Posts in Free
January 30 - THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2011)
  Image credit: blackfilm.com

Image credit: blackfilm.com

For my "free" category, I decided to watch an action movie I've heard a lot about. I downloaded THE RAID: REDEMPTION (I'm really burning through some iTunes giftcards) and prepared myself for a spot of the ol' ultraviolence. THE RAID is an immaculately-directed, gritty fight flick. The fight choreography is on another level and sets a high-water mark for action films to come. The camera respects the phenomenal stuntwork of the performers, relying on their (not inconsiderable) ability to sell the fight scenes instead of frenetic editing. It's incredibly violent, so if you're looking for anything besides an action film that's extra-heavy on the action, THE RAID: REDEMPTION probably isn't for you. I saw DREDD (2012) before THE RAID and really liked it, and I imagine the filmmakers behind DREDD drew a fair bit of inspiration from the Indonesian gangster film. Both movies take place entirely within an apartment complex overrun with criminals, and the police protagonists must fight their way to the top to confront the gangster overlord running the show.

I recently had an interesting conversation about action movies and musicals. By my own admission, I am not a fan of musicals. On the other hand, I love a good action movie. This doesn't seem inconsistent by any stretch, but the two genres might be more closely linked than they may appear. In each kind of movie, the plot isn't really what compels an audience. The story serves as an excuse for musical numbers or fight scenes; propping up various kinds of setpieces as the case may be. The fun is had along the way in the film's execution. Maybe this year I'll watch more musicals. Or more action movies.

 You don't want to make fun of this dude's cargo pants.   Image credit: imdb.com

You don't want to make fun of this dude's cargo pants.

Image credit: imdb.com

Tomorrow: Classics.

January 23 - PEOPLE PLACES THINGS (2015)

"Are you okay?" "Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just having a bad life. I'll be over it eventually."

  Image credit: cloudfront.net

Image credit: cloudfront.net

PEOPLE PLACES THINGS is hella indie-movie. The protagonist is a graphic novelist, there's a scene where his twin daughters practice cello in the woods while camping, and another scene where he has a conversation with his ex wife in her dining room while she wears a wedding dress. It has all the trappings of being a horribly depressing and pessimistic characterization of dealing with a family after a divorce, but PEOPLE PLACES THINGS refrains from indulging in excess pain and distress.

The film certainly deals with sadness and despair, but in actionable, narratively-useful ways. It's quite a funny movie as well, and I found myself laughing loudly throughout. Jemaine Clement is endlessly watchable and hilarious, even when he's dealing with real problems - PEOPLE PLACES THINGS manages to be simultaneously entertaining and insightful. The only knock against the film would be some third-act rom-com tropes, but I guess this kind of movie has to pay its dues in some way. Jessica Williams's Kat is remarkably well-written and acted, which isn't a surprise (Jessica Williams is obviously quite funny and talented) but her character could have easily been a huge weak point in another version of this movie. PEOPLE PLACES THINGS is definitely worth seeing; Clement is on quite the hot streak, with this film and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (one of my favorites of 2015) both being excellent. He's becoming an indie-comedy powerhouse, and I'm looking forward to seeing his next projects.

 I got some flashbacks to a junior-year Aesthetics course during the classroom scenes.   Image credit: blogspot.com

I got some flashbacks to a junior-year Aesthetics course during the classroom scenes.

Image credit: blogspot.com

Tomorrow: Classics.

January 16 - SICARIO (2015)

"This is a land of wolves now."

  Image credit: ew.com

Image credit: ew.com

SICARIO is directed by Denis Villeneuve, who also directed ENEMY (2013) and PRISONERS (2013), both of which are phenomenal, tense movies in their own right. SICARIO isn't quite as stressful as PRISONERS, but the tension here is kept simmering throughout the movie, always threatening to strike. The music does a lot to help that perpetually ominous feeling (as does the Drug War™ setting, obviously) and the sound design coupled with the wide aerial photography hits all the same menacing notes as an episode of True Detective Season 1 (and the poster above has some TD echoes itself). It's sleek, it's vicious, it's riveting, but I don't think I liked it.

Emily Blunt plays an "idealistic" FBI agent who wants to do things by the book when she's recruited to a special task force designed to take down a high-ranking member of a Mexican cartel. She's effectively a stick in the mud for Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro to alternately tolerate, intimidate, physically threaten, and exploit for their own goals. This is where I run into issues with SICARIO. Brolin and Del Toro are presented as extremely competent, badass action heroes with a big-picture view of the good, while Emily Blunt protests their methods and *nags* at them. There's no resolution to this dynamic, either. I don't mean to posit that happy endings are always desirable (they seem to be rare in Villeneuve movies, anyway) but it simply doesn't pay off narratively in a way that feels anything other than quasi-sadistic. Perhaps I need to let SICARIO settle for a while before I cement my feelings on it -- I get the whole "viciousness of war / there's no fairytale ending for anyone" notion -- but despite its impressive production, I left somewhat sour on SICARIO.

 This is my favorite shot from the movie. There's some really great cinematography work in SICARIO.   Image credit: loganbushey.files.wordpress.com

This is my favorite shot from the movie. There's some really great cinematography work in SICARIO.

Image credit: loganbushey.files.wordpress.com

Tomorrow: Classics