Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Raid Review

The Raid
Every now and then a film gets released that blurs the boundaries between simply enjoying it and evaluating it. Do you rate it solely on your enjoyment? Or do you analyse each structural element and come to a rational judgement? Welsh director Gareth Evans’ Indonesian “block-buster” The Raid happens to be that film. Simply put, The Raid is a turbo-charged, violent and magnificent piece of action cinema, that while light on narrative and character development, brings a well needed revamp to the stodgy grounds the genre has found itself on.
The story is simple. Set in an apartment complex in the slums of Jakarta, a SWAT team have been set the task to infiltrate the “safe house” where drug dealers, gangsters and murderers reside. Their objective is to arrest Tama (Ray Sahetapy), the most notorious of the bunch. But little do they know, it’s a trap! Narratively speaking,The Raid is barebones. Evans clearly hasn’t invested a considerable amount of time in the construction of a complex plot with rich characters and ground-breaking Indonesian dialogue. To be brutally honest, apart from the revelations during the course of its runtime, the film’s premise is pretty much summed up in the ‘Mission Briefing’ scene, or even in the title. Meanwhile the minor semblances of character development are conveyed in 2 minute introductions that loosely define each personality. For example, our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) gets a “suit up” montage and kisses his pregnant wife goodbye in the opening sequence. Similarly shallow, the villain Tama’s entrance is through his brutal execution of 4 men, which sets the tone for the entire film. Undeniably there’s not a lot of substance, and what is there is rather cliché. But that’s not the film’s paramount concern.
The Raid is first and foremost an action film, and this is where it undoubtably excels. Evans showcases some of the most impressive fight choreography of the last decade, in which every sequence attempts to surpass the previous one. The Indonesian martial arts of Pencak Silat is a breathtaking and brutal blend of bone-fracturing hits and sheer vigour, that constantly highlight the inadequacies of its mere mortal audience. Coupled with shootouts and some of cinema’s most intense knife-fights, The Raid is savage in its approach to astonish and entertain.
Alongside the stunt-team, a lot of credit has to go to cinematographer Matt Flannery and Evans himself in the general direction and editing of the film. While the “shaky-cam” approach unfortunately weaves its way into a few of the brawls, a range of camera angles and techniques bring a dynamic nature and flow to each segment. Meanwhile slow motion is thankfully limited to one-off moments and therefore allows the film to remain at its constant breakneck pace. The visual and audio composition of The Raid isn’t as artistically compelling, but manages to convey the film’s gritty and aggressive personality. The blank sets and enclosed locations frame and focus the action perfectly, while providing a bleak and surprisingly intimidating atmosphere. The audio design is exceptionally punchy and fearsome in its endeavour to make every punch and stab feel vicious and forceful. Simultaneously, the film’s score by Mike Shinoda and Joe Trapanese successfully captures the fast-paced nature of the onscreen violence, though it’s nothing particularly special.
Overall The Raid is a visceral, ferocious and highly entertaining piece of action cinema. Gareth Evans has created a film with a brutal temperament and with the sole aim of blowing the audience’s minds! If The Raid is to be judged on story, characters, and script then it would fall dramatically short. But as an action film, then without a doubt this is one of the best of the last decade.

(Originally written for Impact Magazine: 20/5/12)

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Have No Fear


A few exams are coming up, so I'm taking a break from blogging (as usual). Don't fear, I'll be writing a segment on my last of the "month's" favourite films in the next couple of weeks. And then I think Korean cinema will be on the menu, seen as though I've recently watched a bunch. And my written review of The Raid (go see it). Meanwhile the next episode of RespawningCouch will be next week.

Thanks for reading as always. Over and Out.


