If there was one film that had me salivating for the best part of the past year it was this hyper Indonesian fight fest by way of Welsh director Gareth Evans, the nationality mash-up of the creative force and his film is by no means necessary but a fact that I cannot help finding neat. The Raid: Redemption is a blistering rush, with its fair to say an audacious level of violence. Showing up with a solid level of expectation I happily wasn’t disappointed, but then in a kinetic 101 minutes I wasn’t exactly given the option to be.
The only qualms I could have, if I hadn’t found the film so deeply entertaining, would be the sparseness of a few of the characters, whilst most players carry out their roles nicely with no need for much exposition or arcing, in hindsight there were a couple left sitting a little on the fence as opposed to living up to their potential strength in overall events, especially considering the amount of force on show more could’ve been designated to those that were apparently key instigators. Facing facts The Raid is not an original pitch, nor is it complex in its script or easy on the senses, although the latter is a definite plus in my mind. This film knows what it is, that’s not to take anything away from its impact or it being littered with wonderful flourishes of sharp brilliance, everyone on board seems usefully aware of what they need to do to make this film stronger than the average. As an Asian actioner The Raid is hardly on its own in the marketplace so chooses a well-balanced style in which to stand out from the pack. Most notably its intimacy, the camera clings tightly to the fight sequences, so much so I was often concerned the cinematographer might take a foot or even machete to the lens. This intimacy also lends itself to brutal details that pop up during the consistent outbursts, adding tension and veering the action away from being simply mindless.
I managed to be pleasantly surprised by how tense and occasionally patient certain scenes were, providing less of an ‘edge of your seat’ experience and more of a ‘pinned to the back of your seat’ one. For example; one particular execution is carried out in an achingly drawn out fashion, though it lasts a mere few seconds it feels like minutes, ending up inducing sympathy and all the more painfully effective for it. I did veer close to worrying that the already vast brutality may have exhausted itself around the 30 minute mark but my was I glad that copious amounts of shooting, slicing and bludgeoning was yet to be thrown at me. Rest assured if you favour a pummelling from your action then you will get just that. The Raid: Redemption is sheer visceral fun, displaying skill, confidence and flair which now has me excitedly awaiting Gareth Jones’ next foray into genre film.
Juan of the Dead, or Cuban’s answer to Shaun of the Dead managed nothing but fulfil my expectations of it. Rarely am I put off by budget constraints, but when there is a lack of resources then the makers need to step up in order to keep proceedings from veering into weak territory and in this case it appears the creative limitations matched the production values. In fact, Juan does just about everything rather badly.
The choice to use shoddy CGI for of the few allegedly ‘’creative’’ kills is one of several poor judgements, why they didn’t redact those instances from the script unless they could find the money and skill to carry them out practically and competently shows quite the lack of standard and research into the genre. The staging is so poor throughout, that action scenes are sluggish and technically clumsy. This is not as much an indictment of the choreography or the actors as it is on basic editing. The film also contains the weakest undead performances that wind up unconvincing and dull to sit through. Zombies are supposed to drag limbs but not the entire pacing of a fairly short film.
At a time where The Walking Dead is one of the highest rated shows on TV, George Romero is still kicking around behind the lens (although questionably so) and we’ve consistently been drowning in a swamp of predictable zombie output for the last decade; it’s hard to believe that a film cannot at least get the growls and physicality of a zombie right! If you haven’t garnered from the title this is aiming for humour rather than scare, and it unsurprisingly comes with its own band of quirky misfits- come-slackers scrapping their way through events. And yes there is a bumbling friendship at the centre, but for a comedy it is damn unfunny. If the slapstick and unconventional weaponry hasn’t already been seen a hundred times the potentially interesting ‘New Cuban Revolution’ schtick certainly doesn’t add anything thanks to lack of investment. There isn’t even much story to speak of, Juan is the hero, him and his chubby mate battle zombies whilst trying to profit out of it and Juan tries to reconnect with his daughter.
Juan of the Dead commits the same crimes that an intolerable amount of zombie films does, one I hate in particular; relying on its location to set it apart, this might fly if it wasn’t the 2000’s and if anything cultural or innovative was provided but it just limps over the same old tropes, albeit with some sun and a Charanga soundtrack. Juan fails to embody the one thing that a zombie comedy most needs: charisma, had it been for a touch of that it may have been saved in places, or at least watchable.
