The Raid 2: Berandal – 2014

the raid 2Only a short time after the first raid, Rama goes undercover with the thugs of Jakarta and plans to bring down the syndicate and uncover the corruption within his police force.

Directed

Stars

What we think: Stop….pause….take a breath, you’ll need to catch it after witnessing one of the finest action films made for some time.

The follow up to The Raid packs an even harder punch, with our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) sent undercover to bring down a crime family and uncover yet more police corruption.

The first film was simplistic enough, a SWAT team enter a building and (without the use of an elevator) must navigate a way up to the top floor to bring down a powerful but mediocre drug lord. Praised for its gritty no holds barred fight sequences, and perfectly timed action it was nothing short of a hit.

Part 2 follows practically from where the last ended, Rama is hurried away to a secluded location and given the run down explaining that all his efforts were for nothing, but that he still has a big part to play. Although he doesn’t really have much of a choice in the matter.

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In order to keep his family safe he has to get close to the arrogant son of a mob boss, Ucok (Arifin Putra), and to do this must infiltrate a prison by committing a high profile crime that will get him noticed by the mafia top brass. What is only supposed to be a few months turns into a couple of years, giving Rama more than enough time to get right under the skin of Ucok.

The storyline isn’t really anything unique with shades of Infernal Affairs about it, police corruption, undercover cops and feuding mafia families, will probably seem all too familiar to some people, but director Gareth Evans lays it out in such a way that the similarities end right there.

The story delves deeper into a number of sub plots all of which  trail off on their own, but they don’t hamper the overall narrative or confuse things in a way which will make the film harder to follow, and at an ass numbing 150 minutes that might be easier said than done.

Then there is the inclusion of three of the badest characters you’re ever likely to see. Hammer Girl, whose special moves entail ripping people in two with claw hammers, Baseball Bat Man, you can probably guess his unique ability and then The Assassin, who armed with a pair of kerambits’ is a silent but very much a deadly force.

There’s returning actor Yayan Ruhian who played Mad Dog in the first film but who has reappeared here as an ass kicking hobo aiding one of the families, but ends up in the cross hairs of an instigated war were blood hasn’t been spilled in over ten years.

Evans cuts from the action with dramatic undertones, of which the performances are very good, its the gratuitous violence that Raid fans will have shelled out their money for. It’s winch inducing on another level, whether its getting an arm snapped in half, a pelvis dislocated or a hammer ripped through someone’s cheek you’ll probably find yourself twisting and turning in your seat.

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The choreography is mesmerising as Evans interlocks a Godfather like tale with action that doesn’t give you enough time to look away from the screen. From a mass prison yard scrap, an epic car chase where back seat driving takes on a whole different meaning and a jaw dropping kitchen fight finale, its a film that will live long in the action memory.

Leaving the confines of a tower block behind the action and story run riot through lush green marshes, back streets and bars to city streets. The editing is short and sharp like a punch to the head, moving gracefully enough that it doesn’t judder the explosive action or disjoint the scenes of real drama.

It’s thoroughly entertaining which has justified all the hype before hand, wonderfully shot and totally exhilarating throughout Evans will have his work cut out to make sure that The Raid 3 caps an action trilogy masterclass.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier – 2014

captain america posterSteve Rogers struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles a new threat from old history: the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier.

Directed

Stars

What we think: As yet another jigsaw piece in the rapidly expanding Marvel universe fits into place the franchise itself shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.

With a mass of plot cross overs at their finger tips those head honchos orchestrating the overall story sit back and watch the dollars pile up, as this instalment adds to more possible character spin offs and new character introductions.

If those at DC headquarters are watching, they have some way to go if they want to match the juggernaut that is Marvel. But that could all kick off with the impending Superman Vs Batman project.

Here and now though, and its the return of patriotic hero Captain America to show his stuff. Armed with a new suit, a more darker blue, and utilising his shield in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine Cap has it all to do as he discovers that S.H.I.E.L.D has been compromised by an unknown force.

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Chris Evans is a likeable character, women will no doubt swoon after him and men will wonder how the hell they can achieve a physique such as his as he bounds across the screen knocking bad guys this way and that in super-serum inducing ways.

The opening sequence sets the bar for the film to follow as Cap drops in on a ship captured by pirates, and battle his way to a final fight with UFC fighter . The choreography has certainly been ramped up another level here, along with Captain America’s basdassness!

Most central superheroes can do it alone but in this instance Cap is teamed alongside Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff  and Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson as a trio who have to go off the grid and then work together to get back inside the S.H.I.E.L.D agency and rip out the cancer spreading from the inside.

So what of the Winter Soldier himself, the bionic armed assassin who knows Captain America’s moves at almost every turn, the twist here surely won’t surprise many of the comic book faithful and his inclusion is most certainly integral to the over all Marvel universe.

There are some great action set pieces and the film is visually striking right from the outset, nail biting car chases, battles in the air to scuffles in a cramped elevator there is noting that won’t leave you a little breathless.

It lacks in the usual Marvelesque humour which certainly isn’t a bad thing as too much can certainly spoil a big blockbuster film (see Iron Man 3). But it quips the odd one liner here and there to bring a smile and a chuckle out of the audience.

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The underlying plot sees a familiar force raise its Nazi like head (oops may have said too much) and opens the door for some conspiracy like shenanigans, lead by  portraying  S.H.I.E.L.D.s top man Alexander Pierce.

Nick Fury () has serious trust issues and its left up to our hero to take a stand and have the final say in bringing down one of comics most cemented secret institutions, which begs the question…what will happen next?

While at times the film is a little far fetched and certainly a little predictable it ticks all the boxes of a well oiled action blockbuster, and if you’re hanging around for the now traditional mid and post credit sequences it will be well worth it and leave you begging for more.

