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Monday, April 14, 2014

The Raid 2: Berandal - Film Review


The Raid 2: Berandal

General Information

Released: March 28th (Limited Releases), April 11th (Wide Release US)
Box Office
MetaCritic: 71 Critics 8.9 Audience
Rotten Tomatoes: 79% Critics 94% Audience
IMDB
Official Website

Trailer



Editorial Bias

I absolutely loved The Raid: Redemption. It was a breath of fresh air with happy sprays of blood spatter with every inhalation. It was a marvelous display of what a martial arts film can be when intermixed with some solid crime drama within a bullet riddled canvas.

I was hoping for a sequel film release and its arrival couldn't have come soon enough. I loved TRR so much I would constantly show it to friends and have discussions among my contemporaries comparing it to the recent Judge Dredd entry. Because, in the end, both films were essentially the same, a 'raiding' of a large building to oust the existing drug-lord entrenched at its top floor. The difference is that TRR triumphantly did what the other tried desperately to do with a much larger budget. So with this in mind I had enormous expectations of what a second film could be and wondered how and if it could outdo its predecessor.

Even knowing that originally this film was intended to be released prior to The Raid, which originally was named Inside. I am extremely curious how this film was going to be adapted as a sequel and how it would incorporate Rama's character.

The Good 

Iko Uwais is again a charming and completely relatable young man within a world of horrendously disturbed criminal elements. A one-man-army that slowly begins to regret and realize that he is far deeper than he could have ever imagined; the only way to 'come up for air' is to go deeper and hope that he will make it out to the other side alive. This is similar to the feeling you get when watching this film. You almost forget to breathe. Because there is so much going on, from various characters that are actually being well fleshed out to a few familiar faces that return from the original film. All colliding in a wondrous ballet of appendages that bring you back to the original films remark about one of the characters "a fury of foot and fist."

The Bad

This is a nitpick, but necessary to state; one of the showcased characters in the film is Koso (Prakoso) which is played by Iko Uwais and Garreth Evans fellow friend in film and martial arts, Yayan Ruhian. A nitpick (indeed) because he was eviscerated in the first film as its resident ultimate henchman that appeared then to be unstoppable and appears now just as slightly unstoppable. Is this a complacency on the director that these Asians may relatively look alike and expected no one to notice? I'm not going to shake a race card but its a bit insulting. Otherwise its simply tossing in a great actor that in retrospect should not have been killed and was used to fill another role? High speculation at best.

Here Koso is an interesting character in a near cameo-like role but is utilized with a few distinct plot purposes that seemed a bit awkwardly forced. Of course his action choreography is highlighted in a few scenes with wonderful Silat flair, however the flow of the character was slightly irritating. You want to like Koso because of the tidbits of who he is that are demonstrated. However, you don't get enough time with him to really understand his plight and allow the film to flow or excuse his actions. This digression ended up sacrificing the trajectory of the film and caused the experience to shift in its plight from the protagonist, Rama/Yuda to this completely new character Koso - to only then throw him away for a plot twist. A midst the suspension of disbelief breaking as you ask yourself "didn't he die in the first movie?" Even if you do realize right away its a completely different character, it's an odd thing to have cast him in this sequel. Even if we love his scenes with his extremely vicious and immediate uses of force. 

The Ugly

There are a few scenes where you have to wonder how it is possible for some of the fighting to continue based on a few moments that funnel you into reality unwittingly. I'm not sure if those moments were intended to do this, but they did so exceptionally well. In doing so it throws the air of imagination out of the window and forces you to deal with the reality of what is happening. Like getting hit with a baseball bat in the head...

Silat is a very brutal and direct martial art used gorgeously in all of the Merantau films and while we obviously know our hero is going to be victorious (as we generally hope) sometimes you have to wonder how much can a man really take? Especially if you compare some of the scenes. One example where Rama first encounters Uco and Bejo's men and fights their prime henchman. He loses relatively quick after being struck a few times and is seemingly knocked unconscious. However, later in the film after dealing with many extremely tiring skirmishes, back-to-back, his fight against the same character seemingly runs for a great period of time on top of extreme wounds and fatigue being suffered. I love watching a character have to dig deep...I love it! But there are limits to what I will accept on the screen as being honest and realistic. 

