Tag Archives: classics

The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 – Review

7 Nov

Imagine that Die Hard is just hanging around, minding its own business, when someone sneaks up behind it and injects it with a near lethal dose of adrenaline. The result would be the 2012 film The Raid: Redemption. It’s exciting to see a movie, let alone an action movie, and be able to think that what I’m seeing is going to be considered a classic in the years to come. This film is so wild and damn near unstoppable that when it was over I felt like I needed to take a long shower and take a nap. That, my dear cinephiles, is the highest compliment that I can give to an action movie.

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Rama (Iko Uwais) has a pretty good life. He’s in a loving relationship with his wife and they’re soon expecting a son, but who knows if Rama is going to be there to see it. His next assignment is a raid on a tenement building run by crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who provides his employees, customers, and other criminals with rooms as long as they pay the price. After a small mishap, Tama is soon made aware of the SWAT team’s presence, and he soon makes all of the other criminals aware and offers a fine reward to anyone who is responsible in aiding in the deaths of every officer present. Thus begins the mayhem.

That was one of the easiest summaries I’ve ever written because there really isn’t that much story to speak of. Police go into a building full of bad guys. The bad guys find out they’re there. Then the rest is just non-stop action, whether it be with guns, knives, batons, explosives, or fists. This movie is loud, violent, and fast but never is it boring. It’s almost like I couldn’t even believe what I was seeing. Is it legal to have so much action and martial arts packed into one movie? It’s like I died and went to heaven. Never have I seen a movie move so fast and behave so relentlessly. It’s an action junkies dream come true.

So since the action and martial arts is literally all this movie is about, it better be really damn good. Well it’s better than that. It’s absolutely excellent. People are literally thrown all over the place, and Evans seems to know of all of the most uncomfortable ways someone could get killed during hand to hand combat. Meanwhile, the camera zooms all over the place, covering every inch of the action and never getting so close or shaky that we have no idea what’s happening. Finally, and what may be the most satisfying, every bone breaking and fist making contact is heard in gleefully graphic detail. Not only is this an excellent action movie, it’s also just a really well made more in general.

I can see that a lot of people may not be too interested in The Raid, since there really isn’t too much of a story, only something more of a goal. Anyone who loves a good action movie owes it to themselves to see the adrenaline shot to the heart that is this movie. It’s wild.

And with such a successful action film, of course there’s going to be a sequel, but oddly enough I’m completely fine with that in this case. In fact, this is a rare example of a sequel actually surpassing the original. Just this year Evans released The Raid 2, a film that keeps the same kinetic action, but also adds a pretty lengthy story.

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Picking up right after the first movie left off, Rama goes to meet Bunawar (Cok Simabara), the chief of an anti-corruption task force in the police department. He explains to Rama that the corruption that was revealed in the tenement building is just the beginning and enlists him to go undercover to root out the dirty police commissioner, Reza (Roy Marten). Rama then spends two years in a prison to get close to Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) who is one of the crime bosses running Jakarta along with the Japanese boss, Goto (Kenichi Endo). What Rama soon learns is that Uco is planning to betray his father and start a war with the Japanese, so that he and his new partner, small time gangster Bejo (Alex Abbad) can run the city for themselves.

This is a pretty odd combination for a movie. It’s like martial arts meets Scorsese. As you can very well see there is much more of a plot in this one than in the first one, and a surprising amount of development on the revelations of the first film that were minor to say the least. Originally, Evans wanted to make a movie with the same idea as this called Berandal, but he didn’t have the money for it. With what he had, he made The Raid, sold the rights for an American remake, and then used that money to make The Raid 2 which is pretty much just the updated version of Berandal to go along with the continuity of the first film. It was actually released with Berandal as the subtitle, but was just changed to The Raid 2 when it reached America.

So take everything great I said about the first one and just multiply it by 5 and that’s The Raid 2. Thanks to a bigger budget, the action is even more impressive than it was in the first film. Two characters by the name of Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) are very welcome additions to the brutal combat. There’s also the same kinetic camera work and sound, but we also get the pleasure of an excellent car chase that would never have been possible on a much smaller budget. This movie does feel a bit too big sometimes, with the complex storyline, but it’s still actually a really good story that kept me engaged the whole way through.

The Raid 2 somehow surpasses the original and kicked me in the face with high octane action and a storyline that is reminiscent of classic gangster films by Scorsese and Coppola. I can recommend this one more than the first because there is more backing it up than just really cool action, there’s also a really cool story. This is a really fantastic film that has earned its spot in history.