Sunday, 13 May 2012

Screentest Festival - 23-25 March 2012

Founded in Bristol back in 2004, ‘Screentest’ is the UK’s National Student Film Festival. Now based in Southbank University in London, the festival showcases short films from university students across the country. Broken into 7 genre-groups; Drama, Comedy, Documentary, Thriller/Horror, Experimental, Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Animation/Music Video, and with 6 screening areas, there was plenty to experience over the course of the weekend.
While your stereotypical student schlock was present; long shots of the sky, dry acting and tediously minimalist writing, the festival contained some real gems and some real oddballs. Comedy/DramaHadley TK-421 and Sci-Fi thriller Departure altered our somewhat generalised sensibilities towards ‘student films’ with high production values, impressive writing, excellent acting and expert direction. Meanwhile other seemed to puzzles us: Alice in Space, The Many Faces of Bangers And Mash (simply a cooking show) and Matador, whose cinematography was excellent but mainly consisted of shots of dancing interlaced with a pretty intense sex scene. Not surprisingly that won the Audience Choice award. But after sitting through around 16 hours of film, here are our favourites from the festival:
Jack’s Picks:
Quizmaster (Sam Haire, University of Bristol)
Comedy is a difficult genre for any filmmaker and screenwriter to genuinely nail. With its heavy reliance on the comedic tastes of the audience, creating a film that accommodates the multiplicity nature of humour is a complex and constantly challenging one. Sam Haire’s Quizmaster managed to balance a simple story with smart, witty writing and memorable performances. The short follows a relentless pub-quiz host as he attempts to humiliate his contestants and retain his “god-like” status. However he soon meets his adversary in the form of shady, wine-drinking ‘stranger’ who seems to know all the answers. Writers Marcus O‘Toole and Euan Ferguson have constructed a script purely focused on comedy rather than attempting to intertwine every genre, which so many of the entries endeavoured to do. There’s a certain Sherlock Holmes ‘Battle of Wits’ that definitely comes through the clever script and the entertaining acting. The exaggerated performances from Anthony Miles ‘The Quizmaster’ and Jack Bailey playing ‘The Stranger’ really bring an enthusiasm and sharpness to the film. Coupled with the quick editing and first-class cinematography, Haire’s technical composition has an intensity and fast-paced character that works well with the strong narrative writing.
Meet Me on the Hill (Gavin Foden, University of Westminster)
The ‘Drama’ genre was the most saturated category at the festival and after sitting through 6 hours of shorts, certain narrative themes and plot elements were constantly on show. However Gavin Foden’s take on the ‘coming-to-terms-with-the-death-of-a-loved-one’ story-line was one of the more impressive and memorable ones. Meet Me on the Hill follows a homeless women struggling on the streets of London. She finds a glimmer of hope and companionship in the form of an old friend, Father Christmas. It’s definitely an unusual premise, but an engaging one that’s invaluably helped by Bill Hutchen’s charismatic performance and great beard, as the down-to-earth Saint Nick. Exploring themes of suicide, homelessness and loneliness, Stephen Monger’s writing is inevitably an uncompromising and depressing affair. Yet smart dialogue and some light-hearted moments add charm and humour to the drab locations and dark tones. The final scene perfectly brings a satisfying note that doesn’t further flood the picture with more ambiguity and allows the characters and visual imagery to carefully conclude the film.
Eddy’s Picks:
Red Letter (Tom Marshall, University of Westminster)
Directed by Tom Marshall, Red Letter managed to tick all the right boxes with an interesting concept, good acting, good camerawork and an engaging storyline. It follows some conventional horror staples; the main character isolated in unfamiliar surroundings, here a London boy adjusting to life in a village in rural Wales, a seemingly polite but inherently creepy old woman, with the rest of the community ignoring said women’s creepiness to the bemusement of the lead character. However, compared to a lot of films within the festival, particularly those in the horror category, the production values of Red Letter are surprisingly high. The film manages to mimic Let the Right One In’sforeboding atmosphere, and the feeling of impending doom, as the film’s restrained surface might at any moment crack to reveal the horrors beneath. Not to reveal any spoilers in case anyone reading manages to catch this short film, but the ending is an intriguing one and certainly leaves the viewer with one or two interesting questions after the film has finished.
Callum (Michael Van Der Put, University of the Arts, London)
A well-made, edgy drama directed by Michael Van Der Put, which was one of the strongest films of the festival and was unfortunate to miss out on the award for best drama. It follows a boy dealing with the accidental death of his girlfriend, as an abusive group of thugs assaulting the girl accidently pushed her onto the tracks into the path of an oncoming train. Callum has a real grit to it, reminiscent of the work of Shane Meadows, yet it’s also beautifully filmed and has some great performances. The film accurately conveyed the pain of losing someone you love. Whilst other films in this category had perhaps more imaginative ideas, few managed to match this film’s coherency, structure and emotional heft. Having recently graduated from the University of the Arts London Van Der Put is certainly one to watch.
Overall, Screentest is steadily growing in scale and continues to build a strong community relationship with upcoming filmmakers and the UK Film Industry. With Q&A sessions with BAFTA Short winner John Maclean (Pitch Black Heist) and director Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls and Made in Dagenham), it is clear that Festival Directors Chris Nunn and Nic Sanchez have invested time and dedication to create a highly enjoyable and rewarding festival. For aspiring film-makers and film fanatics, Screentest provides a great opportunity to get exposed and see some of Britain’s “future” film talent. And with a day ticket costing £5, why not have a gander?
Jack Singleton & Edward Haynes 

(Originally Written for Impact Magazine: 21/4/12)

Saturday, 12 May 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Episode 19: The Avengers and the Dark Knight Rises, Amazing Spiderman and Assassins Creed III trailers

This week. Jack asks James and Ben to give their thoughts on The Avengers. Then they assess a bunch of newly released trailers: Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spiderman and the Assassins Creed III gameplay footage. Finally concluding on their thoughts on Bioshock Infinite's unfortunate delay.

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