The Raid 2 (2014) [Midnight Movie]

Some of my favorite sequels are the ones which take the characters we care about and throw them into entirely different ordeals. It’s the reason Die Hard with a Vengeance is my favorite sequel in that franchise, and why Die Hard 2 kind of sucks ass. In The Raid 2 there isn’t even a raid, but as far as sequels go, it’s probably best case scenario. Spoilers for the original film follow.

The sequel opens mere minutes after the ending of the original. Rama discovers the evidence collected in the original film is inefficient at best. If he wants to catch corrupt cops, he’s going to have to go undercover in an Indonesian prison. (There’s a lot more to it than that, but it’s hard to go into detail without ruining some of the surprises… of which there are many.)

At this point you think: Okay, I get where this is going. Whereas Rama had to fight his way through thirty floors of insanity in the first film, he’s going to have to fight his way out of prison. But the movie only bothers with a couple of fight scenes in this setting before jumping ahead to Rama’s release, by which point he’s befriended a key player in the crime syndicate he’s been tasked to infiltrate. It should be noted that Rama, who thought he would only serve a few months in the prison, was stuck there for three years, unable to make contact with his wife and newly born son.

As brief as Rama’s backstory is, it really heightens the urgency of the already brutal action. While the individual fight scenes are no less stunning than those in the original, the movie spends a lot more time in between, which allows us to get to know Rama more than we did before. It’s as if the filmmakers weren’t trying to top or repeat what we saw in the first film, at least not on a superficial level, which allows the story to unfold organically. I probably prefer the sheer kineticism and originality of the first film, but there will be those who prefer this one.

I’m ecstatic that Yayan Ruhian, who played the exceptional henchman in the first film, returns in an entirely new role. Now he’s a machete-wielding assassin who roams the streets under the guise of a vagrant. What’s interesting is you think they’re setting him up to be the kind of bad ass he was in the original film, but they spend a surprising amount of time developing him into a sympathetic hit man.

Even though the two movies look and feel completely different, it’s hard to say which one is better. Again, I think I preferred the original for balancing that extremely thin line between exciting and exhausting, but this one’s so good I can’t wait until The Raid 3 is announced.

The Raid: Redemption (Unrated Cut) (2012) [Midnight Movie]

Twenty policemen raid an Indonesian apartment block with the intention of extracting a sadistic drug dealer. The problem is the target owns the building; once he realizes the police have arrived, he cuts all communication with the outside world and traps the good guys inside. To make matters worse, he offers his scumbag tenants a deal: anyone who kills the cops gets to live rent-free in the building for life.

What follows is a dizzying gunfight which leaves both sides of the battle bloody and strapped for ammunition, at which point blades and martial arts become the standard. The sight of machete-wielding bad guys, roaming the halls for the badly beaten survivors, is a chilling visual. The head honcho is particularly ruthless, as evidenced by the fact he likes to chow down on noodles as he executes his rivals. Even so, he’s got at least two henchmen who are more interesting than the main villains in most films.

At the center of the chaos is Rama (Iko Uwais), a rookie cop who’s soon to be a father. There’s more to him than that, even though you’d think the absurd amount of action would squeeze out the character stuff, but I won’t spoil it. In fact, The Raid pushes the action to the absolute limits; we’ve seen movies with more action, sure, but those movies usually become exhausting by the end. There’s a high level of noise at times, but it’s always punctuated by perfectly timed breaks.

Then there’s the tasteful use of CGI, most of which you won’t even notice, combined with A+ stunt work. I can’t imagine the stunt team on this movie walking away without actual broken bones. The punches never look pulled, the blows look like they land, and there’s a two-on-one fight scene which looks legitimately painful. I often find myself dazzled by early fights scenes and bored by the latter, but The Raid manages to top itself each time until the spectacularly satisfying ending.

There are few things I enjoy more than watching movies. The reason is sometimes I find one as thrilling as The Raid. I’m not exaggerating. I don’t think I could list ten movies more exciting than this one. It’s operating on a level that makes many action movies look embarrassing by comparison.

I’ll post my thoughts on the sequel next Friday.

Baby Driver (2017) [Midnight Movie]

You know what Baby Driver reminds me of? A musical version of Layer Cake, which was one of the finest crime movies of the twenty-first century. No, it’s not a musical, it’s just musical, man. Anyone who saw Edgar Wright’s previous movies know what I’m talking about. His stuff doesn’t move like your run-of-the-mill genre movie. Music plays a big part, sure, but you don’t always have to hear it to feel it… a point the movie makes quite literally.

