4]

Prometheus is a gorgeous film directed by Ridley Scott, the highly anticipated prequel-but-not-really companion piece to Alien (1979) also directed by Ridley. The story is set some years before the event of Alien and of a completely different plot, although it does shred some mystery of the origin of the space jockey, by questing the origin of mankind, only leading to more mystery.

It is a very unique movie that shows a director picking up the same material 3 decades after the movie that made his name, and showing a very different director in work making a very different movie. That doesn’t happen often, whether or not the movie lives up to the high expectation is pretty much beside the point.

The story goes like this – A team of scientists led by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapce) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) arrives at a distant planet on a mysterious mission. Among the spaceship crew we also find David (Michael Fassbender), our trustworthy android who styles himself after Peter O’Toole from Lawrence of Arabia, and Vickers (Charlize Theron) the postergirl of the evil cooperation.

Dr.Shaw and Dr.Holloway believe that some ancient tablets sharing the same star map indicate the origin of mankind. They hibernate for 2.5 years, flying in Prometheus 3.27 x 10^ 14 km away from Earth, that by the way means they should be flying at 34.6 times the light speed to make it on time, to meet the creator of mankind. You see, the science is as sketchy as my math. Anyway, following the tradition, things go to the wrong direction and the crewmen die in some new gory and creative ways – except our heroine Shaw who now officially replaces Ripley the toughest woman in the universe.

Gone is the gloomy, industrial, biomechanical world created by H.R. Giger. Ridley immerses us in a world of technological wonder, with visually stunning and believable industrial design, interface design, gorgeous and slightly unfamiliar landscapes. The first hour of the movie walks us through this world slowly, sending us from Earth to this unfamiliar landscape where the unknown lurks. The movie works on this level. Then hell unleashes. Ridley knows which buttons to push to make you jump.

I am blown away by the production design and some odd aesthetic choices. For example, the whitish-bluish giant super human (aka the engineer, space jockey) looks rather mundane at the first sight, but at time you notice a subtle creepiness about their facial structure, that they look like a marble sculpture of a greek mythical deity. Ridley also makes great casting decisions – Fassbender is intriguing as David the android with an ambiguous agenda; Noomi Rapace is the hottest item and a novelty who will shine anyway in every movie she’s in.

If you are expecting a philosophical quest like 2001: A Space Odyssey, look elsewhere. Prometheus feels grand, but works like what Ridley does best – a highly polished sci-fi/horror thriller with good taste. And nobody does it better than Sir Ridley Scott.

Prometheus is directed by Ridley Scott, written by Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof, starring Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green and Michael Fassbender.

Seven Samurai (1954)

September 13, 2011

“Seven Samurai” directed by Akira Kurosawa is the granddad of the action genre. It’s believed to be the first movie where a team is assembled on screen for a mission. We can safely say that “Ocean’s Eleven” would not exist if Kurosawa never made “Seven Samurai”.

The movie runs for three hours with an intermission. It tells a story of a group of farmers, whose village has been raided by a group of forty bandits. Desperate, the farmers follow the advice of their granddad to hire four samurai from the town to combat the bandits. They recruit Kanbe Shimada (Takashi Shimura), not only a great samurai in sword combat, but also a great strategist. Shimada decides that four samurai cannot fight off forty bandits. He recruits six more, including the hilarious Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune), a son of a farmer who passes himself off as a samurai. The farmers bring back seven samurai to the village. The rest is the purest cinematic experience of the action genre.

The samurai here are poor and hungry. They are desperate to get a well-paid freelance job. The farmers are poor and can only afford to pay them three meals (rice balls) a day. They jump aboard only because of the charism of Kanbe Shimada the lead samurai. Their self-esteem upholds the hardship of life. Notice how the samurai are killed never by a sword on screen, but by guns fired by the coward bandits. Notice all bandits killed by the samurai die under their swords, never a gunshot.

Roger Ebert writes in his great review that “Seven Samurai” also tells a story of the Japanese social class, of men who are obliged to play their social roles even though the ends look grim. That’s a great observation. However, I enjoy the movie more on the pure cinematic level. The story telling is so clear, we follow easily each strategic step taken by the master samurai. The acting is highly stylish, for example the clown samurai played by Toshiro, which could be distracting at first but it helps to distinguish each character, and there are many vivid characters.

Seven Samurai” is directed by Akira Kurosawa, starring Toshirô Mifune and Takashi Shimura. Buy it at The Criterion Collection.