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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 30, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 13
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Brutal Raid a coldly calculated thriller - with VIDEO trailer
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Raid: Redemption
Opening March 30


A lot of people are doing cartwheels over the bizarrely titled The Raid: Redemption (I get why it's called 'The Raid,' it's the 'Redemption' part that makes no sense) and it's easy to see why. Seldom do I sit in a movie theater feeling my chest lump up into my throat. Rarely do fisticuffs and intricate fits of martial arts mayhem make me audibly cringe right into the center of my seat. This movie had me shrieking. This movie had me yelping. And, by the time it was over, I felt as bruised and battered as its beleaguered hero, almost wishing the publicist had brought along a stretcher so I could be wheeled out on it instead of walking into the sunlight on my own accord.

But while the Indonesian import is light years better than writer, editor and director Gareth Huw Evans and fight choreographer and star Iko Uwais' freshman effort Merantau, it's still far from perfect, and for all the intensely insane hand-to-hand action pyrotechnics the story holding it all together is so threadbare and nonsensical it might as well not even exist. The filmmakers do little with the purposely simple premise, instead running on clichés in hopes the audience will be distracted by all the visual audacity, pumping up the volume and accelerating the action to hide a scenario barely worth the effort.

I'm nitpicking, of course, and considering how I usually tend to be a sucker for this sort of thing I should be doing somersaults. One part Rio Bravo, another Assault on Precinct 13, the movie is a hardcore martial arts rock 'em sock 'em adult playground filled with moments too pugnaciously awesome to even attempt to describe. Like watching classic Jackie Chan, I found myself repeatedly wondering how the heck they pulled off stunt after stunt, people flipping, falling, and flying all over the place to the point where the line between what was done physically and what was aided by either wires or CGI (or both) becomes practically nonexistent.

The plot? A team of elite, specially trained police officers is tasked to covertly enter a massive apartment building lorded over by the brutal Boss Tama (Ray Sahetapy) and bring him back, dead or alive. Highly skilled rookie Rama (Uwais) realizes something is wrong early on, and the only reason he survives after his team is discovered in the building is because his unit's headstrong commander Jaka (Joe Taslim) orders him to fall back and provide protection for his fellow rookies.

I'm sure you can figure out the rest from there. Jaka and two others manage to make it out of the initial melee alive, while Rama bravely protects a fallen comrade, also a rookie, promising to get him out of the building no matter what. Tama sends his two best killers, the unimaginatively named Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) and the mysterious Andi (Doni Alamsyah), to ferret out the survivors, while also offering lifelong rent-free sanctuary to any of the building's tenants who bring him the heads of the intruding policemen. Rama must go from floor to floor to floor trying to complete his mission and to make it out of this rundown hellhole alive, engaging in a series of never-ending battles with a variety of opponents as he does so.

The thing is, even with a premise as basic and as simple as that, it feels like Evans couldn't care less about trying to make something interesting out of it. All he seems to care about is how many bodies will hit the floor, how many attackers Uwais, Taslim, and the others can take on before exhaustion leads to their demise. Sure, he throws in a random plot twist regarding one of Tama's lieutenants, but he telegraphs the darn thing so clearly that I can't say it comes anything close to a surprise. Worse, it's so matter-of-fact, so one-dimensional, that any chance for an emotional investment in the characters or their plight due to this revelation never happens, the movie remaining dramatically at arm's length for its duration.

All the same, I can't be too hard on the film. Magnificently shot by Matt Flannery (who also lensed Merantau) and superbly edited by the director, Evans understands how to make his action scenes sing in a way that feels intimate and new. He loves long takes, allowing all of Uwais' stunning fight choreography to crackle and sizzle, and as I already stated, sitting in the theater I felt like every blow, strike, and kick was smacking across my body and face the same as up on the screen.

Had Evans spent as much time making Rama, Jaka, Andi, and the others interesting characters, had he exerted a little effort building up their relationships and making what happens to them matter, maybe I'd be willing to put this movie on the same pedestal as those aforementioned Howard Hawks and John Carpenter classics. But The Raid: Redemption never quite connects on anything more than a purely visceral level, leaving me frustratingly cold.


Literary Flynn an intoxicating oddity - with Trailer
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Being Flynn
Now Playing


Nick Flynn (Paul Dano) doesn't know his father Jonathan (Robert De Niro). In all honesty, he doesn't care to, as the man left him and his mom (Julianne Moore) high and dry decades ago thanks to a combination of a penal incarceration and excessive amounts of vodka. The young man doesn't believe - or at least doesn't want to believe - that they have anything in common, and as far as he's concerned, it's for the best the guy isn't a part of his life.