The kid’s name is Baby. He’s the getaway driver for Kevin Spacey who plays a business savvy crook. Spacey never uses the same crew twice in a row, but ever since he met Baby he uses him on each and every heist he organizes. Speaking of heists: you never really see them. The movie’s not about the heists. It’s all about the driver and the orbital role he plays in Spacey’s underworld.

Baby wants out because he never really wanted in. It turns out he owes Spacey a lot of money due to an unfortunate coincidence. The details don’t matter. What matters is Baby’s in love and when things fall apart, as they inevitably do in crime movies, his ruthless associates set their sights on his girlfriend.

The first scene of Baby Driver contains more wit and creativity than most summer movies can muster in two hours. As soon as it’s over, Wright treats us to a stunningly choreographed credits sequence, which tracks Baby as he goes out to order coffee. He’s not quite dancing, but he’s not merely walking, either. He’s a character, I think, who’s modeled after Han Solo and Gene Kelly. How do I explain it? Just see it.

As he’s waiting for his coffee, she walks by the window. And my god, that moment… it’s movie magic, plain and simple. Everything else doesn’t matter. That tiny moment is what matters and the movie is so effortless at making it clear. Baby and his waitress girlfriend were destined for each other. Their scenes together are so good they hurt.

You know what irritates me? Hearing moviegoers say they’re sick of seeing car chases and romance on the screen. But aren’t those just about the two most cinematic things you can get at the theater? It’s like saying you’re sick of seeing tragedies on the stage. If these people really mean to say they’re sick of seeing routine car chases and lazy romances, then I wholeheartedly agree. Baby Driver proves it’s not the subject matter that’s the problem, it’s the bloated studios’ inability to get this stuff right.

I adore crime movies. Seeing a good one can pump me up like no other genre. Unfortunately, the audience I saw this movie with had no pulse. Go see the weekend showing, with a large group of friends, at one of those theaters that serves beer. This is electric stuff, maybe even Wright’s best. I walked out of the movie over two hours ago and I’m still on cloud nine.

Silent Rage (1982) [Midnight Movie]

Since I featured two new movies in a row, I’m happy to get back to older movies this week. Forgive any typos because I almost forgot to do the Midnight Movie this week. (I’m preparing to go on a trip to Cactus Jack’s tomorrow and I’ve been repairing my first pinball game ever since I got off work today.)

As far as I know, Silent Rage is the only 80s slasher movie which stars Chuck Norris. It’s not a great slasher movie, but it’s a pretty good Chuck Norris movie. In a nutshell, a mad science experiment goes wrong, which makes a serial killer impervious to bullets. That’s right: guns can’t stop him, but you know what can? Chuck Norris’s fists.

The movie opens with an impressive long-take of the killer’s residence. The camera follows him from the moment he wakes up to the second he picks up an ax and murders his housemates. There’s some surprisingly complicated choreography going on here and it involves several performers, three of which are children who manage to hit their marks as well as the adults. In fact, the entire movie looks better than your typical slasher movie, though not as gory as a lot of the other stuff that came out around the same time.
After the murdering spree, Chuck Norris and his police partner Stephen Furst (yes, Flounder from Animal House) arrive on the scene. Flounder acts like a complete dope while Norris, brave as ever, knowingly enters the home of the crazed killer without so much as removing his pistol from its holster. When Norris fails to placate the man, the other police blast him to kingdom come. The serial killer is then taken to the hospital under the care of Ron Silver, who’s probably the best actor in the movie. There, mad scientists spout a bunch of technobabble, talk about revolutionizing medicine, and inject their experimental healing serum into the bad guy’s bloodstream.
You can see where this is going, yes? Like most slasher movies, there’s a kill or two in the beginning of the movie, but we don’t see the killer in action again until the movie’s halfway through. Unlike most slasher movies, it doesn’t bore the ever-lovin’ shit out of you in the meantime. This stuff isn’t high art—nor is it trying to be—and it’s about as cheesy as it can get. But you know what? At least it ain’t boring. Even when Flounder’s jokes fall spectacularly flat, you smile at how genuine it all is.
So it turns out Ron Silver’s sister (Toni Kalem) is Chuck’s old flame from six years prior. They rekindle their relationship (this is where the cheese comes into play) and decide to run off to Chuck’s cabin in the mountains. The killer has other plans: targeting Kalem’s family.
At first it’s hard to put your finger on what makes this admittedly dumb movie work, but then there’s a scene in which Flounder expresses doubts about his ability to handle stressful situations. Whereas the star of other tough guy movies would have treated him like an absolute baby, Chuck comforts the character, assuring him he’s gonna do just fine. You’d expect the “rookie gets killed immediately” cliche, but the movie doesn’t go there, either. 
Chuck isn’t a particularly great actor and his fight moves aren’t all that legendary. I can see why some people have trouble understanding the appeal. Sometimes even I have trouble understanding why I like his movies so much. Silent Rage is a good reminder. It’s just a fun little movie.