Chasing Ice is a documentary with a weighty subject but is mighty light on being particularly memorable. Addressing the climate change debate through a thoroughly pleasant conservationist/photographer, James Balog, who is clearly passionate but comes across a bit flat amidst a rather mundane presentation, save for few brief glimpses of concerned humanity and pretty natural imagery.
Here the film makers align their focus with a very straight style, with varied results, often neutering the couple of scenes that actually contain a touch of emotion or jeopardy, but on the other hand when bringing forth statistics and science it’s softer and less complex handling serves well for people less versed in the issue of global warming. As someone who is indifferent to the point of ignorance on the matter I was able to learn a few words (that I instantly forgot) and came to a sort of conclusion that it may be a more pressing problem than some people want to admit. It’s an admirable film (and Balog’s project is certainly), especially in its refusal to use panic or shock and awe tactics, although refusal may be the wrong word to use as I suspect the use of momentous excitement wasn’t an option due to making a film about vast ice landscapes. Geology and weather don’t lend themselves to fast pacing so neither does this film, fitting but sometimes dull. After all factual or not when there is an audience to entertain I feel a film should still strive to do so.
The ice footage (video and still) is stunning and thankfully plentiful! Frankly I could’ve just watched the runtime’s worth of glaciers separating (or ‘calving’), aided by the foreboding thunder of giant ice on temperamental waters which is wondrous and largely worth sitting through the film’s entirety for. Aside from mesmerising visuals the film ultimately fails to ignite much passion (unless you yourself share said environmental concerns, which I’m aware masses do but likely not everyone entering a cinema), its whole approach being a touch too on the delicate and ultimately middle of the road side. It’s the sort of film that in passing on TV would catch my eye but unlikely hold my interest till the end, or would have me better engrossed had it been shown to my in school science class for its friendly characters and non-patronising providing of information. Chasing Ice is good for those wanting a soft entry into the climate change discussion, fans of easy on the eye wintery locales and people who feel the need to tick off certain genres of documentary from their watch-lists. There are far worst ways to kill an hour and 15minutes but there are also far more entertaining ways to.
SUNDANCE LONDON 2012
Tura Satana 1938-2011
Sadly the startling exploitation star died due to heart failure on February 4th 2011.
Most notable for her iconic role in sexploitation king Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! The femme fatale performer led a harshly colourful life fit for the silver screen. Born in Japan a young Satana was moved to the U.S, living in a bleak internment camp then to be relocated to a crime ridden part of Chicago. A self bred fighter, surviving as a child from a mixed oriental family post a recent World War 2 America was no mean feat. Battling classmates daily and sexually assaulted by a gang at the age of 9, an event which the actress astonishingly claimed she personally avenged after mastering martial arts, her race along with early developed curves gained her such dangerously unwanted attention, but also allowed her to begin a career in LA as an erotic model at the scandalous age of 13 aided by a fake I.D. This was after she had been through reform school, led a leather jacketed gang and had an arranged marriage to an older teen, all this before even making it through pre-pubescence.
Throughout her teens Satana established a career as an exotic dancer, even dating Elvis on the down low and in her twenties moved into movies based on early advice from silent film star Harold Lloyd. It was her sexy yet vividly intimidating presence as Varla in Faster Pussycat that made her into an instantly recognisable cult figure, coolly rampaging through the black and white desert serving up violent justice to mean examples of mankind all the while looking as tough as her backdrop and performing her own fight scenes and stunts. Satana’s later years were no less dramatic; during the seventies she was shot by a former lover and in the eighties whilst working as a dispatcher for the LAPD she had her back broken which led her to study and work in nursing after a long recovery process in hospital. Tura lived her recent years basking in much of the deserved adoration that her cult status afforded her, a favourite with many a B-movie, retro and exploitation fanatic. It is near inevitable that such an astonishing life and character will and should be adapted on film, though it’s highly doubtful they could ever find an actress as strikingly powerful and enduring to fill those man stomping Go-Go boots!
A true cult legend in her own right…
(February 10th 2011)