The Great

The murderous intent is palpable and the beautiful carnage of the choreography is effortlessly lyrical. While there are instances of steady-cam use in a manner that is almost distracting. It is obvious the bulk of every principle in the film did most (if not all) of their own stunts, allowing for a seamless set of camera angles to display the sweet bone-destroying opera that is Silat to unfold on the screen naturally and without the need for movie magic to trick you into thinking you just saw some martial arts action. 

The singularly disturbing melee that was the prison riot scene was a joyous feast for the eyes for anyone who enjoys watching martial art films. Not because of wire-fu, or extremely graceful moments of acrobatic prowess. But for the sheer level of horrifying acts of inhumanity. A riot in the true sense of the word. It is nearly chaos personified in a few moments that slowly became difficult to determine who is who in terms of friend or foe; which left me with the distinct feeling in my mind that there is no such concept and may be a subtext in the story. 

...And Amazing?

This film doesn't simply start breaking bones in assembly line fashion or cast aside any dwindled hope for a story. Thankfully not. It has an interesting story of intrigue and heart at its core. A very solid cast of characters with great points of dialogue. The film even brings on an amazing character actor, Epy Kusnandar, who can create an atmosphere of dread simply with his eyes and also played an extremely chilling role simply titled 'Father' in  the 'Safe Haven' chapter of VHS 2; which is quite possibly the best chapter of the film and mostly because of his presence. 

When you look at films that have the undercover concept, you get characters bogged down in multiple complacency's of right and wrong that force scenarios in the plot. This film displays with extreme ferocity a man apart from the system he is working to protect. The lines between right and wrong are not very existent. If they are I didn't notice them. It makes our hero, Rama, a very different kind of character. 

Overall Verdict

As a general action film and as a martial arts film it is a must see movie that will satisfy the most jaded of martial art film enthusiasts. This one can almost gain a subcategory in torture-porn for the ridiculous level of horrifying things that are done to the enemy mid-fight. As a martial arts film it gorgeously displays various techniques in Silat that have similarities in Wing Chun and Muay Thai. Two styles many westerners are somewhat used to seeing on the big screen and can appreciate. Whether they know its Silat or not, the vicious and brutal fighting techniques will amaze. This movie is not for the faint of heart or for people that do not like violence on a level so grandiose that it hails back to the bullet-hell films Chow Yun-Fat starred in during the 80's and 90's; like Hard Boiled and  A Better Tomorrow. There is only one other star in Asian cinema currently that in my opinion matches the level of intensity of Iko Uwais and that's Tony Jaa. So if you love martial art movies, this is the only real film available to watch for the time being. 

4.5 out 5 Martial Art Movie Geeks

4_5_geeks
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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Meanwhile...

Changes that have occurred in my life since the last time I wrote into this blog are numerous and varied in scale.

Most recently I was inducted into the South Florida Writers Association and voted into their Board of Directors. Something I am exceptionally honored to be a part of, including taking on the Director of Publications position and editing the organizations Author's Voice. I'll be @ PhilanthroFest 2014 with Jonathan Rose, SFWA's Director of Community Affairs representing the organization and hope I can see a lot of Miamians there.

I recently became a part of the Florida Writers Association and the Miami Film Society. To say that I am keeping myself busy in my chosen professions would almost be an understatement. Although I won't be official with MFS until later this month as a listed Producer on their site. I started doing Indie outreach with UofM's Italian Film Festival with my old high school pal, Manny Rossi, who is a tenured professor at UofM and runs the festival events #UMIFF. Because of all this extra involvement in the community I got a chance to meet Billy Corben from Rakontur, the man behind the company behind the amazing documentary Cocaine Cowboys, which just got reloaded and released here in Miami.


So far I've been back in Miami and working as an Associate Producer for the last few months and oddly enough while here I'm experiencing a bit of a language barrier with the level and intricacy of my Spanish speaking and writing. Despite this awkward difficulty with one of my first languages I am doing well, even being groomed for a higher production position that I will be taking-on later in the year. 


