“The Raid 2″ (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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Let’s get a little potential wire-crossing resolved first: the RAID films come to us from director Gareth EVANS, who is not to be confused with Gareth EDWARDS of the upcoming GODZILLA redux!

Apparently, the title THE RAID: REDEMPTION sounded like a sequel itself, so the sequel comes to us with a mere clarifying “2″ as it picks up directly where REDEMPTION leaves off. Officer Rama (Iko Uwais) thought it would be time to go home to his family after dropping the bad guy off for justice through the system, but… no. He’s eagerly recruited by an ultra-secret police faction that resorts to vigilante tactics to make sure that once a bad guy is down, he STAYS down. The honorable Rama wants no part of this and says so, but soon realizes that he really has no choice if he wants to keep his family safe. So he says goodbye to his wife and son for a deep undercover mission he’s told will only last “a couple of months.” Two years later…

While THE RAID 2 initially looks like it’s going to reprise its predecessor by confining its action to a single building (a prison hellhole), Evans’ horizons are much broader here. The situation into which Rama walks is, at its heart, boilerplate GODFATHER (the local Indonesian mob wants to keep the peace with the encroaching Chinese and Japanese factions; young hotshot doesn’t think the “old man” has what it takes anymore and will do anything to get ahead), but there’s nothing wrong with that! Previous reviews have suggested that this film is non-stop, wall-to-wall violence and gore, which really isn’t the case. But these two-and-a-half hours absolutely fly by even though the myriad characters (not a single one of whom is wasted, including the homeless hit man and the unforgettable combo of “Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man”) frequently DO sit down to talk.

But yes, it’s the astonishingly brutal mayhem that people are talking about… it’s so interesting that this is the second consecutive sequel I’ve seen (qf: WINTER SOLDIER) in which I’ve complimented the action choreography… but nobody could possibly confuse one with the other… the sanitized, PG-13 warfare of the CAP sequel maintains its existence in its own fantasy environment and makes effective use of the most up-to-date special effects technology just as people expect; but THE RAID 2? Well… I no longer see the point of the “R” rating. Actually, I lost sight of it a LONG time ago, but if THIS is an “R” for violence, then I can’t even IMAGINE what an NC-17 version would be like. No special effects, no CGI (and by the way, that extends to one of the most impressive vehicle-meets-structure stunts I’ve seen in quite a while)… but I must confess that the “shaky-cam” effect was SO extreme here that even your high-threshold reviewer nearly got seasick this time.

That’s not a good enough reason to skip THE RAID 2, which climaxes with a most satisfying traditional mano-a-mano after many an impressively surreal set piece… Uwais is as intense as martial-arts superstars have ever come (and of course they’ve ALREADY announced a third entry) and the movie will leave you reeling… but I’m still going to have to reserve final judgement until I see this title on Blu-Ray. Sacrilege, perhaps, but the digital copy I saw (the SECOND one received by the local arthouse after the first one malfunctioned) was dark and dingy even when prisoners WEREN’T battling in the mud… surely some of these sequences were meant to be bright and colorful (I’m looking forward to revisiting the amazing nightclub scene in its full glory, for instance) and I’m not convinced that I really saw the film I was meant to see. Could anyone who’s seen this title outside of Monterey County give me a visual report?

Grazi.

“Captain America – The Winter Soldier” (Film Review #2)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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Sorry for the somewhat delayed review–I’ve been just a little bit busy these days! But look at it this way, by now all the “Hail Hydra” memes must be making sense to you, right?

For the record, I haven’t followed the TV series AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. and have no insight as to how “stuff just got real” over there, and if I was supposed to recognize any upcoming characters in the credit cookies, I didn’t. No, these days, I’m basically aware of the M-Verse in the form of recent movies.

Anyhow. The second CAPTAIN AMERICA solo film (well, by title… you know that Black Widow is in it, too, and you’re probably aware that this film marks the first appearance of another Marvel mainstay) has Steve Rogers still uneasily making the transition from the 1940s to the present day, particularly when it comes to technology. Not just the Internet, etc., either… in as topical a theme as possible, Rogers (Chris Evans) and Nick Fury (you know DAMN well who) have an ethical clash over techno/military advances designed “for the greater good” at the expense of individual privacy… and perhaps even basic human rights (life itself, for a start). Then there’s a little incident involving Fury and a traffic stop…

Well… it’s just relentless from there on out. Long story short, we discover that the secret weapons of S.H.I.E.L.D. aren’t exclusively in the hands of the “good guys,” Cap finds himself a fugitive, and a smiling, self-assured Robert Redford easily assumes control of the situation. And yes, there’s that Winter Soldier with which to contend, and he adds a special level of intensity to the proceedings. The combat sequences range from battlefield warfare to vehicular mayhem to close-quarters brutality (“Before we get started, does anybody want to get off?”) with equal aplomb, there are surprises to be had, and the narrative never flags. This is scarcely the sort of film I need to review because pretty much everybody who wants to see it at all already has… but in all honesty, I would rank WINTER SOLDIER as the best solo Marvel since the original IRON MAN. And that’s saying a lot.

