Brick Mansions (2014)

Brick MansionsReleased: April 25, 2014. Directed by: Camille Delamarre. Starring: Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA. Runtime: 90 min.

If you see Brick Mansions, remove logic from your list of expectations. You might be giving this film a chance for its action. Hopefully the poster doesn’t convince you to see this, because it’s kind-of awful. Instead of putting the poster on a side of a building, the poster is literally a picture of the three actors on a side of a f!#king building! That’s insanity!

You might also be giving this a chance to watch Paul Walker in his final, fully completed film. He’s adequate in his role – silly at times, particularly when he’s warring with co-star David Belle over who gets to take a stolen van; or when he’s unconvincingly saying “Back off. Back off.” The writing is partly to blame, too. He’s getting stronger as an actor, being tolerable and convincing as his character – and only poor once or twice in a film. It’s a shame that we won’t ever be able to see him be truly and consistently great. He does take to the stunt-work of parkour like a champ and his training shines through, in what is easily his most physically demanding role to date. This film surely does not do for parkour what The Raid: Redemption did for the Indonesian martial arts style of pencak silat. That’s a blurb that would probably suit the original District B13, upon which this, an American remake, is based. Now that the Raid is being mentioned, this is sort-of like a dumb version of it, just with a lot less blood because its PG-13 rating holds it back.

Anyway, David Belle’s involvement helps the action film, because he’s considered the founding father of parkour, an instinctive acrobatic style where you can jump off of any surface or object. It’s also really helpful for being untouchable and kicking someone’s ass in a fight. It’s awesome to watch these guys jump around like grasshoppers over people, from building to building and wall to wall. The action is just great, if repetitive – but this is where this film succeeds the most. The first scene where David Belle is prominently featured is a phenomenal action sequence. First-time director Camille Delamarre directs the action well, but he uses slow motion to a fault. The over-utilization of it somehow gives the film a sort-of visual flair in the likes of Gareth Evans’ style, director of The Raid and The Raid 2. Delamarre isn’t nearly as successful directing the dialogue exchanges, because it’s all a bit silly – but that is screenwriter Luc Besson’s fault.

The silliness is found in lack of logic and in the dialogue of the villainous Tremaine (RZA). He says things like “Tremaine ain’t anxious, he causes anxious,” and “C’est la vie!” which shows us that this connoisseur knows French. (It means “That’s life” in French, by the way.) His motivations don’t seem clear, and he’s generic – but he explains at one point that he’s a “politician,” but it must be assumed that he’s speaking of being a politics of all things drugs. He takes a nuclear bomb that can blow up a whole town, if it’s 5 miles in diameter. RZA seems to be a good artist and great composer (most notably for Kill Bill Volume 1), but based on his work in this film, his acting ability is lacking; but he can’t be the greatest actor in a role like this.

He’s usally silly, never intimidating and over-the-top with his violence; like shooting someone because they don’t have any good ideas, or shooting a television when his henchmen are playing a video game, because why the hell not, right? It seems to me that the writers try to write him mildly intelligent dialogue, but it’s so damn stupid. The attempt to make him seem like a smart, complex mastermind fails miserably. They make the guy all fancy; he’s always cooking, and the set design for his office gives him a nice red table and expensive chairs under a red light. He looks like criminal royalty. It’s a character who wouldn’t work for anyone, let alone RZA, who’s never quite believable. Remember him trying to convincingly portray a blind kung fu master in G.I. Joe: Retaliation? Oh dear, I won’t even go started on that. 

Paul Walker’s character of Damien, an undercover cop, has a bone to pick with him because his father was killed in a drug raid. That’s his motivation to take the baddie down when the Mayor asks him to go in to the rundown Brick Mansions to disarm the nuclear weapon. Brick Mansions is a walled-off section of 2018 Detroit (a fictional present day Detroit would work to the same effect because four years is not a jarring difference in time) that was designed to keep the rampant crime of Detroit in one small area. Hospitals, police stations and schools are shut down in this sector of Detroit. Damien teams up with Lino, the same character (named Leito) David Belle portrayed in the original French film called District B13 upon which this is based. He’s okay, and it’s a fine role for him to be introduced to the North American public. He does give off an impression that he’s trying hard to hide his accent – which is distracting. He does a better American accent than Gerard Butler, but I’m curious as to why everyone knows the character is French. He sounds pretty American to me. It’s just a little funny.

