The Raid – Review

The Raid (2011) 

Written & Directed by Gareth Evans. Cast Iko UwaisJoe Taslim.

Ok, let me start with a little confession: I am not a huge martial arts fan, I have always been quite indifferent to Bruce Lee,  I can hardly tell the difference between Jet Li and Yuen Biao and to this day I still don’t get all the fuss with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (I know, I know… but hey… nobody is perfect!). However I am a great action-flick-lover, so much so that I able  to bypass this feeling of indifference and still appreciate and enjoy a martial-arts-based action movie, whether it’s karate kid, blade, Hero, 13 Assassins, Ong-bak (especially the first) and even the recent Warrior.

So when I heard that this was “one of the best action/martial arts movie of the last few years” (or so the papers said), I could hardly resist checking it out for myself.

Let’s get this out of the way right from the start, so you’ll know the kind of movie we’re dealing with here: the story is minimal, in fact it doesn’t really matter. The raid is 100 minutes long and has action, fights and shoot-outs for at least 95 of them!! It is an incredible tour de force like no other: 95 minutes of people shooting at each other and fighting with all sorts of weapons, knives, machetes, bare hands… and that’s pretty much it. There’s not a lot of attempt at creating three-dimensional characters, or at giving a back-story. It’s just unrelenting action unravelling in front of your eyes.

You may wonder: doesn’t it get a bit tedious after a while? Well, this is the incredible strength of the raid: not only it gets away with it, but it’s also fascinating. Watching the choreography of these fights is almost like watching a ballet at the opera, or a dance in a theatre. It is mesmerising at best. And once a fight has reached its climax and it’s about to run out of steam, a new one comes along, faster, slicker, more inventive and even more over-the-top than the previous one.

This is unlike anything we’ve seen before. I don’t think I ever remember watching a film which had this insane amount of action, with hardly a moment to breathe. Yes, some of the fights might go on for a little bit too long, but let’s stop picking needles please! It is amazing, full stop.

Welsh director Gareth Evans obviously belongs to the PS3/X-Box age and the film does look like one of those shoot-them up games, where you’re moving from one level to the next as your enemies become more and more dangerous and the amount of violence and blood increases more and more. Even the building itself with its muted colour and its endless claustrophobic and shabby corridors look straight out of a bad dream while its exterior is reminiscent of a digital creation.

But Gareth Evans is not just playing a game here, he has studied his genre inside-out and throughout The Raid you can spot reminders of John Woo (Hard Boiled, of course), Sam Peckinpah, John Carpenter and of course those thousand martial arts movies from Bruce Lee, to Jackie Chan. However Evans is not just another fanboy willing to make a pastiche out his sources (Did you get that, Mr. Tarantino?!), he’s actually able to create his own action-packed, adrenaline-fuelled and pulsating and visceral movie, whipped along by a propulsive score and the deafening drum-roll of automatic fire guns as the pace never lets up leaving no room for humour and irony. He plays it straight and comes up with a real winner.

8.5/10

Attack the Block – Review

Attack the Block (2011) 

Directed by Joe Cornish. With John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Nick Frost

Director Joe Cornish is obviously a boy from the 80s and his latest film “Attack the Block” was certainly inspired by the likes of the GooniesGremlins (and its Z-list of derivates Critters, Ghoulies, Troll) or other 80s Monsters-films (even the soundtrack of this film seems to be reminiscent of the early Carpenter too). Not surprisingly Spielberg himself has chosen him to write his Adventures of Tintin.
All this retro-sci-fi sensibility is mixed up with the grittier settings of a typical British gang movie, like recent Harry Brown for example, just to mention one.

I must say it did take me quite a while to settle into the film, mainly because we are expected to like a gang of scumbags who attack people in the street at knifepoint and who speak with the uncompromising accents, only some of which I was able to fully understand.

And yet despite an early sequence where a nurse is assaulted (thus your liking for these kids reach rock bottom) director Cornish during the course of the film still manages to make these characters quite likeable and I guess that can only be considered an achievement. Obviously some of the credit has to be given to the realistic and natural performances from the gang of inexperienced actors, headed by the taciturn Moses, perfectly played by John Boyega.

The film on the whole is probably way too silly to take any of the message underneath too seriously: in fact we are supposed to understand the motivations behind these street kids and even excuse the gang’s behaviours. The film tells us that their resentment is justified by the fact that they are just unlucky kids who are not given a chance by the system.

However, beyond this intellectual (and not-too-subtle) reading, “Attack the Block” is mainly a comedy  about aliens versus hoodies and that’s what people will take out of it. It is also a rather unusual mish-mash of genres and I must confess in the beginning I found it all bit jarring, but if you are willing to go with it and suspend your disbelief, I’m sure you’ll end up enjoying the ride.

In fact, just like in Gremlins, the film tries to combine comedy with horror the same way cult films like Shaun of the Dead had done years ago. However whist there are some genuinely funny bits in the film, they are never really out-loud moments, nor particularly memorable. Even Nick Frost‘s part in the film feels more a  last-minute addition to the script than rounded character, functional to the plot. And knowing how funny Nick Frost can be, it all seems like a bit of a waste.

As far as the scary sequences are concerned, some of them are skilfully choreographed, photographed and filmed and on the whole are quite effective, however I’m sure that an audience familiar with the horror genre will find them all pretty standard and never as scary as they should actually be.

Cornish opted to use old-fashioned mechanical special effects for his weird alien/gorilla-like/furry-monsters. However the threat from these fluffy beast is never quite “real enough” and in the end the aliens are more ridiculous than menacing.

It’s hard to know what the target audience for this film is supposed to be. The Horror fans would  have seen it all before, the US kids will be put off by the accents, the snobby/arty elite will certainly find it all a bit too silly to care about its message, but  I must confess, I came to it with very few expectations and even though it took me way too long to get into it, once I was finally with it, I actually found it all rather enjoyable for the its slightly trashy fake-B-movie sensibility (but a lot more clever than it claims it is) and I was happy I saw it.

6.5/10

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