“Jodorowsky’s Dune” (Film Review)

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By Dirk van Sloten, M.S.

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As close to justice as we’ll get.

I love David Lynch’s Dune.

Even though I probably shouldn’t, since Lynch got raped on the final cut, and reportedly was bullied by the producer to stay on an impossible schedule.

In Jodorowsky’s Dune, a brilliant documentary by Frank Pavich, Jodorowsky himself is a lot less kind when talking about Lynch’s Dune. However, you have to see the documentary to get the emotional context that explains his strong reaction to it. Jodorowsky also acknowledges it most likely wasn’t Lynch’s doing that was to blame for how his Dune turned out (and ever since Lynch has insisted on having final cut for every film he worked on).

Perhaps it’s a shame then that Lynch wasn’t interviewed to talk about Dune. Pavich has pretty much said they didn’t want to ask Lynch since Jodorowsky had such a strong reaction. However, I would like to think that Lynch has a strong enough spine and high enough intellect to be able to deal with a fellow artist’s emotional reaction. Especially when knowing this artist (Jodorowsky) had been raped by Hollywood even more (arguably) regarding his vision of Dune (and many years of hard work in prepping it) than Lynch had.

Still, this documentary isn’t about Lynch’s Dune. It’s not about the Alan Smithee Dune. In fact, it’s about a movie that was never made, and yet has left its indelible footprint in the Science Fiction genre. Hardcore fans of the genre already knew this. But they’ve never seen it illustrated with such passion, conviction, and love as they’ll be able to see in Jodorowsky’s Dune. This documentary can be considered the Paul Muad’Dib of documentaries for it brings much needed justice and recognition to the artists who have been so important in shaping the face of modern Science Fiction.

This documentary will without a doubt spawn a whole new generation of Jodorowsky fans. Which, with a little luck, will yield proper BluRay releases of Jodorowsky’s work. (At the time of this writing, the few titles available seem to be out of print, and available only with, for most, prohibitively high price tags).

Three years in production, Jodorowsky’s Dune is the most complete account on the topic. It’s the best thing next to installing a brain-tap directly into Jodorowsky’s skull. Original art work was brought to life with skillful animations, that should carve a scar into the hearts of the Hollywood producers who said “no” at the time.

Dealing with a rather dark topic, this documentary is bright, humorous, and easily accessible to a mainstream audience, and will still deliver a grand experience to hardcore fans of Jodorowsky’s and Science Fiction. Even audience members who have no prior knowledge of Dune (in whichever form), Jodorowsky, or even Science Fiction, will have an absolutely satisfying screening; they will leave the theater feeling enriched and somehow empowered. This is no small accomplishment.

The interviewed subjects mostly speak for themselves, with a minimum amount of narration and only at the right times in the right places. Scoring, often overdone or underdone in other documentaries, provided exactly the right support and mood. As far as I’m concerned, this flick was the perfect blend of the spiritual, the technical, and the entertaining styles of filmmaking.

By not seeing this gem on the big screen, you will do yourself a great injustice. Don’t let that happen!

Filmmaker Bryan Singer Accused of Sexually Molesting Underage Teenage Boy

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If the allegations are true, then R.I.P. “X-Men: Days of Future Past”.

Current claim: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/director-bryan-singer-accused-sexually-697047

“Apt Pupil” controversy: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,287669,00.html

Be sure to also check out Bryan Singer’s college film “Lion’s Den”, co-starring Ethan Hawke and Singer himself:

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“Oculus” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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Well, we’re a quarter of the way into the year and so far the horror genre has only given us a couple of “found-footage” leftovers… one utterly wretched (DEVIL’S DUE) and one that surprised me by NOT being utterly wretched (P.A.: THE MARKED ONES). But NOW we’ve got our first serious contender… and despite the “from the folks who brought you” hype, it is not, repeat, NOT a found-footage movie.