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Robot & Frank – 2013

robot and frank largeSet in the near future, an ex-jewel thief receives a gift from his son: a robot butler programmed to look after him. But soon the two companions try their luck as a heist team.

Directed

Stars

What we think: Frank () is slowing drifting into dementia, although his stiff upper lip and stubbornness refuse him to believe that there is anything wrong.

His children fight to offer him help despite an ongoing sense of resentment that they have to, when his son Hunter presents Frank with a robot butler designed to look after him he finds another more profitable use for it.

The portrayal of old age in any film is nothing short of a depressing one, we’re all going to end up that way at some point in our lives whether we like it or not, the only control we have is do we go quietly or kicking and screaming.

The robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard)  is not given a name but his calming presence and almost dry underlying humour make him a perfect compliment for Frank’s brash and rather direct old timer.

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Frank’s hidden past was as a jewel thief, spending most of his early life inside made it clear that he was not a good father to either of his children, and he’s been divorced from his wife for some time.

It’s a beautifully written script set near enough in the future that it still is in keeping with present day surroundings, uniquely different mobile phones and voice activated Skype chat seem to be the more futuristic of the technologies, robots aside.

As their relationship develops the bond between them becomes closer, almost to a point that it feels very much like a real life Wall-E, Frank relaxes to become dependant on the Robot.

A solid film with great central performances and controlled and light hearted direction, the plot might seem wayward at times but it holds well for the duration.

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Non Stop – 2014

non stop largeAn air marshal springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account.

Directed

Stars

What we think: Liam Neeson has been dining out on the success of Taken for some time now, which isn’t a bad thing given his age and that he’s put his body through the ringer.

It would be a little callus to call Taken a fluke, a film that even Nesson thought would go straight to DVD. Not so, and off the back of that success he was offered action script after action script.

A sequel to Taken later with a third in the pipe he’s back on our big screen as air marshall Bill Marks, a man with a drink problem and a whole host of personal issues (so the perfect person to carry a loaded gun onto a plane).

Marks finds himself as the prime suspect in a deadly game of extortion and hijacking while trying to find a madman whose picking off passengers every twenty minutes until he gets paid a large sum of money.

Directed by , who orchestrated Neeson in the slightly disappointing Unknown, manages to keep the tension tight and at the right times. He doesn’t have much of a choice really to keeping the audience on tender hooks all within the confines of an air craft cabin.

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Along for the ride is Julianne Moore’s somewhat nervy frequent flyer who will straight away arouse suspicion from Marks along with all the other passengers on the manifest and cabin crew.

It opens with Marks loading himself up on liquor before boarding the doomed flight, all he while he’s keeping a close blurry eye on the surrounding passengers, building us up to think that everyone on board is going to be a suspect, and they are.

Marks’s communication with the unseen villain is through mobile phones (specially manufactured for air marshal frequency) the messages flash up on screen in a quirky way that keeps us on top of the dialogue.

It’ s an in flight whodunit, a guessing game of clues and links that ultimately hits turbulence during the third act, a real shame as it was holding its own 35,000ft up.

The subsequent motive is a post 9/11 rant, a chance to vent frustration that the government did not do enough to prevent the attack and that they should now pay. It’s a lame attempt at a conclusion, made even more sickening by Neeson’s endearing speech.

The supporting cast don’t offer a hell of a lot, with an off duty NYPD cop, a techno whizz who just happens to be handy with mobile phones, and in a ironic twist a muslim whose portrayed as saving lives.

After boarding and take off it plateaus out, and falls short of delivering as a perfect Hitchcockian styled thriller.

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What did you think of the film, is Nesson still capable of delivering as an action hero, leave a comment and let us know?

 

Dallas Buyers Club – 2013

dallas buyers clubIn 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.

Directed

Stars

What we think: All the hype surrounding Dallas Buyers Club has been focused on the individual performances of it’s leading cast, but director Jean-Marc Vallée deserves considerable recognition for so skillfully crafting this tale of exceptional warmth, humour and eternal hope.

Ron Woodroof is a hustling, homophobic, bull-riding, womanising, sometimes-electrician, whose life revolves around excess drugs, alcohol and female copulation. But after a freak accident leads to doctors discovering he’s HIV positive, Ron is forced to re-examine his priorities.

With his hillbilly friends shunning him and the back-alley supply of the drug that could prolong his life cut off, Woodroof heads across the border to Mexico in search of alternative treatments. When he realises that the medication he’s given isn’t available in the US, he seizes the opportunity to make a quick buck.

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Along the way he encounters fellow AIDS sufferer and cross-dresser Rayon (Leto) with whom he strikes an unlikely partnership in forming the Dallas Buyers Club, as well as Dr. Eve Saks (Garner) who becomes increasingly sympathetic to his plight.

McConaughey’s extreme physical transformation for the lead role is in itself worthy of great praise and his Oscar-winning turn is one of outstanding range and capability, portraying all the raw emotions Woodroof is forced to conflict as the character himself is changed irrevocably throughout the film’s two hour duration.

The scenes shared by Rayon – another remarkable performance from Leto – and Woodruff are triumphant and their relationship continually brings light relief to a backdrop of struggle as The Dallas Buyers Club fights what always seems like a losing battle with the FDA.

Much like Philadelphia, this film highlights the many struggles and injustices faced by early AIDS sufferers, not just in getting the medication they needed to survive, but also the prejudices they were forced to endure. It’s an exceptional piece of cinema that everyone should take the time to see.

Review: Thomas Baugh

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What did you think of the film, was it deserving of the Oscar wins, leave a comment and let us know what you think?