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.

Take Shelter (2010) [Midnight Movie]

 

I was surprised to find Take Shelter on Shudder because I wasn’t under the impression it was a horror movie. Thankfully, it fits in quite well because it’s more unsettling than a lot of the catalog there. You could call it “psychological horror,” but that’s misleading as well.

It’s hard to talk about Take Shelter without diluting it. I’d advise you to stay clear of online discussions and marketing material until you’ve had a chance to see it for yourself. I’ll tread lightly in regards to the plot. I always do, but I’ll be especially careful here.

Michael Shannon, who walks a fine line between everyman and “hey, it’s that crazy guy,” is just about the only person who could play this role: an everyman who might be going crazy. Shannon has increasingly vivid visions of impeding doom, which he tries to keep a secret from his wife (Jessica Chastain) and his deaf daughter. Global doom is scary, sure, but the film also plays with a host of other fears including debt, job instability, health care, and the inability to protect and provide for your family.

This may seem like quaint subject matter, but the movie is potent because it’s so grounded. The best movies about global events (Romero’s Dead films, the Mad Max series, Children of Men, etc.) are great because they’re not really about the superficial apocalypse stuff at all. Indirectly, they’re about what’s going on beneath the surface, particularly the fear of the future and the unknown. Take Shelter does the same thing, but in an entirely different way. The apocalypse may or not be real, but it’s coming either way.

Had the end of this film been in almost any other movie, I would have rejected it as pretentious nonsense. I’ve read plenty of differing opinions on the matter, and while none of ’em have fully swayed me, I appreciate so many people get something different out of it.

As for Shannon, I’m beginning to think it’s worth while to check out everything he’s ever done. Even in the movies I didn’t like, he was worth watching. And I’ve been on the fence in regards to Jessica Chastain, probably because I haven’t seen many of her movies, but I grew fond of her warmness in Take Shelter almost immediately. Supporting actor Shea Whigham, too, is pretty spot-on; I regret that in my Splinter post I reduced him to “a guy who kind of looks like Robert Carlyle.”

Seriously, don’t mess around with trailers or reviews or any of that shit. Just give the movie five minutes and see if it doesn’t hook ya.

Prom Night (1980) [Midnight Movie]

During a game of hide-and-seek, four school children accidentally push a little girl from the top floor of an abandoned building, killing her instantly. The bitchy ring leader of the gang makes the other three survivors swear they’ll never tell anyone what really went down. Fast forward six years and the children are now teenagers, gearing up for prom night. They’ve managed to keep their dark secret and it doesn’t really seem to affect any of them. This is odd to say the least.

Jamie Lee Curtis, who looks a little too old to be a high school student, is the sister of the victim. Her father is Leslie Nielsen, who isn’t nearly as fun as he was in Creepshow, and Sledge Hammer’s Anne-Marie Martin plays Curtis’s hot, Corvette-driving rival. The instigating moment of the film, mentioned in the paragraph above, happens in the first five minutes. Then nothing interesting whatsoever happens until the final act, at which point the masked killer will chase the characters through scenes that go on for far too long.

Martin’s character, who feels jilted by her ex-boyfriend’s interest in Curtis, concocts a Carrie-like prank which will humiliate Curtis as she accepts her tiara as prom queen. Another dreadful scene attempts to capitalize on Saturday Night Fever’s famous dance sequence, poorly, while the rest of the movie is chock full of high school rivalries and pointless gossip. I probably would have loved this movie if I were a teenager, provided I were a teenager in 1980.

I’m not sure why Prom Night is sometimes considered a classic. It’s about 90% filler and it’s immediately clear the killer is one of three people while, at most, only around four people will die. The infrequent kill scenes are so tame the film probably could have gotten away with a PG-13 rating if not for a handful of shots containing brief nudity. Unlike most slasher films, it’s not poorly made on a technical level (it’s actually pretty decent), but it really isn’t very interesting content-wise, either.

I started Prom Night 2: Hello Mary Lou soon after finishing this one and, although it was immediately more fun and campy, I fell asleep… hard. In fact, I haven’t slept so long during a movie in my life. (I suspect this has more to do with slogging through the first one than attempting the second.) I’ll give the sequel another chance in the future, but for the moment I feel like I’ve seen all I need to see of this franchise. Which is a shame because the VHS cover for part 3 has always piqued my interest.