Lino and Damien are the only characters you’ll care about because they have clear motivations that, while generic, are mildly well-written. One character you won’t care about is one called Rayzah (awful f@!king name) who is largely the sex appeal of the film. Her distinct, over-the-top attraction to Lino’s ex-girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) makes the film have an out-of-place perversion about it. The poor writing of the film is its biggest flaw; it’s usually unintentionally hilarious. At least, most of it until a very bothersome finale. 

The logic is just not sound, maybe because of seriously stupid henchmen. Even though one henchman says that Damien and Lino’s life is worth more than any of theirs, all of the henchmen do not shy away from aiming to kill them anyway! How does that make sense? There’s another occasion which I won’t spoil, but this scene, like the other mentioned one, all happens for the sake of guns being shot. 

It might sound like I’m giving this film a hard time. This is not something I hate, because it’s not well-written by Luc Besson; but damn, it’s entertaining. Even when the action isn’t happening, you might be laughing your ass off because the dialogue is so dang silly. If you can get past the silliness of it all, this is a fun time at the movies – and it’ll make a great rental for a dumb movie that you just want to pop in the Blu-Ray player and sit back and have a drink and a lot of laughs with your buddies. (If you can’t get past silliness in a film, just avoid this like the plague.) This is hilarious in the most unintentional ways, and will make a great dumb-movie double feature with 3 Days to Kill. I’m not sure if Dumb Easy Watching was Luc Besson’s intention but eh, “C’est la vie!” 

Score58/100

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The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)

The Raid 2Released: March 28, 2014. Directed by: Gareth Evans. Starring: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Yayan Ruhian. Runtime: 150 min.

The Raid 2: Berandal is a direct sequel to 2012’s The Raid: Redemption (a.k.a. Serbuan maut), taking place a stated two hours after the first film ends. Since the timelines are so direct, it helps to watch the first film prior, and it isn’t a good idea to watch this film without watching the first. This is a great film, so it’s better enjoyed if you are familiar with the characters and the corruption of the depicted Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. The main character from the first film, Rama (Iko Uwais) is tasked with going undercover into the criminal underbelly of Jakarta, to basically bring down the syndicate and uncover corruption amongst his police force, to see if anyone will take bribes, that sort-of thing. To do so, he cannot have contact with his family and must be put in prison to become close to a future boss of the Jakarta crime ring, Uko (Arifin Putra).

Since Rama (acting under the name Yuka) is now an undercover cop, it makes the stakes even higher to his situation. It’s safe to say the majority of viewers will want him to get home safely to his wife and kid. The fact that his intentions can be compromised at any moment is a whole new intensity, and I think Gareth Evans handles that aspect well. In the character department, anyone will feel empathy for Rama’s wife as well, how she will probably always anticipate her husband coming home. I like Evans’ way of character building, where he highlights Rama’s desperation in listening to his son’s voice over the phone.

Raid 2Iko Uwais’ performance as Rama is good. While he’s a stronger martial artist, he makes Rama believable – and he definitely has a lot more emotions to portray than the first film. The performances are all believable, if only a few are stand-outs. Other than the good characterization of Rama, the introduction of a few characters isn’t great. There are so many characters, and after awhile, it isn’t clear if some characters are on the Indonesian or Japanese side of the criminal underworld. There’s also some introductions of characters, where only their roles are established – but not perfectly, which is only the case with two or three characters. This was the case with an assassin who came out of nowhere. Maybe the distracting aspect of him is the fact that he’s portrayed by Yayan Ruhian, who portrayed Mad Dog in the first film; he just has longer hair. I’ve never thought using an actor to portray a different character in the sequel is a good idea. It’s just distracting. And sometimes their names are thrown around, and it’s hard to remember who they are because you would have only seen them once before.

I think the lack of clarity with these characterizations makes the film a bit harder to follow than necessary. What makes this harder to follow at points, is how quickly the subtitles go by. There’s a lot more dialogue this time around, and I think Evans miscalculates how fast everyone can read. Sometimes, they just zoom by. To easily follow some of this, a good attention to detail helps. Other than that, Evans’ direction of the fight choreography and his editing is phenomenal. Evans paints a realistic and interesting picture of Jakarta’s criminal underworld, and the powerful figures of Jakarta in general. I like his ideas on power, as well. He writes in some simple but effective comedy throughout the film. Some of his writing and order of scenes seems out of place at times, but I do love his direction, eye for imagery and attention to detail.

Raid 2.0Evans’ vision is much grander in scale than the first film, which took place in one thirty-floor building. The fact that he was able fit so much simple characterization into the premise of the first one was impressive. Here, he attempts to do a similar thing – minimalist characterization with certain characters – but he’s doing it with many more settings, a more epic story, and a longer runtime; so while it is still effective for certain characters, it doesn’t reach the same level of effectiveness as the first one.