Egged on by Denise (Olivia Thirlby), a friend of a friend with whom he quickly becomes intimately involved, Nick gets a job working at a local New York homeless shelter, ingratiating himself with the rest of the staff including head-man Captain (Wes Studi) and former addict turned receptionist Joy (Lili Taylor). But things spiral out of control as Jonathan walks through the shelter's front door. Father and son are suddenly confronted with one another, and old demons do battle thanks to this reunion.

Based on Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, a memoir by Nick Flynn, writer/director Paul Weitz's (In Good Company) Being Flynn understands the crazy indescribable lunacy that it is to be a professional writer. The hubris, the self-infatuation, all of it mixed with a sense of doubt, a frustrating blend of indecision and fright that is as conflicting as it is natural. A writer believes in their abilities, believes they are the best at what they do, but at the same time are terrified of revealing so much of themselves they'll be proven an obvious fraud. It's an incredible dichotomy filmmakers have been waxing poetic about for generations, the saga of the disillusioned put-upon writer a staple of cinema since the advent of the moving picture.

It's the rest of the stuff where Being Flynn frustrates. The relationship between Nick and Jonathan, the way they respond to one another, none of it feels as genuine as I wanted it to. A lot of the material - as intimate, personal, lived-in, and fully experienced as it was - did not resonate. So much of the melodrama felt pulled from other, better movies (Wonder Boys, The Lost Weekend, even Weitz's own About a Boy), the clichés pilling up to the point where they diluted the impact of the honestly realized emotions energetically percolating throughout.

Save one or two scenes where he can't help but go enthusiastically over-the-top, I borderline loved De Niro in this. It is so rare of late that the actor finds a character worthy of his talents, one where he doesn't feel the need to phone in his performance or rely upon tics and traits that have almost made him a caricature of his Oscar-winning past (Everybody's Fine and Stone being notable recent exceptions). His command of Jonathan, his delusions of grandeur as he fast-talks his abilities and proclaims himself to be a literary titan, the little hints of darkness and tragedy that gleam through his eyes, all of it combines to compile a figure who in many ways is awe-inspiring.

On the flipside, I'm not sure what I make of Dano. Like just about everyone, I adored him in Little Miss Sunshine, felt his performance was one of the best things in an already excellent film. He was also good in There Will Be Blood, but that movie was more about Daniel Day Lewis' dominating presence and the direction of Paul Thomas Anderson than it was anything else, so I'm not exactly sure I can single him out one way or the other.

Here, however, I sort of felt the same way about his Nick Flynn as I did about the characters he's portrayed in The Extra Man, Meek's Cutoff, and the more or less execrable Gigantic. His performances intrigue and disaffect me in almost equal measure, and I can't quite get a handle on why this tends to be the case in just about every film he's been cast as one of the leads, though I don't feel near the same when he's just part of the ensemble (Knight and Day, Cowboys & Aliens). As Nick, there are times I related to him, others when I wanted to get as far away from the guy as possible, and by the time the film was over I almost didn't care whether he dealt with his daddy and addiction issues and got on with his life or not.

All of which makes Being Flynn an oddity. Yet when Weitz gets things right, when the emotions are true and the motivations feel genuine, I couldn't take my eyes off of the screen. I could relate to the Flynns, could understand the internal battles much better than I probably should admit. This is a movie I know I'll see again; more than that, I want to see it again. It's captured a corner of my imagination, getting me to think like I haven't in ages, and for all my mixed feelings about it, those are traits I'll happily celebrate now and until the end of time.






Whitney Houston and her demons
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Catching up With Kristine W: Dance diva on new music, keeping the Gays in line, and pressure to go country
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Kelly Clarkson 'Stronger' than ever at ShoWare concert
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The 2012 GLAAD Media Awards
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Stuck on an interesting idea
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Freud's Last Session pulsates with energy
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Sharon Van Etten mesmerizing at The Neptune
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En Vogue brought the party to Jazz Alley
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It Gets Better - from the students of Brigham Young University
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Brutal Raid a coldly calculated thriller - with VIDEO trailer
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Literary Flynn an intoxicating oddity - with Trailer
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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Adam Lambert readies sophomore album for May release
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Northwest News
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Letters
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