Captain America: The Winter Soldier / The Raid 2

120px-film-strip2We managed to get early showing tickets for The Raid 2 so decided to try and cram in the new Marvel film before it. And almost managed. Courtesy of the usual delays (work, kids, traffic), we missed the first ten minutes *grumble*

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

“This isn’t freedom. This is fear.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Fury and Rogers are framed for treason while bad guys try to take over the world.

See it if you like: Jason Bourne with super-strength

Producer Kevin Feige described the film as “a 1970s political thriller masquerading as a big superhero movie.” And I agree completely. There’s more of a story here than you get in many superhero films and the leading characters very much come across as pawns in a much bigger game.

Sure, it’s full of explosions and incredible CGI – plus one of the best car chases I’ve seen in recent years. And, yes, there’s a guy with a metal arm and another with a shield made of indestructible metal (how do they forge that stuff anyway?) who can fall 20 storeys without dying. But it’s still a thriller at heart and not a bad one.

As far as action films go, it’s up there with the best of the child-friendly ones. The fight sequences are very well done and I gather that as little CGI as possible was used for them. It shows, with realistic movement and punches and kicks that really crunch.

If there’s an issue, it’s that it’s just a bit too predictable. Macguffins are visible a mile off and as soon as certain plot aspects are revealed, the remainder of the story unfolds in your brain an hour before it’s happened. “Oh, right – so that’s the bad guy, that’s the plot, he’s really that person, those need to be dealt with, he’ll end up there…”. Without troubling you with a spoiler, if the hugely prominent “man filling vending machine” doesn’t make you realise that it’s going to be used as a plot device shortly then you need to watch more films.

Chris Evans is good as Cap, and seems to have improved with each film. Scarlett Johansson brings the Natasha Romanoff character through from Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, and cements her place in the big scheme of things leading up to the next Avengers movie. Cobie Smulders also plays a part in linking elements of the Marvel Universe together, playing AGent Mariah Hill as she has done in the S.H.I.E.L.D. show on TV as well as Avengers Assemble.

Simply, though, it’s a great couple of hours’ entertainment. I enjoyed it easily as much as the first couple of Iron Man films which is high praise, despite the predictability.

The Raid 2: Berandal

“It will be a few months. You can’t know where I am. And I can’t be seen anywhere near you.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: The surviving police officer from the first film is placed undercover working with a gangster’s son to try and uncover corruption… with predictably blood-squirty results.

The Raid was a superb film. Buttock-clenching tension, explosive violence, incredible athleticism and all in a claustrophobic setting. Its sequel takes the lead character (Rama, played by Iko Uwais) and throws him in jail, acting undercover to get close to the son of a gangster so that he can weed out police corruption.

First thing – this is not a rehash of its precursor. No attempt has been made to run with the formula and do it all again. This is a more intelligent film, with more plot twists and characterisation. The downside of this is that there are far too many long, slow sections in between the kick-ass action that we came to the cinema to see.

Funnily enough, this film was supposed to be made before “Redemption”, but funding ran out on that so director Gareth Evans had to switch to a smaller budget option. The script for “Berandal” was thus adapted to take start two hours after the first film ended, so it continues directly on from the action there. A third film is being planned.

The plot itself isn’t terribly complex, but there are a fair few characters to get your head around and – let’s be honest – everyone in the cinema was there for the fight sequences. Thankfully when they arrive, they are not disappointing.

As the film progresses, the violence gets harsher, more over the top and far more bloodthirsty. Slashings, stabbings and so on take over from kicks, punches and twisted limbs which littler the earlier sequences. It’s pretty splattery stuff.

One point in its favour is the final one-on-one fight scene. Where I found its equivalent in “Redemption” to be drawn out to the point where it lost it’s realistic edge, this one is far better. When it ended, the audience I was with almost seemed to exhale at once as if we’d been holding our breath. I heard one “ffuuuuuck….” and one or two people clapping briefly.

Even that, though, is topped by the car chase which is simply lovely. In a “Look at him die! Wow!” kind of way, at least.

Definitely worth seeing, but harder work to appreciate than the first film’s all-out non-stop action.

The Raid / Dark Shadows

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsOnce again courtesy of a lovely grandmother, we managed to escape for a couple of hours cinema time. Two films coincided well timewise so we decided to cram them in.

The Raid: Redemption

“YYYAAAAAHHHHH!!!!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Who cares?

See it if you like: Lots and lots of lovely bloody violence

OK, so there is a plot. 20 Indonesian police storm a block of flats under the control of a drug baron and experience far more resistance than they anticipated… and no way out.

However, the plot’s wrapped up in some of the most intense and bloody violence I’ve seen in a film of this ilk. Imagine something like Die Hard meets Hostel starring Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa. Only it’s not them who are in it, it’s a bunch of incredibly talented Indonesian martial artists and actors.

Unusually, from my point of view anyway, the director (and writer) Gareth Evans is Welsh. How he ended up making this film on the other side of the world is beyond me, but I’m glad he did. It’s dark, gritty, bloody, edge-of-the seat action magnificence. At times right after some of the combat scenes I – with no exaggeration –  found myself wanting to applaud. I settled, for the most part, with cackling with sadistic glee.

I’m glad to see that reviews have been overwhelmingly positive for The Raid, and it’s great to see a moderately low-budget Indonesian film with subtitles getting a wide release across the UK. Certainly Momentum Pictures are doing a better job than Revolver Entertainment are with their farcical plans for Iron Sky… Just a heads-up there for other indie film companies!

Iko Uwais and the rest of the cast will be pretty much unknown in the UK, I would expect. After The Raid, I hope they go on to be better recognised and with luck we might see some more of their work. Simply breathtaking athleticism, top notch make-up and effects, a taught script and a pace that pauses for breath only fleetingly over its course.

If you like action films then this is without a doubt the 2012 definition of “must see”.

Dark Shadows

“Welcome home, Barnabas Collins.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: spurned witch turns her eye candy into a vampire and buries him for 196 years. He awakes in the 1970’s…

See it if you like: quirky comedy horrors with excellent effects and cheesy humour

I was aware of the old TV show when I heard of this film, but as far as I know it’s never been released in the UK. I gather the original was a lot darker than this update, but having nothing to compare it with I can only comment on what I thought of the 2012 version.

Tim Burton is known for his weirdness – and also for casting Johnny Depp. Both are present here, Depp taking the lead role of involuntary vampire Barnabas Collins. Cursed for breaking the heart of Angelique (Eva Green), he escapes from buried imprisonment in 1972 and finds his mansion home in disrepair, populated by what little remains of his descended family.

Discovering that Angelique is also immortal and currently head honcho in the town, he vows to bring her down and revive his family’s fortunes.

Most of the laughs in this film come from Barnabas’ unfamiliarity with the world he is living in and his unwanted attraction to his nemesis. There is a dollop of erotic humour, but the majority is just nice and silly with a small amount of slapstick thrown in for giggles.

Visually, it’s a treat with some lovely effects, costumes and sets. The acting’s as good as you would expect from the cast, and the story’s OK if a little “by the numbers” and over-long by about 15 minutes.

Enough laughs to keep most people going, though I gather the reviews are not overly favourable. A shame as it’s simply just a good, fun movie.

 

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