That’s just the thing about these movies. I’ve seen them compared to Die Hard and Hard Boiled, and much like those movies, The Raid films have secured a spot in action cinema, and film history in general. Not only are they both exceptional examples of how to make an awesome action movie, they’re also really good examples of how films should be made. It was awesome to see history in the making with Gareth Evans’ masterpieces of action.

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Star Trek (1979-1991) – Review Part I

8 Jul

Star Trek is one of those shows that changed the way people watched television and is definitely a prime example of something that was way ahead of its time. From philosophical question to sociological arguments to the first interracial kiss ever broadcast, this show changed things for the better. Other than that, it also provided some excellent science fiction adventure with a group of characters that have only become more beloved as time went on. It’s surprising that the original series only lasted 3 seasons. What isn’t surprising is that that wasn’t the end. After the third series ended, Star Trek: The Animated Series finished off the final two of their five year mission, but the films are what people seem to remember the most. From 1979 to 1991, six films were released, some of which define cinematic excellence and some that make me think if the film makers ever watched Star Trek.

The first of the films to be released is the appropriately named Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

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Some years after being head of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Admiral James Kirk (William Shatner) now holds a high ranking position in Starfleet, but longs for the days in which he was traveling the unknown reaches of space. He soon gets his chance to step back into the captain’s chair when an enormous space cloud is seen destroying Klingon war ships (woo!) but also heading straight for Earth (boo!). It’s up to Kirk and his trusty crew including Spock (Leonard Nimoy), McCoy (Deforest Kelley), Scotty (James Doohan), and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) to pilot the Enterprise onto the course of the cloud and learn how to stop whatever it is controlling it. What the crew learns about the cloud is shocking to say the least, and relates back to Earth in a much more direct way than they could have possibly imagined.

At the start of this movie, it really feels like you’re back into Star Trek. Klingons, murderous space clouds, and Earth in peril are all ingredients to make this a successful movie. Well, too bad director Robert Wise was more interested in making a rip off of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Don’t be fooled by the name Star Trek. This is nothing like it, and what’s worse it is unbelievably boring! For example, the first time we see the Enterprise with Kirk is supposed to be a special moments since he hasn’t seen it, and at the time neither had audiences, for quite a while. Instead of making it a nice moment, the scene goes on and on and on with shots of Kirk looking at the ship, Kirk looking at Scotty, space, and random bullshit. I swear it goes on for at least ten minutes. There are many scenes like that and a really random, trippy sequence that also seems to go on forever.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture has all the right parts to make it a cool science fiction movie and an acceptable entry to the Star Trek franchise. All of the plot elements are in place, and towards the end it starts getting really cool, but unfortunately that doesn’t completely save the movie. This is the longest of the original Star Trek movies and it really doesn’t need to be considering the narrative material. Overlong scenes of just space and environments might have worked in Kubrick’s space ballet that is 2001, but it obviously is the completely wrong way to go about doing a Star Trek film.

The series really needed help to get it out of the mire. Enter a new director, new writers, and a story that wraps up a season 1 episode and we have the miracle that is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

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On a routine mission for Starfleet, Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) is sent to investigate a planet that just so happens to be where Kirk banished an old enemy, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Monalbán) a genetically enhanced dictator from 20th century Earth. Khan has vengeance in his soul for Admiral Kirk, who is back at Starfleet headquarters working with Spock to train the new cadets, one being an overachieving Vulcan, Saavik (Kirstie Alley). The training mission on the Enterprise soon gets out of hand when it is revealed that Khan is planning on stealing the Genesis device, a machine that has the capability to create life, but also destroy it when used improperly. When the two finally meet, the most important battle the Enterprise has ever faced begins.

The Wrath of Khan is an excellent example for the phrase “back to formula.” Wouldn’t Norman Osbourne be proud? After the monstrosity that was the first film, this second entry is more than just a breath of fresh air. It’s everything a Star Trek film should be, and maybe ever a little more. The fact that the writer went back to a little season 1 episode called Space Seed is just the first reason why this movie is such a success. Obviously the writers and the director have seen the show and knew exactly how the movie should feel. There’s lots of excitement, humor, outrageous science, and dialogue that push “hamming it up” to the extreme. What’s not to love here?