Logan (2017) [Midnight Movie]

I generally like MCU movies (more than X-Men movies, in fact), but the stylistic continuity is limiting to what the filmmakers can do. Each movie is different, to an extent, but directors aren’t allowed a whole lot of breathing room, which is a shame because the franchise attracts such big names. I want to see Kenneth Branagh make a Kenneth Branagh movie starring Thor, not a run-of-the-mill MCU movie. Meanwhile, Edgar Wright’s removal from Ant-Man still feels like we missed out on something great.

X-Men’s stylistic continuity, on the other hand, has been thoroughly torched, tossed out the window, and struck by a large truck. The varying tone has made the franchise a little spotty (to put it nicely), but it’s apparently given director James Mangold a whole lot of breathing room—the same kind of breathing room Christopher Nolan had when he rebooted the Batman franchise. 
This isn’t a Wolverine film. It’s a James Mangold film. And it’s probably my favorite mainstream comic book movie since Richard Donner’s Superman. I’ve merely liked X-Men movies up until now. Here’s the first one I loved.
It’s notable something this different got made with such a huge IP. It just doesn’t move like a carefully plotted action movie. It moves like a deliberate drama and feels like a classic western. Usually when I see these movies, I’m reminded of all the other comic book movies. This one reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World and Unforgiven.

The first time we see Logan, he’s sleeping off a hangover in the back of the limo he drives for a living. He’s awakened by the sound of thugs trying to steal his wheels. He tells them exactly what you’d expect Wolverine to say: “You don’t want to do this.” Yet you get the feeling Logan’s talking to himself this time. He’s old, he’s limping, and when the thugs shoot him, the wounds remain for the remainder of the movie. He’s also experiencing a bit of blade-extension dysfunction.
It turns out Logan’s healing factor gets weaker the older he gets and, as a result, he’s experiencing the effects of adamantium poisoning. (He’s something like two hundred years old at this point… it’s especially amusing to see the world famous hero require reading glasses.) Logan lives with Professor X and the mutant albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant, who’s great in the role) in the middle of nowhere. It’s likely they’re the last mutants alive. Charles is worse for the wear than Logan; the first time we see the professor he’s zooming about jerkily in his wheelchair, mumbling like a madman. Sometimes he has seizures, which puts everybody within a large radius at risk of death by telepathic shock.
And Charles cusses now… a lot. He’s gotten quite curmudgeonly in his old age, earning some of the best laughs in the movie. Patrick Stewart manages to play him with equal amounts of realism and dignity. 
One day Logan is hired to drive a woman and her daughter across the country. It turns out the little girl is more than what she appears to be: she has mutant abilities which are suspiciously like Wolverine’s. Naturally, the secret lab responsible for her existence sends their highly militarized security team to get her back. The leader of the team is the film’s villain, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Pierce doesn’t like “muties” and refers to his band of cyber-enhanced killers as “the good guys.” This is probably the best movie villain since Fury Road’s Immortan Joe.
There’s a bit of a surprise about midway through the movie. I’m amazed the trailers haven’t spoiled it. Lately, there have been a lot of surprises in movies like this, but when the surprises are, “Oh, look, another crossover cameo,” they kind of lose their effectiveness, don’t they? The surprise in Logan isn’t like that at all. It’s jarring, yes, but far from distracting.
What’s special about Logan is it sticks with you like a real fucking movie. I’m still piecing together some of the backstory and it occurred to me, a day later, that a lot of this stuff had deeper meaning than I initially thought. The balls-to-the-wall action at the end almost feels at odds with the rest of the movie, but maybe the movie earned it.
I saw the trailer for Justice League after watching Logan and I’ve gotta be honest: I pretty much couldn’t care less. I have a feeling a lot of superhero movies are going to feel old hat compared to this one. There are certain ways these movies comfort us, even when we’re sick of being comforted, so I’m not convinced this is the right time for the DCU to adopt a Saturday morning cartoon vibe. Meanwhile, Logan has more in common with The Road than its own franchise. And man, it feels so damn fresh.

America 3000 (1986) [Trailer]

I have an irresistible attraction to movies with four-digit numbers in the title. Love is the only thing worth nuking for! Great trailer, but I suspect it’s a shit movie. 
Come back this Friday, midnight CT to read my thoughts on Logan.

