Tuesday, 22 April 2014

FEATURE: My Movie Mastermind - Broken Arrow


We've all played the game in our heads. We hear the "Mastermind" theme and imagine what our specialist subject will be. I've always had a few ideas kicking around in my head. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Die Hard and Jurassic Park are films I've seen a tom of times and would be able to rattle off answers no problem. But they're far too common. So I've gone for something a bit leftfield. It's a film I've seen more than anyone really should have, but I just love it too much. It is 1996's Broken Arrow starring John Travolta and Christian Slater. 

This was John Woo's second film since making the leap to the States after 1993's Hard Target starring Jean Claude Van Damme. That film is another guilty pleasure, but doesn't have a patch on this one. Conversely, Face/Off is arguably a better movie, but again this film has more charm to it.

Take the opening scene. In it we see a sparring match between Vic Deakins (Travolta) and Riley Hale (Slater) - you've got to love 90s action hero names. Rather than some lame exposition, we see the two communicate while sparring which gives us insight into the type of relationship they have. Deakins is clearly trying to groom Hale into being his equal, but Hale is the rebellious type and has his own style. The fight itself foreshadows whats to come in the film, and ends with an awesome shot of the two touching gloves, which signifies the end of their match, but can also be seen as the start of the "match" in the context of the movie.

We do end up with a bit of exposition while the two are flying with the live nukes, whereby it's established that Deakins is pissed off with the Air Force, and betrays Hale by giving him the genius "evil John Travolta look", backed by Hans Zimmer's incredible score (more on that later). There's hijinx in the desert as the two play tug of war with a nuclear bomb, with Hale being helped by Samantha Mathis' spunky sidekick Terry Carmichael and Deakins being backed up by his team of generic henchmen led by square haired Howie Long.

Woo's direction is spot on, as always. His use of slo-motion and two handed gunplay has been done to death, but in the mid 90s it was still refreshing and new. The film flies along at a frantic pace, as our heroes go from one inventive gunfight to the next, before reaching the cargo train based finale, where once again Deakins and Hale go mano-a-mano with more at stake than just the $20 they were sparring for at the start.

For all the stupidly enjoyable things in this movie, two things stand out more than any other. The first is the aforementioned Hans Zimmer score, which utilizes some of his usual tricks augmented with some electronic elements, but it's the piece that features Duane Eddy's playing a motif on baritone guitar that sticks in the memory. This, paired with the second memorable element in John Travolta's gloriously OTT performance makes for some great movie moments, and if not for this film who knows what Harry Knowles would have called aintitcoolnews.com?

So there you have it. I don't want people to think I'm not taking this topic seriously. I really love this film. I mean, I could have done The Godfather or any number of films that have been written about ad nauseam, but what can I say that hasn't been said before. With "Broken Arrow" it's a chance to revisit an underrated 90s action flick. Which my mother happens to love. If that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is.

- Kevin Dillon

Kevin writes reviews of new DVDs/Blu Rays to rent, along with the occasional feature for his own blog www.smallscreensaver.blogspot.ie. You can also follow Kevin on Twitter here.

Monday, 21 April 2014

TV REVIEW: Game of Thrones - Breaker of Chains


Following on the death of a character, particularly one so universally despised as Joffrey, was never going to be an easy task. Usually it is left to the tenth episode of a season to let the pieces fall back into place after a major shock. Yet this is only the third episode and it seems to have wrongfooted the writers, not quite knowing how to follow the Purple Wedding. What does happen are various expositional scenes that do little to advance the plot, but instead, reposition the characters for future event setpieces. It's one of the most pedestrian episodes yet and as such, feels rather disappointing. And then there's that scene which just about everyone is talking about.

The scene in which Jaime has sex with Cersei is straight from the novels themselves. Crucially though, it is written and made clear that it is consensual sex. In the show, it is rape. Cersei protests right up until the scene cuts away, but Jaime overpowers her and carries on anyway. Now, Game of Thrones has always been shocking and has always made sure that the audience is always aware of the hostile environment in which these characters are operating in. 

However, this is the first moment in which I've felt that this has been a shock for shock's sake, an attempt at audience exploitation that looks like it is backfiring. It is completely out of character for one thing; Jaime may be a complete and utter git (pushed a child out of the window, folks), but he has always been clear and, in his own twisted way, honourable when it comes to his love for Cersei (pushing the child was for her after all). He's also adopted a strong moral opposition to violence against women which has been a key part of his character from even before the events of the series. Think how many times he defended Brienne during their time together. It makes absolutely no sense on a character level and completely ruins any redemptive arc that they have been building for Jaime throughout the third season.