Any fan of Star Trek will be quick to say that The Wrath of Khan is the best film in the series and maybe even in the entire franchise. The action is stunning and the story is really cool, but hasn’t Star Trek always been about the characters? The answer is yes. Yes it has, and they’re finally back like themselves again. Just to be clear, even though the story is fun doesn’t mean it’s stupid. This is a well written, well executed film that puts the pseudo philosophical bullshit of the first film to shame. This is Star Trek at its finest, and quite possibly cheesiest.

The Wrath of Khan was actually the beginning of what is know as the Star Trek Trilogy because the next two films would also follow the same story arc presented in the second film. Following up The Wrath of Khan is an entry that I believe can be held in just as much regard as it’s predecessor. This movie is Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

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Right after the events of The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise is on its way back to Earth while Spock’s body has landed on the planet created by the explosion of the Genesis device in the nebula. Back on Earth, things are pretty weird. Kirk is depressed after the news of the Enterprise being decommissioned and McCoy is acting like he’s losing his mind. Kirk soon gets a visit from Spock’s father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), who informs Kirk that Spock’s being was transferred to before he died and needed his body in order for his being to be returned. It turns out Spock transferred his being into McCoy. Meanwhile, on the Genesis planet, Saavik (Robin Curtis) and Kirk’s son David (Merritt Butrick) find Spock reborn as a child with no mind and must protect him from the planet that’s tearing itself apart. Soon, Kirk and his crew arrive and find a Klingon Bird-of-Prey sitting in wait led by the sadistic Kruge (Christopher Lloyd), who wants the secrets to the Genesis device.

Just as I was writing this, I realized just how stuffed and preposterous the whole movie is.This doesn’t change the fact that I love it. If The Wrath of Khan can be compared to that episode that everyone likes and considered to be a classic, The Search for Spock is that crazy season 3 episode that is surprisingly effective and entertaining. This film is a lot darker than its predecessor, but I feel like the entertainment value is just as high. Christopher Lloyd goes absolutely crazy as Kruge even though he’s the last actor I ever would have though would make a great Klingon. It’s also cool seeing the story carry over from The Wrath of Khan. Plus that fight scene in the end is enough to make any fan of the original series remember all of the brawls that Kirk was constantly getting himself into.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is a great entry into the series. The movie does have some shortcomings and weaknesses, but nothing that really hurts the movie at all. I’m just curious as to why they decided to bring Spock back, especially after Nimoy was only interested in coming back for The Wrath of Khan only if Spock dies. Well, I’m fine with whatever the reason and it was cool seeing Leonard Nimoy have a chance as director as well. Any fan of Star Trek should appreciate this entry, even if it shouldn’t be considered as perfect.

Well, that wraps up the first part of the original Star Trek movies. We still have three movies to go, so keep an eye out for part 2!

 

Planet of the Apes Franchise – Part 1

11 Jun

 

The Planet of the Apes franchise is truly a wonder to behold. Starting as a novel written by the French author Pierre Boulle, it was adapted five years later as a film in 1968 starring Charlton Heston. Within the next five years, four more sequels would be made to build upon the philosophy and the mythology that was started in the first film. The franchise doesn’t end here, however. In 2001, Tim Burton remade the original film and most recently in 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes showed a brilliant return to the series and acted as a reboot that changes the original format in a very interesting way.

This will be part 1 of a two part review. In part 1, I will go through the original series from 1968 to 1973. Part 2 will highlight Tim Burton’s remake, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and what the future may hold for this franchise.

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For the sake of covering all of the movies in the original series in one blog post, I’m only going to give a very skeletal outline for every movie.

In 1968, Planet of the Apes told the story of a group of astronauts led by Taylor (Charlton Heston) who crash land on a mysterious planet that seems uninhabited at first. As they astronauts travel further and further, they come across humans who seem very primitive and unable to speak. More importantly, they find that the humans are subservient to a race of talking, civilized apes who use the humans as slaves and for experiments. They are shocked to find Taylor who defends himself and humanity with his ability to speak and understand the apes. In 1970, the sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes continued the story. Taylor now knows that the planet is a post apocalyptic earth and that humans completely ruined the world for themselves. A new astronaut, Brent (James Fransiscus), is sent to find Taylor and lands on the planet.  What Brent finds is the Ape City but also an underground civilization of mutant telepathic humans who know that the time for battle against the apes is close at hand.