Now 21, Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) has been discharged from the mental hospital he’s been in since the age of 10, having been deemed cured of the supernatural obsessions that haunted him since the traumatic deaths of his parents (one of which he was held accountable for). And (slightly) older sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan), having benefited enormously from her inheritance of the estate, welcomes him back with open arms… only to remind him that now it’s time to deal with the evil antique mirror that THEY held responsible for the tragedy all those years ago…

Kaylie isn’t fooling around or taking any chances… she’s gone to great lengths to re-obtain the mirror and she’s set up a super-elaborate video experiment with which she intends to, essentially, catch the mirror “in the act,” having obsessively researched its historical chain of mayhem. The experiment takes place in the house in which the children grew up (or at least tried to)… and the contemporary story alternates with flashbacks in which the younger Kaylie and Tim (Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan) endure the increasingly distressing events leading up to the supposed double-homicide of their parents (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane)… as the line between the tales slowly disintegrates. But is the mirror really supernaturally evil? Or is Kaylie herself the one who’s completely, utterly delusional?

Simply put, it would be very wrong of me to continue in this direction. OCULUS (an expansion of a short film unseen by me) isn’t the theatrical debut of experienced television director Mike Flanagan, but now I want to see his earlier ABSENTIA and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. This one held my attention from the very beginning… skilled suspense direction and convincing performances by all are enhanced by grim, hard-hitting violence (not to mention some truly excruciating individual shock moments… cough–staple remover–cough cough) while the curtain of uncertainty continues to hang deeply and heavily.

Yeah. NOW we’re talking HORROR.

(And on a side note, I see that this was partially a WWE production and the first, if I’m not completely mistaken, to not feature a single wrestler even in a supporting role… I guess they took it seriously when THE CALL became their biggest hit to date and knew just which thriller to throw down for next!)

Gauntlet thrown… top THIS, horror year 2014!

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (Film Review)

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“Noah” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

NOAH

I find it amusing that after one amazingly successful weekend, Paramount is still pushing NOAH to the SON OF GOD audience as a pure Biblical epic, despite director Darren Aronofsky’s assertion that it’s “the least Biblical Bible movie ever!” Well, with Aronosky at the (sorry) helm, of course you ought not to expect a straightforward, unembellished account of Genesis… but it DOES represent Genesis, for all that.

No two ways about it… creation happened in six days, Adam and Eve committed original sin in the Garden of Eden, and Cain rose up and slew Abel, leaving only himself and his brother Seth to continue humankind. It’s here that Aronofsky takes charge of the story… we have the progeny of Cain dominating most of the globe while the spawn of Seth remains the endangered minority, still loyal to the Creator (the word “God” is never used in the film, nor does the Creator have a speaking role as such, but his presence is evident throughout–both factions know and believe in him as real and literal). But Cain’s men have the advantage when mythology outside the Bible story comes into play… “fallen angels” known as the Watchers have taken it upon themselves to
bestow additional knowledge and technology on the human beings otherwise left to their own devices… and though they’ve been punished by the Creator by being transformed into stone-encrusted monstrosities, they soldier on even as they live to regret what they’ve wrought.

See,if this weren’t a movie review, I’d be talking about the similarities between the Tree of Knowledge and Pandora’s Box… but here we’re invited to consider the myth of Prometheus in addition to Genesis. On the surface it might seem like a mere case of a director “beefing up” a perfectly good story just to include additional special effects and monsters (to make it more like THE HOBBIT, if not TRANSFORMERS), and it’s telling that the Watchers are hidden from the preview clips for NOAH to this day. But there’s nothing gratuitous about them… as handled by Aronofsky, the Watchers are a vital component in an exploration of just who we are, what we’re doing here and whether or not we deserve it.

Oh, wait… Noah! Through a series of frightening visions (as opposed to a mere voice from the heavens), Seth-descended Noah (Russell Crowe, of course) moves to protect his family (and especially the “innocent” animals) from the deluge the Creator promises is going to wipe out the Cain-followers (now led by Tubal-Cain, as played by Ray Winstone, the SEXY BEAST himself in a terrific turn) and pretty much everything else. But first Noah needs to seek the counsel of his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), putting himself in the path of the Watchers and saving the life of a little girl in the process…

Well, realistically, the Ark is NOT an overnight project here–it takes ten years, allowing the little girl to grow up to become Emma Watson, accepted as a true member of the family (though she’s also love interest to oldest son Shem, much to the jealousy of next-in-line Ham). Mrs. Noah (Jennifer Connelly) sees a problem with the survival arrangement and takes certain matters into her own hands… but Noah isn’t necessarily convinced that humankind is MEANT to survive the ordeal at all–as he sees it, he was “chosen,” all right, but certainly not because he was “good” as opposed to the rest of humanity. Still, when Tubal-Cain’s faction sets up housekeeping in preparation to storm the ark, we’re unflinchingly shown a society that one might well imagine the Creator would WANT to wipe off the face of the earth.