Does this serve a reminder of his gittishness in the face of us all growing to like him so much? Perhaps. But changing that septor-tryst into rape feels like a cynical ploy to get a gasp out of the audience. Game of Thrones' morality has always been the murky side of grey and I don't think that there is any issues with that. I've certainly never raised it in my reviews before as it has always been inbuilt to key character developments. I don't understand how this has anything to do with Jaime and Cersei's broken relationship other than Jaime taking what he has wanted since he's returned.

There is also the issue that Game of Thrones has never been very good with dealing with the consequences of sexual assault (beyond saying "ooh it makes a bit dangerous for women") and has muddied the ever-complicated waters even more than the books did. The closest example I can think of is the consummation of Dany and Khal Drogo's marriage in the first season in which it was also changed from (albeit iffy) consensual sex to outright rape. From there, Dany and Drogo go on to have a loving relationship, despite the foundations of sexual assault and it was never again raised as an aspect of their relationship. With that as a precedent, I can't see the consequences of Cersei's rape being explored. I sincerely hope I'm wrong and that the show uses it for character development, but considering we didn't get a fallout from that scene in this episode, I'm not holding out much hope.

Then there is the abrupt tonal shift which jars more than a little. Following the horror of that scene, we check-in with Arya and The Hound, currently wandering around the riverlands somewhere. Arya's wit is something that is a constant joy to see and I loved how she dealt with the farmer by coming up with an entire family history off the bat, but it felt completely incongruous to what had gone before. Her interactions with The Hound are some of this season's best moments, but again, this is hampered by a desire to jolt the audience. The Hound beats the farmer and steals from him after accepting his offer of work with a protesting Arya shouting in his wake. It's another scene that feels a little off, mostly because it doesn't advance anything. We all know that The Hound is just out to survive and doesn't give a fig for anyone but the Stark girls (granted, he does have a complicated relationship with them). This scene felt like filler, and not particularly satisfying filler at that.

The shocks didn't end here either, though the remaining gaspworthy moments felt less exploitative than those previously mentioned and more in keeping with the progressing narrative. Ser Dontos was never going to make it out of King's Landing and, though he was lovely and chivalrous in rescuing poor Sansa, he was dead from the moment he took orders from Littlefinger. Likewise, the wildling attack on the village was carried out in suitably brutal fashion, serving to remind us of the dangers awaiting the Night's Watch. 

The quieter scenes were also consistently strong in this episode, contrasting sharply with the more brash moments. As ever, Oberyn proves to be just wonderful, an impish blend of hedonism and politics who is never short of something to say. Pedro Pascal versus Charles Dance appears to be a new Game of Thrones event and I can't say I'm complaining. The subtle menace to their interactions makes them all the more compelling and is another classic example of how well the writers do political exposition when it comes to the history of King's Landing and Dornish relations.

Saving its best sequence for last, Dany finally reaches the city of Meereen and gives another one of her characteristically fire-and-brimstone speeches, but not before we get to see Daario Naharis in action. The recast Michiel Huisman has impressed in a couple of brief scenes and continues to do so here, getting in on the action on a one-on-one combat. He also showcases his strong chemistry with Emilia Clarke and with that wink, casts out any lingering memories of the departing Ed Skrein. After the champion of Meereen relieves himself in front of Dany, she selects Naharis as her own representative, quickly dispatches his opposition and lets Dany speechify. The production design in this sequence was beautiful, with Meereen looking every bit the rich and daunting city. 

In fact, the production design was probably this episode's greatest strength, from the haunting funereal look of the Septor to the dank and dingy Dragonstone. Sansa's escape to Littlefinger's ship was also beautifully realised, the blue of the fog contrasting sharply to the red hues of King's Landing. This is a plot development I've been looking forward to getting to, as Sophie Turner was starting to have very little to do with her character in the capital. Now, Sansa finds herself away from danger but in the clutches of Littlefinger (amusingly, Aiden Gillen seems to have given up on making his accent at all consistent) which isn't the greatest place to be for a Stark.