The diversity of where action sequences take place is great, though. Car chases, prison riots, kitchens, to name a few; and they’re all brilliant. The stuntwork is truly awesome and impressive. Some of the enemies are awesome, especially one that uses hammers as her weapon of choice, and another who is skilled at baseball. These weapons allow some great sound editing to take place, and some great kills. There are points when the violence is over-the-top excessive, but that’s the charm of it all – and it seems to me that the overly excessive violence is brief. You’re still going to be saying “Ooooh! Ahhh! Awesome” in your seat throughout. Or maybe “sweet baby Jesus,” like someone said at the screening I attended. The runtime is much longer than the first (by nearly 50 minutes), but that’s because the story is a bit slower and gives the audience more breathers from the non-stop action. Like the first one, you’ll need a nap after the craziness of all the action.

Some fights are lengthy, but to consider the lengths people go through to choreograph it all, and direct it to a great vision, is beyond impressive. The training the actors go through must be extensive, I think it’s awesome that these guys get so into it – knowing myself, I’d be too timid to do anything like this. It’s joyous to watch the authentic stunt work, and all the great combat. The runtime is necessary for Evans to achieve his grand vision and to include all these great action sequences.

Score83/100

V/H/S/2 (2013)

VHS 2Released: June 6, 2013. Directed by: Various including Adam Wingard, Gareth Evans. Starring: Kelsey Abbott, Adam Wingard, Mindy Robinson. Runtime: 96 min.

With hearing that V/H/S/2 is stronger than its predecessor, my expectations were slightly higher. What a mistake that was! While this film improves a few aspects over its predecessor, the general quality is worse. It improves on its frame narrative by giving us a stronger and more controlled segment called “Tape 49,” that furthers the mythology of the mysterious VHS tapes. It’s a bit similar to The Ring, if you ask me. The story that ties the segments together is that these two private investigators are looking into the disappearance of a woman’s son. One private eye portrayed by Kelsey Abbott is really cute. The other is a bit of a slime who makes some extra cash by scams; he films married men sleeping with women (Mindy Robinson for her hotness, but she’s been about 107 films and TV shows since 2012… So, porn star numbers, or just random hooker roles, amirite?) and then threatening to send them to the wife of the husband. These characters in the frame narrative get more character development this time around.

I think a good thing about the film is that the runtime has been shortened by twenty minutes. This time there’s only four segments and then one frame narrative that also works as an okay segment. “Tape 49” is okay, a little scary at times, and it’s more focused than the frame narrative of the previous film, but it’s still nothing special.

I’ll talk about the segments I don’t like very much first. The second main segment in the film is called “A Ride in the Park” and concerns a man on a bike ride, and goriness follows. This film shows an interesting POV that allows to see first-hand a transformation into one of horror’s most beloved creature: a zombie. Let the film’s obsession with zombies begin. The segment offers an interesting approach, but I think it’s largely boring. It makes me think twice about having a birthday party in the forest, but it’s just all lame and not scary.

The final segment is also nothing special. It’s set at a slumber party that gets visited by aliens. The “creature” effects are well-done, perhaps all-too-traditional, but still creepy. The cinematography in this one truly takes the viewers out of the experience, as far as I’m concerned, even for found-footage standards. It just makes it difficult to see what’s going on. This also a strange mix of a boring approach to film-making, and a freaky one. The characters are completely unimpressive and it’s all a bit perverted, at times.

There’s one segment called “Phase I Clinical Trials” that is actually pretty good. There’s one short scene in it that isn’t that great, but that’s about it. I think the foreshadowing is well done and the camera angles are great. The perspective is from a man’s eye transplant, because he lost it in a car crash. The perspective is similar to that of “Amateur Night” of the first film. There’s a recording device in the character’s electronic eye. The way things pan out makes me think twice of getting a transplant. The premise reminds me of an episode of the children’s TV show Are You Afraid of the Dark? where a pair of glasses allows the user to see shadows from a different dimension. It’s not the same thing as this, and it’s certainly R-rated here, but I think it has some similarities.