One’s personal tolerance of Biblical liberties granted as one’s own personal prerogative, NOAH is an exciting, gripping, violent and dramatic spectacle of a movie, all right, and it’s full of Aronofsky’s trademark surrealistic flights of fancy here used to illustrate the story of Creation, the instantaneous creation of a forest from which to build the Ark and the filling thereof of the contents of the animal kingdom (“The snakes are coming, too?” gets a good laugh in a film offering precious few of those). Yes, they’re recognizable as CGI, but they’re impressive all the same because they’re all about something and all contribute to the powerful themes invoked by the story (be that story Genesis or the script of NOAH), and they’re never simply “Hey! Look! Shiny thing!” Oh, and the story comes up with a nifty way to keep the animals under control during the voyage, and you’ll probably wish you could get a hold of some if it yourself!

Once the Ark itself is set afloat, NOAH gives itself over to additional drama that worried me a bit at first,but by the time the complete story plays out, it’s all worth it in the end. This isn’t about a group of special people beatifically riding out a storm… this is a dramatization of one of the most traumatic ordeals imaginable, and it’s no wonder that Noah wants nothing more than to get naked and plastered after all he’s been through (yes, the ENTIRE story of Noah is represented in the film).

So… Darren Aronofsky has made something challenging out of one of the most famous and familiar stories of all time. Imagine that. But the Biblical debate belongs on another page. As a cinematic entertainment, NOAH goes the extra mile and delivers more than the spectacle–as such, it’s very much worth seeing on the big screen.

“LiTTLE REAPER” (Film Review)

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Sometimes a low budget indie short film can still deliver the goods.

In today’s world, anyone can shoot and edit any size film on their home computer so the market has been flooded by would be filmmakers. Usually (as a reviewer) you discover a half hearted attempt by a filmmaker wanting to recreate a movie he/she desperately yearns to emulate. Sometimes though you find that diamond in the rough.

“LiTTLE REAPER” is one of those diamonds that shines on its own.

Notice the lower case “i” in the title. Not sure why it is presented that way, but hey, it’s the filmmaker’s decision so let’s go with it.

“LiTTLE REAPER” stars John Paul Ouvrier and Athena Baumeister as father and daughter Grim Reapers. She has apparently been grounded for not taking the job seriously, but then her dad gives her an opportunity to prove her loyalty. It doesn’t entirely go as planned.

“LiTTLE REAPER” comes promoted as a horror comedy, but it’s more in the satirical comedy vein. There’s nothing in the film particularly scary, but I don’t believe that was director Peter Duke’s intention anyway. And while a few of the jokes may seem a tad forced, the chemistry between the two leads is charming and fantastic.

If there is a problem with the film, it’s that a few of the audio transitions come right on top of each other as well as not tying the leads in to the main action; a frequent issue with filming on different days with several actors. But that’s like 15 seconds of the overall running time so really… not that big of a deal.

That being said, the black and white photography by Drew Moe is strikingly clear and the music by Giona Ostinelli recalls early Danny Elfman/Tim Burton. In fact, the whole tone of this short reminded me of Tim Burton’s first live action film, “Frankenweenie” and that was pleasing.

“LiTTLE REAPER” is a fun, breezy, light hearted ten minute short film that is worth your time. I’m looking forward to seeing what director Peter Duke has planned next.

“Non-Stop” (Film Review)

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By Shane M. Dallmann

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Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) sits in his car and stares at a bottle of Scotch before he reluctantly makes his way to his flight (we soon learn that he’s an armed Federal Marshal). Along the path, he encounters a variety of supporting characters, any of whom might be a suspect in the drama to come (except for the scared little girl, of course). He eventually gets Julianne Moore as a seatmate (she’s desperate to get the window seat she was promised but denied) and tells her about the lucky ribbon he’s wearing that used to belong to his daughter. Now you know everything you need to know about Neeson’s character, but you’re still going to get the heart-rending revelations and soliloquy at a much later point in the film. You’ll also get a villainous soliloquy designed to promote passionate debate amongst the audience members… well, all of the above made me roll my eyes as the corn piled up high around me.