After a strong opening two episodes, Game of Thrones has delivered one of its most uneven and troubling chapters yet, one that managed to be both place-setting filler and exploitative drama. Because it has always been so consistently strong, I have found this episode of to be perhaps the most disappointing in a long time.

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of The Lion and the Rose here.

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TV REVIEW: Fargo - The Crocodile's Dilemma


Set as a ten episode limited series, Fargo opens in Bemidji, Minnesota, with a car accident involving the mysterious Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) and a man in his underwear trapped in the boot, who later freezes to death attempting to run away whilst Lorne wanders into town. The Bemidji police begin  to investigate with Chief Thurman (Shawn Doyle) and Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tollman) taking the lead. Meanwhile, Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) is dealing with his nagging wife Pearl (Kelly Holden Bashar) and the school bully, Sam Hess (Kevin O'Grady) returning to punch him in the face. However, a chance meeting with Lorne in the hospital waiting room sets off a chain of events which Lester had only begun to fantasise about.

The Coen Brothers' 1996 film Fargo is widely regarded as one of their masterpieces, a dark blend of murder, Minnesota and Marge Gunderson, Frances McDormand's heavily pregnant heroine. When a TV series based on the film was announced, it was met with equal parts quiet optimism and cynicism. Part of an ongoing trend of seeing films adapted into television series, of which Bates' Motel and Hannibal are the most popular examples, it was easy to dismiss Fargo as merely riding the wave and using the name of a beloved property to draw in viewers. Thankfully, however, the first episode manages to allay some of those fears with a deliciously dark opening episode.

There are still plenty of ties to the Coen Brothers' original film, but Noah Hawley's screenplay uses it as more of a framework to reference and gain ideas from. Like the film, the action doesn't actually take place in Fargo; it operates as a sort of dark place on the horizon where bad people come from. Similar plot points are in play (the sadsack insurance salesman getting in with criminals, a car crash to investigate etc.) as well as characters clearly using their cinematic counterparts for inspiration, but neither feel ripped off or stolen from the film, but rather operate as homages. There's even a Big Lebowski nod in there for the eagle-eyed Coens fan. 

The real strength in Hawley's screenplay lies in his ability to capture the tone of the film and the Coen Brothers' ear for whipsmart dialogue. The Bemidji police offer up a lot of laughs, particularly Bill Odenkirk's squeamish Deputy Oswalt, a man who can't face a crime scene for fear of losing his wife's spaghetti dinner. Then there is Billy Bob Thornton's Lorne, a disarmingly calm man with a penchant for knowing the rules of the motel before paying for a room there (his conversation with the concierge is a highlight). He acts as a sort of evil Puck figure, manipulating situations and people for his own ends, taking it upon himself to help Lester out with his Sam Hess problem and messing around with the family for fun.

However, Lorne also functions as the episode's line between black humour and outright malevolence. Thornton's calm performance is immediately sinister and his reactions to things around him are wonderfully deadpan. It's a scene towards the end of the episode in which this is showcased brilliantly; it's a face off between Lorne and Duluth police officer Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) that is a masterclass in tension-building because it is impossible to interpret the scene's direction. With Lorne around, the tone shifts from outright comedy to suspense quickly and dangerously, offering an unpredictability that never quite lets the audience settle.

The casting of Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard also proves to be a masterstroke. The bewildered expression has been so perfected by Freeman across his career that he really ought to trademark it, but here it is replaced with one of despair. Utterly downtrodden by his life and family, Lester is the kind of man you root for in these situations, willing him to stand up and take action against those who would demean him. Which, of course, Lester does, but not quite in the way you want him to. The moment he takes a hammer to his wife's head (in such a cheery, slapstick fashion) is the big shock of the episode, another point at which you go from laughter to shock to nervous laughter so fast it makes your head spin like the Nygaard's washing machine.

With a body count that's already alarmingly high, Fargo has set the tone for its upcoming instalments quickly and effectively.. It's a dark, bizarre delight that also happens to be riotously funny and I can't wait to see where Hawley takes it next. 

- Becky

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Thursday, 17 April 2014

FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Becoming

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Angel was cursed with a soul by gypsies he had scorned, but a moment of true happiness with Buffy ensured he lost it again. He's been wreaking havoc in the lives of the Scoobies, psychologically torturing them and going so far as to kill Jenny Calendar, who had been close to translating the spell to restore his soul.