* * *
Monday I bought a pinball machine and a Blitz ’99 conversion in a TMNT cab. I fixed the monitor (Looks brand new with no burn-in whatsoever!), but I haven’t even touched the Blitz PCB or hard drive yet. The pinball machine is a little overwhelming, to be honest. I haven’t done much other than poking it with a multi-meter and checking fuses, but I have read about fifty-million pinball-related webpages in about two days.
As for my Pac-Man restoration project, the cab is sanded and primed, but a tube rejuvenator verified a heater-cathode short in the monitor. Looks like I’m doing my first tube-swap very soon, but I’m still exploring options.
As always, you can see pictures of my games on my Instagram

Repo Man (1984) [Midnight Movie]

“Ordinary fuckin’ people… I hate ’em.” — Bud

Otto (Emilio Estevez) is “just a white suburban punk” (his own words) who loses his shitty job stocking groceries in a shitty store. After finding his girlfriend in bed with another punk, he takes to wandering the streets of Los Angeles, looking for trouble as he chugs his beer.

Beer, like most of the consumables in Repo Man, is labeled generically. People who live in this version of LA, which is portrayed no more seriously than Grand Theft Auto’s highly satirical Los Santos, are too busy being hypnotized by their television sets to worry about the freedom to choose; there’s no need for brand names because it’s all the same shit anyway. You just get Beer.

A stranger named Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) spots Otto on the sidewalk and offers him a job as a repo man. Bud’s eager to share his trade secrets: a repo man shall not cause harm to any vehicle, a repo man thrives on tense situations, and a repo man does speed. Whenever they’re not repossessing cars and getting shot at, they’re starting fist fights and car chases through the Los Angeles River.

Why? Because why not.

Meanwhile, a suspiciously odd driver is making his way through town in a Chevy Malibu. We don’t know much about him, but we do know whoever looks in his trunk gets vaporized by something extra-terrestrial in nature. (It’s worth noting that Weekly World News is the newspaper of choice in Repo Man.) One day there’s a $20,000 bounty put on the Malibu, pitting Otto’s friends and rivals against one another. Otto’s friends and rivals, by the way, are pretty indistinguishable.

Amidst the flurry of action-packed scenes are relatively quiet ones in which the supporting characters launch into wordy monologues about life, the universe, and everything… without saying anything significant at all. (It kind of reminds me of David Byrne’s True Stories… so much of this stuff isn’t relevant to the plot, but then again, there really isn’t a plot.) Miller, a grease monkey, makes far-out observations which might sound sensible coming out of the mouth of a new age guru, but if you actually look for meaning you’ll find a whole lot of nothing. Otto, who’s too stupid to look for meaning in the first place, just kind of raises an eyebrow.

Back to Bud: he’s a well-meaning everyman who’s fearful of commies and convinces himself his hard work is going to result in the American dream. (His idea of the American dream is running a repo business of his own.) In other movies, the main character’s protégé might have shone light on the film’s deeper meaning by becoming a thinly disguised parrot for the filmmaker’s beliefs. In this movie he’s just a guy who hates bums… Christians, too. It probably doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t have to mean anything when it’s as witty as this.

So yeah, Repo Man isn’t a typical movie. It’s a movie that feels just as fresh, unpredictable, and effortless as it felt the first time I saw it. Even the most conventional aspect of the movie—the trunk-kept MacGuffin—refuses to adhere to any traditional rules of storytelling. Whenever you hear screenwriting experts go on and on about the importance of structure and carefully measuring the beats of your plot, you’re not wrong to think: “Yes, but you won’t ever make a movie like Repo Man that way.”

Come to think of it, I have no idea how this movie got made. It’s too funny, too alien, and too genuine to have been created by a mere human. I can’t imagine it working on the page and it shouldn’t work as a film, either. Somehow it does. And how it manages to sustain its breakneck pace until the very end, I’ll never know. Impossibly, Repo Man doesn’t get bogged down by cramming too much into it the way Buckaroo Banzai did (a movie I also adore, though not as much as this one); somehow it thrives on becoming bloated with too many characters, too many subplots, and too many words which don’t necessarily mean anything in and of themselves, but speak volumes about the film’s don’t-give-a-fuck attitude.

Honestly, I don’t know why this uneven movie runs like such a finely tuned machine. Yet for anyone raised on Mad Magazine, it’s just about the perfect middle finger to all that is average. Stay in this weekend and watch it instead of going to see Movie.