The Disaster Artist (2017) [Midnight Movie]

The Disaster Artist was easily my most anticipated movie of the year, if only because I loved the book it was based on. For the uninitiated, Hollywood hopeful Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) begins an unlikely friendship with the mysteriously odd Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and it’s not long before the two of them cohabit an apartment in LA. Sestero finds modest success in the movie industry while Wiseau, who likens himself to James Dean despite his ghoulish appearance, struggles with auditions.

When a Hollywood producer informs him he’ll never be a star, Wiseau decides to make his own movie the only way he knows how: very oddly. He buys his equipment outright, which is pretty much unheard of in Hollywood, and he builds sets despite having access to the real world locations that appear in his script. As in real life, whenever someone questions the way Wiseau does something, he tells them in that untraceable accent of his, “Because this is real Hollywood movie.”

The concept is ripe for comedy and the movie certainly delivers, but if there’s anything disappointing about The Disaster Artist it’s the brevity of it. The movie is only 105 minutes long and that’s including celebrity interviews at the beginning of the film and scene-by-scene comparisons at the end. That stuff is fun to watch, but it feels more like extra features than something to put in your final cut. (I heard Franco and company remade more than forty minutes of Wiseau’s movie, so hopefully we can expect to see it on the Blu-Ray.)

There were a lot of details left out, too. Its absence is understandable, but I would have loved to see Franco’s take on the fake commercial Wiseau shot in order to get himself into SAG. And although the book wasn’t full of drama, I think the movie could have used more of it. They kind of breeze over the more worrisome aspects of Wiseau’s indecipherable psyche, which somehow made me less sympathetic to the fictionalized version than the real one. My only other complaint is the cameos are kind of pointless; you’ll say, “Hey, it’s Sharon Stone!” but, like the breast cancer subplot in Wiseau’s film, you’ll wonder where the payoff went.

I’m not sure I’d trust the Oscar buzz because it’s a straight comedy and James Franco’s performance, which is a great impersonation with a surprising amount of range, isn’t exactly what the Academy is typically looking for. I say fuck ’em. It’s a great time at the movies, just don’t expect this generation’s Ed Wood.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) [Midnight Movie]

They could have fixed 70% of my problems with Bram Stoker’s Dracula if they had just called it Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. The problem isn’t that the movie isn’t as good as the book—that’s just par for the course. The problem is, with a title like that, you’d expect them to take far fewer liberties than they did, especially considering the novel itself was remarkably cinematic for its time.

The scene in which Dracula is spotted crawling across the wall is chilling in the imagination, but it’s lacking something on the screen. Likewise, there’s some great visual effects, but Coppola leaves them on display for too long while Keanu Reeves somehow manages not to react whatsoever. I appreciate the shameless use of old fashioned sets and sound stages, but the look of the film hearkens back to previous film adaptations even though the bold title suggests it’s intended to be more novel than movie.

Then there’s Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder who are outrageously miscast for the project. Phony accents aside, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hated them in this movie because I actually think they could have been good in a different Dracula project. They just weren’t cut out for this Dracula project, which feels like an unhappy marriage between a studio flick and a pretentious art film. The rest of the cast, with the exception of Tom Waits, is more or less spot on. Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing is a dream come true, at least when the script doesn’t have him acting out of character, and the movie could have used more of Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, and Billy Campbell as Lucy’s suitors. The hunt scenes involving these players really are a spectacle; it’s just everything leading up to these scenes I’m not so sure about.

I guess I should mention Gary Oldman as Dracula, but I really don’t know what to say. He’s good here, I suppose, but I can’t decide if he’s “Gary Oldman good” or if he’s substandard compared to the rest of his filmography. This is at least the second time I’ve seen this movie and I still feel like there was too much stuff distracting me from Oldman’s performance.

Once it gets going, the movie frequently comes close to genuine thrills, but never really delivers the goods until heads are lopped off and blood is spewed at our heroes. The horror elements can be damn near perfect at times and the score is great throughout (I often listen to it while I write). It should be noted there was a fantastic pinball machine based on the film as well. But then the pacing is off and Coppola throws in a handful of what-the-fuck moments for no apparent reason.

It’s a highly watchable movie, but it doesn’t quite reach its potential. Usually I’m interested in seeing a director’s cut, but I’m beginning to think the studio cut of this movie is possibly better; I’m not really sure what Coppola was going for at times. I don’t think he did, either.

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.