On set @ El Gordo Y La Flaca
My first book, I Think? No, I'm Sure...God Hates Me is out on the market and I couldn't be happier and more proud. Yet I continue to write and work on other books. My publishing company also put out two other novels, Rhest for the Wicked, by Robert V. Aldrich and The Pack, by Dan Coglan. 

Everything has not always been sunny as bumps on the road over the last year sometimes felt like minor drops off a cliff. However, enduring failures and adapting to change has always been one of my strongest suits. I seem to amaze people that constantly ask something to affect of "How do you brush yourself off and carry on?" believing that failures can't be corrected. My simplest answer, "I don't like the floor." Whether I fall flat on my face, ass-backwards or just drop to a knee I always get up and move on. What else would I do? I'm not 'Floor-Spec' (Only World of Wacraft players will understand that last reference).

I meet a lot of folks and constantly wonder why there is so much fatalism, pessimism and general lack of motivation among them, my peers, elders and the incoming generations behind me. It irritates me that working hard, making mistakes, learning and moving on seems to be too much for most people to do; let alone comprehend. People expect a degree is their hall pass into life and things are either handed to them from there on or not. I don't get it...

I digress...

Of the last few films I've seen I wrote an In-Depth piece, as usual, on the Comic Book Movie entry for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is currently featured on the CBM website. If you've yet to see this amazing film you are missing out on a treat. Check out the review if you need some convincing. For UMIFF I was able to marvel at the beautifully written Io Sono Li by Andrea Segre, which was about two separate immigrants living in Italy. One of which was Chinese the other from the country formerly known as Yugoslavia and the various circumstances that surrounded their simple lives. From the turmoils of prejudice and ignorance to simple sacrifices and love affairs that never were. "ships passing in the night" is the phrase that comes to mind which alter each others courses ever so slightly and ever so profoundly.

Rakontur's Cocaine Cowboy's Reloaded was as amazing as the original, and contained over an hour of additional never-before-seen material. I was able to have a simple conversation with one of the main subjects from their documentary, Mickey Munday, who at one time smuggled well over 56 tons of cocaine into Miami within a year. The stories and ramifications of Miami growing into the metropolis it is from the billions of dollars that flooded the city from this drug money was amazingly staggering to witness come to life in the context of the documentary.

Going back to my review of Winter Soldier, I had noticed that while we (CBM) had a very large and healthy chunk of comic book reviews alongside the websites eponymous pieces; it (the website) lacked Indie Comic reviews. So I sought out to correct that void. Luckily and recently I got to meet quite a few Indie artists and writers at a small but amazing courtyard-side comic-con piggy-backing the release of the Winter Soldier film at a theater location in Miami. There I was granted an enormous trove of amazing and obscure comics by their creators that blew me away. The first of those reviews was Creature Entertainments Ravenous by Juan Navarro and John Ulloa. I also put up another review this week for Cosmic Times' release of Decisions #1 and recently was given access to Decisions #2 and #3 for further review. I'm currently reading through Creature Entertainments Zombie Years and a separate book titled The Thirty-Six, a graphic novel by Kristopher White. I also picked up a campy title named Old Cuban Samurai which tickled my curiosity.


Other news that isn't so new but because I lazily ignored this blog for a small tick of time I will mention it. One of the films I was able to work on as an Executive Producer, The Fellows Hip: Rise of the Gamers was picked up by a great distributor, Phase 4, and released on iTunes, Netflix, Best Buy and Wal-Mart. Basically anywhere you can get DVD's and Blu-Rays. The film was released under a new name, Rise of the Fellowship. I still love seeing peoples faces light up at this wonderful family film. So I hope you get a chance to see it if you haven't seen it pop up on your Netflix or iTunes advertised films. Support #IndieFilms

My kids are growing up fast, my wife digs her toes into my legs as I type this and I continue to make the cheesy joke "I am not a writer, I 'write' on a computer, therefore I am a 'typist'!" and still get a few laughs among my peers. Until next blog post, I'll keep my adventure going and for now I leave you with the view I usually have every morning being back in Sunny #Miami




EFC