In 1971, Escape from the Planet of the Apes told the story of Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy Mcdowall), who in the same manner of time travel as Taylor in the first film, finds themselves in the 1970s. They are at first welcomed, but soon paranoia begins to grow around their existence and what they say the future holds. 1972 brought about Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. This film is the story of how the apes realized that their subservient nature to the humans didn’t have to happen. Cornelius’ and Zira’s son, Caesar (also played by Roddy Mcdowall), teaches the other apes through his higher intelligence and ability to speak to revolt against their masters and begin thinking for themselves. Finally, the series ends in 1973 with Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Caesar is in charge of both humans and apes, but when a hidden group of humans radiated by nuclear fallout threaten the apes, gorilla general Aldo (Claude Akins) plans a revolution of his own. This makes the defense of the new ape city more complicated than it needs to be.

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Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

 

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Trying to cover the entire series in two paragraphs isn’t really giving the movies too much justice. Despite being called a “B-movie franchise” by many people, it still offers plenty of things to think about. The first film is an excellent piece of science fiction film making, which means it offers a grand warning. Taylor condemns all of mankind when he stumbles on the remains of the Statue of Liberty, and even makes mention of our violent nature in the beginning monologue. This, in and of itself, should serve as a clue of what’s to come. Science and religion are both contrasted in this movie, and even though it seems that science is favored throughout most of the movie, the end reveals that it carries the same weight of human error and evil that religion carries. In doing this, the film is stating that science and religion aren’t to blame. We are.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Escape from the Planet of the Apes deal a lot with paranoia. In reality, Beneath should have been the one and only sequel, although Escape is very entertaining. Anyway, back to the paranoia. A main plot element in these two films is the destruction of earth by a huge doomsday missile. Why is this such an important plot point? Think of the time that these were made: 1970 and 1971. The Cold War is in full swing, and with that is enough suspicion and fear to practically crumble an empire. In my opinion, these are the last films in this series that truly succeed in what they are trying to say, despite the budget being cut in half after the first film.

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Conquest and Battle are when things start to get iffy. The thematic elements are still there, this time with slavery, acceptance, and the chance of corporate dictatorship and governmental problems, a la 1984. These are all well and good, and Roddy Mcdowall does very well as an actor, as he has in all of the films he’s been in in this series. The problem lies in how cheap everything appears to have become. Conquest is really dark looking, and there were times where I was struggling to see what was actually going on. Battle looks a lot better, but by this point, I was more than ready for the series to be over. There was some weird editing and continuity problems in this movie that were glaring, but definitely something I could forgive. The real problem is that this series went on for way too long. Five movies? We really didn’t need that many. Two would have sufficed, although the third is entertaining enough.

I don’t have too much to say about the last two other than they seemed thrown together and haphazard. I could talk about the first three until tomorrow morning, but I feel like this has gone on for long enough. All five movies are on the right track with their dystopian warnings, and I feel like that, the cool make up, and Roddy McDowall are the reasons to watch this series. You have to really be in to sci-fi to really appreciate these movies, but if you love dystopian literature, cool make up, and over the top performances, then this is a cool and ground breaking series. For the history of the movies alone in relation to film history as a broad topic, these movies should be checked out.

This concludes Part 1. As I said before, Part 2 will cover Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes, the newest film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and what to expect in the future for these movies.

Hammer’s Dracula Films – Series Review

13 Nov

Arguably, the most popular version of Bram Stoker’s infamous vampire is Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula in the 1931 Universal film. For modern audiences, there’s Gary Oldman as the title character in Francis Ford Coppola’s rendition. For me, the best version of Dracula was produced by a British company, Hammer Studios, and featured Christopher Lee as Dracula. This will be the first of two parts for the review of Hammer’s Dracula films, the first being Horror of Dracula, or just Dracula for European audiences, which was released in 1958.

Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) is supposedly Count Dracula’s (Christopher Lee) new librarian, but is soon revealed to have ulterior motives. Those being to destroy Dracula. Harker is soon killed leaving the mission to be completed by his ally, Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). Dracula is closer than he thinks and begins terrorizing those closest to Harker and himself. As the clues to Dracula’s location begin to pile up, Van Helsing prepares himself for a showdown with the Count, hopefully bringing an end to the evil once and for all.

I am absolutely in love with every aspect of this movie from the sets, to the performances, to the story. This is also the first Dracula film to really showcase blood, and showcase it it does. Terrance Fisher, the director of this film, really can’t get enough of the red stuff. It looks pretty fake, but I still enjoyed seeing the early use of “gore”, and I’m sure audiences were shocked. The final showdown is even so intense, that there is footage that had to be cut out. Apparently, this footage has been found in Asia. Hopefully we’ll be seeing that at some point.

Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing’s chemistry is what really drives the movie. Paradoxically, they aren’t onscreen much together, but it plays off this kind of overt chemistry that culminates in an epic finale. This is a beautiful looking film with outstanding performances and memorable scenes. To me, it is the perfect Dracula movie. Check this movie out. It’s awesome.

Hammer released  Brides of Dracula in 1960, but there’s no Christopher Lee in it, so I can’t really call it a direct sequel. Audiences had to wait almost 10 years for the sequel. It wasn’t until 1966 that the second film was released, Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Was it worth it?

When the Kent’s carriage driver refuses to drive them any closer to Karlsbad, a mysterious carriage with no driver arrives to pick them up and bring them to the looming castle on top of the hill. They choose to go there despite a priests warnings earlier in the night. Turns out they are staying the night in Castle Dracula. Using the blood from one of the Kents, Dracula’s servant, Klove (Phillip Latham) brings his master back to “life” to terrorize the world once more.

Horror of Dracula is a tough act to follow, but Prince of Darkness holds its own. Much like in the previous film, Dracula doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, but when he does, it’s awesome. Rumor has it that Christopher Lee HATED the dialogue he was given, and refused to speak it. This only makes his character more animalistic as his only drive seems to be blood and all the sophistication that comes with the character goes right out the window.

My gripe with this movie is that the pacing is just a tad slow. The first one isn’t a race at all, but this was bogged down with some over the top dialogue that tried too hard to be interesting. Once the film gets its footing, there’s no stopping it. I just wish we got there a little bit faster. The costumes still look great and the performances are still top notch, and there’s more blood than ever. I really liked this one, but can’t quite say I loved it as much as its predecessor.

In 1968, Hammer Studios released it’s third Dracula film, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.

In an attempt to exorcise Castle Dracula from the evil that still possesses it, a priest (Ewan Hooper) inadvertently releases Dracula from his icy grave. Now Dracula and his priestly servant go to the nearby town for some blood hunting. Now it’s up to Monsignor Mueller and his atheist partner Paul (Barry Andrews) to save the beautiful Maria (Veronica Carlson) from becoming Dracula’s bride.

While this may not be the best entry in the series, it is arguably the most memorable. What I mean by that is that this film contains some of the best scenes, but overall doesn’t always feel to good. For instance, a major issue I have with this is filming in the forest during the day, but trying to make it seem like it is night time. Just film at night. It’s really distracting seeing Dracula walk around the forest with sun peering through the leaves. Sloppy film making with sloppy results. There’s also this weird orangish glow that shows up on the sides of the frames every now and again which can be cool at times, but also a bit overbearing when it isn’t necessary.

Still, this movie is iconic when it comes to vampire movies. The staking scene is surprisingly horrific and Dracula’s demise via impalement on a cross is excellent and will never get old. Christopher Lee is as good as ever, and he even speaks a little here and there in this one. I guess the dialogue improved a little bit. I’m even interested in the relationship between Paul and Maria. The film makers understand that these stories are about more than just Dracula killing people and sucking blood, it’s also about human relationships and the strengthening of them through the conquering of evil. Dracula Has Risen From the Grave is a great entry in this series.

Moving on to 1970, Taste the Blood of Dracula was released.

After three Englishmen who are bored with their aristocratic lives decide to join the infamous Courtley for a black mass ceremony to summon his master, Dracula, they are faced not only with the possibility of murder charges, but also one very angry vampire who wants revenge. Yes, that’s right. Dracula is back with a thirst for blood and won’t stop until all responsible for the death of his servant are killed. That is unless Paul (Anthony Higgins) can stop him and save his girlfriend, Alice (Linda Hayden).

I don’t want to say that this is where the decline of the series began because this isn’t really a bad movie, but unfortunately I’d be lying. This is the beginning if the end. Much like the previous film, Taste the Blood of Dracula has plenty of good scenes, but isn’t too well constructed all around. The violence is certainly brought to the next level and there is of course much blood and gore to be had. The black mass scene is creepy and memorable, but that’s about it.

I have two major problems with this movie. For one thing, nothing new is brought to the table. The structure of the plot can be related to all of the other films in the series that has come before and the whole Paul/Alice relationship is exactly the same as the Paul/Maria relationship in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, which is a far superior movie. This is also one of the most anticlimactic movies I’ve ever seen. Right when the final showdown is getting good, it ends.

This review has covered films 1-4 in this series. My next review will cover films 5-7. Things only get weirder and weirder for Hammer’s Dracula series from this point on, so I’ll have  a lot of material to talk about. Stay tuned.