But… nobody really goes to see a movie like NON-STOP for all that. If you’re intrigued by the premise (person or persons unknown targets Marks with a threat to kill somebody aboard the plane every twenty minutes unless certain demands are met; Marks finds it extraordinarily difficult to prove that he’s not the culprit himself) then you’re going to get your payoff. Director Jaume Collet-Serra is certainly one I’ve been keeping my eye on… he went from the HOUSE OF WAX “remake” to the extraordinary ORPHAN before moving on to “the Liam Neeson thriller of the month” with UNKNOWN and now NON-STOP (which, for some reason, is NOT a Dark Castle production). And regardless of genre, he stays true to his form with a slow, methodical suspense buildup punctuated by bursts of concentrated violence. And while it’s certainly harder to make this approach work without the benefit of either horror trappings or exotic backdrops, he and the cast play off each other quite effectively throughout, making NON-STOP a decent thriller in which it’s never as easy to identify who’s behind it all as you might think.

What keeps the film from reaching its full potential is its careful avoidance of all of the social-political-ethnic-religious issues that ought to be setting the terrified passengers at each other’s throats (instead of mainly Neeson’s)… these are certainly hinted at (one such passenger is, of course, a Muslim with a traditional headdress) but they’re shied away from just as quickly… a last-minute speech is no substitute, and neither is a frightened little girl that gives our hero a chance to… oh, well, you already knew where that was going. A little less of the corn and a little more of the hot chili could have made NON-STOP a crackerjack. As it stands? It’s passable and well-made. I just hope Collet-Serra pulls out ALL the stops next time around.

“True Detective” Succeeds and Delivers

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By Dirk van Sloten, M.S.

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This article is in response to the piece written at Thinkprogress.org: http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2014/03/10/3381971/true-detective-failed/

Zack Beauchamp of “Think Progressive” misses the boat on True Detective so much, that I wonder if he has been taking more acid than five Rust Cohle’s combined.

First he demands the show should have a “supernatural” ending. Two days later he claims the show’s finale completely “fails” because he feels that it didn’t live up to its promise to “transcend the cop show’s intellectual horizon,” and that “the show failed utterly to redeem its troubling treatment of female characters.”

Wow. Okay.

Let me preface by saying I’m a huge fan of the horror genre (which to me means, with few exceptions, it needs to have an element of the supernatural, a monster for example). But this show wasn’t setup as such. Nothing supernatural was ever revealed. Not really. Though there are obviously characters who believe in the supernatural; no evidence was ever give that true magic, supernaturalism, deities, etc, were actually involved.

A true supernatural twist (i.e. the Ancient Ones find an entry into this world) revealed only at the end would have pissed off a ton of the show’s fans. And they would have been correct to have been pissed off

in such a scenario. Because we would have been lied to. It would have been cheap. And yet, that’s the ending Zack was praying for.

As far as the treatment of female characters go… The three main women, Marty Hart’s wife and two daughters, turn out to be strong women that rebel against their husband/father, and ultimately take things in their own hands. They choose to step out of the abusive situation. And the fact they still show up at the hospital bed doesn’t mean they’re weak. Quite the opposite; it takes more strength, and yet yields better results, to show compassion and even forgiveness, than it does to condemn someone and walk away without ever looking back.

The standard cop and/or horror show that does what Beauchamp accuses True Detective of when he says “True Detective, then, ended up selling a traditional story about dangerous men saving faceless women as a critique of violent masculinity,” would have had the women abducted by the antagonist, so the big macho heroes could come safe them. This show didn’t do that! At all. Fantastic, I say.

Beauchamp also states that: “Someone who sacrificed his career on the alter of uncovering the Tuttle conspiracy should never be satisfied with simply catching the nastiest, least-powerful member of the clan.” But he did way more than that. And Cohle himself even strongly stresses he’s not satisfied as he caught only one. But both Cohle and Beauchamp miss the point he did so much more than just catch a single guy. For one, he’s been able to re-open a case that had been shut down and forgotten about. The two new detectives, Gilbough and Papania, competent as they may or may not be, were completely tunnel-visioned on Cohle being the antagonist. Given that fact, and given their history with the case, only Hart and Cohle as a team, despite their flaws, could have done that. For another, by re-opening the case and getting one suspect who was truly involved in the Tuttle Conspiracy, other doors are opened that can lead to more people involved being identified and prosecuted.

A real-world detective doesn’t solve every crime he investigates, either. And the ones he or she does aren’t always solved in their entirety.

Should a first season of a show reveal all mysteries? Or should it leave some stuff open for either follow-up seasons, or to allow people to ponder on these questions themselves? (Yes, I’m aware the second season of this show is likely to not have any direct correlation with this first one.)

I’m not a fan of shows where all data are regurgitated ad nauseam, especially in a single and first season. Ergo, I’m very satisfied True Detective didn’t turn into that kind of show. For me, True Detective delivered a very satisfying, intelligent, and strong “conclusion,” that left one hungry for a second course. It more than succeeded.

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