My favourite segment is “Safe Haven.” Well, the first time I watched it was an on-line viewing and there weren’t any subtitles during a segment where Indonesian is the main language (it’s co-directed by director of The Raid: Redemption, Gareth Evans); so do yourselves a favour and don’t watch this on-line, because it’s difficult to find a video with subtitles. But with subtitles, it’s awesome – and I think it helps to watch this segment twice, because I’m still trying to piece together some of the film’s aspects that, at the time seems irrelevant, but ties into the story well. That’s an effective aspect to cinema, and the segment’s very smart. This one has some awesome gore and some effective scares. The basic premise is a suicide cult taken to the extremes in horror. Ti West’s The Sacrament handles a perspective on the People’s Temple aspect, and this handles some suicide cult aspects just as well. The Father loses his ever-loving mind. It seems to me it’s a suicide cult taken to the true extremes, with hinted layers of pedophilia It’s all pretty interesting and completely bat, sh*t, crazy. I won’t spoil any more. It’s just awesome cinema.

The first film, I liked four out of six segments; but here, I really only like two out of the five. The frame narrative is okay, and even though this has a more brief runtime and boasts more control, the general quality of the segments is much weaker. At least the segments that I do like are pretty great. Overall, this is a disappointingly weak sequel.

Score55/100

 

Serbuan maut (The Raid: Redemption) (2012)

 

Serbuan maut (The Raid: Redemption)

Release Date: March 23, 2012

Director: Gareth Evans

Stars: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy

Runtime: 101 min

Tagline: 1 Ruthless Crime Lord, 20 Elite Cops, 30 Floors of Hell

 

Wouldn’t 30 Floors of Hell have made a decent title? Maybe I only think so.

Rama (Iko Uwais) is the rookie officer on a SWAT team that has just infiltrated a tenement run by a ruthless crime lord, Tama (Ray Sahetapy). After their cover is blown by a young spotter, Tama offers lifetime sanctuary to every killer, thug, thief and gangster who will bring him the intruders’ heads. Now Rama must guide the remaining officers through the run-down building – every floor and every room – and complete the mission, and escape with his life.

The actors aren’t very well-known, but some bring some solid performances to their characters, at least for a full-throttle action flick; and especially for most of them being stuntmen.  The Raid offers pure entertainment, and that’s the main thing I took from it; and that Indonesians actually make pretty impressive films, especially with a budget of  1.1 million dollars.

The characters are pretty well-developed, especially Rama as he has a baby boy on the way and we want him out alive, as we don’t a child without a father out there. The plot is also well-developed, with the a few pleasant plot twists that are thrown at you, which in ways are sort of surprising – but it also left me thinking, “I should have saw that coming.”

The only flaws that I felt the film possessed was that some of the action sequences felt a bit dragged out, making me want someone to win the fight already. Though, the stunts were still sweet and some fights you could really get into, and if the good guy loses, the characters are generally likeable that you can be disappointed to see them go.

It’s a film that doesn’t have many flaws. The action is pretty non-stop, which makes it that much more enjoyable. There’s a few minutes of character or plot development in between, but don’t you worry, the action will be back in about one to three minutes.  The action sequences are very memorable, and the stunts are very cool, and the kills are quite amazing – from people being killed with just their opponents’ hands; to guns, to knives, to walls, to even broken doors.

If you don’t like reading subtitles the whole way through, don’t worry for those of you just tremble at the very thought – you have the option to watch it in Indonesian, English or even French. I personally don’t prefer the English choice for foreign films as their lips are quite out of sync, and the people who do the voice-over just annoy the heck out of me (so I just went with Indonesian). I like to read books, so in a way you’re just reading a story with the visuals just laid right there for you.

I wouldn’t be so bold to say this should win Best Film in a Foreign Language at the Academy Awards, but I wouldn’t say it shouldn’t be considered for at least a nomination, as it’s pretty well done and uses its simple, and occasionally [somewhat] complex, plot very much to its advantage. If there’s an award for Best Action film in a Foreign Language out there, though, this film will have that one in the bag.

The film is well-edited and well-made, and was a wicked experience with very cool stunts, and is a film I wouldn’t be against watching again in the future (maybe at least two or three months).

This is where I’d usually say who the film stars, but there wasn’t any stars that I was familiar with.

It’s a little-flawed foreign film that should really be checked out, as a great film is offered for those action fans who have the lack of stunt action late-winter blues. Just those of the faint of  heart should beware, though it’s like an action fan’s (especially for those fans who love stunts) wet dream. Judging by its box office earnings, it hasn’t been seen by as many as it should be (cashing in a bit more than four million; hopefully it’ll do well with its home media sales). It offers a really stellar action film experience that should be seen, and is the finest action film of 2012 (but I’m seeing The Expendables 2 soon, so that statement may not stand strong in a few days).

 

80/100