Buffy gears herself up to face Angel, but he has other plans. With the recent discovery of the ancient demon Acathla who is able to send the entire world into a hell dimension with one breath, Angel decides he wants to end the world. Meanwhile, Buffy and Willow discover Jenny's translation of the restoration ritual and it's agreed they will try to restore Angel's soul. An attack on the library leads to Giles' capture to discover how to do the right ritual and Buffy heads to the mansion to face down Angel, armed with a new unlikely ally.

If there's one thing that Buffy did consistently well throughout its seven seasons, it's the finale episodes. Sometimes two-parters, sometimes standalone, always the result of a season long arc, Buffy finales have always been cracking episodes, capturing the humour and emotion that makes the series so strong. Partly, it's because the threat of cancellation always hung over the show, which meant that the writers always wrote each season to bring the series to a largely satisfying close should that happen.

There's a constant sense of horror to Becoming, building from Buffy's desire to finish her battle with Angel, the impending end of the world scenario (neatly paralleled with Buffy having to take finals), the self-immolating vampire at the front of a classroom and Giles' torture scenes. It returns the second season to the slow build of tension that has been mounting throughout the last few episodes and the building sense of dread climaxes spectacularly in the final scene of Part One.

It's the first of several major flashback episodes, one which use some element of the past to explain a character's motivations. For Angel, it shows the episodes in his life that have been the most talked about; his siring, the killing of his family, driving Dru insane and seeing Buffy for the first time. It starts building towards his solo quest for redemption with the spin-off wasn't in the pipeline (announced shortly after Becoming aired). It's a useful technique, demonstrating how Liam, Angel's pre-vamp self, was always a bit of a twit so the fact that Angelus turned out so evil isn't a surprise. It also gives us a greater understanding of how much he has to make up for and how significant the regaining of his soul was. As he said in an earlier episode, 'you have no idea what it's like to have done the things that I've done... and to care'.

With the discovery of the curse that could restore Angel's soul, Willow and Buffy set the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons when it comes to deciding his fate. It's a complicated moral decision and Whedon utilises the characters to represent different sides of the argument. Whenever the central characters fight, it's always particularly galling, like seeing a close family in the throes of a heated argument. Xander goes all out, bringing forth his callous streak to declare that Angel should die and Buffy is compromised by her feelings. Buffy sees it as a back-up plan, as does Willow who would perform the magic. Giles, meanwhile, is the most compromised of them all, understanding Buffy's position whilst also still reeling from Jenny's death.

Stakes always seems so much higher when the Scoobies are ripped apart and few scenes are as powerfully frightening as the one in which the gang are attacked in the library at the end of the first part. Whedon's reputation for killing off people suddenly wasn't quite as concrete as it is now, but after the death of Jenny, it felt like anyone could be next. At the end of the episode, Buffy is about to be arrested, Willow's unconscious, Xander's got a broken arm and Kendra's dead (goodbye Bianca Lawson, we barely knew you).

The haunting voiceover from Whistler about Big Moments cements this sense of loss; we have no idea how to follow this Big Moment and at this stage, neither do the characters. It's another example of a voiceover working particularly well and because it is a voice we're not used to, it adds a sense of detachment to the scene. Whistler is watching this play out with us. It also ties us back to Passion and recalls the slow motion discovering of Jenny's death. The message is clear; this is a game-changing episode and we still have the second part to come.

These Big Moments continue into the next episode, including Joyce finding out that her daughter is a Slayer. It's one of the lighter moments in the episode, post-alliance with Spike, which leads to a wonderful moment in which Joyce and Spike awkwardly bond over their previous meeting in School Hard. It soon gives way though into a conversation between Buffy and Joyce which leads to the latter running away from home. Their mother-daughter relationship is always one of the best aspects of the season, particularly as they try to negotiate understanding each other and this is sorely tested here. 

Everything that occurs in this episode determines that by the end, Buffy is left entirely alone. It's a common theme in the season finales and whilst the series is at great pains to prove that she is nothing without her friends, it also points out continually that when it comes to the big fights, there's only so much help they can give. Becoming features one of the best explorations of this. It may be really obvious that the fight is not entirely David Boreanaz and Sarah Michelle Gellar, but there's no denying that it is one of the best one-on-one showdowns of the series, probably second only to Buffy and Faith's clash in Graduation Day. The stakes are high and the tragedy of the outcome makes it just that bit worse. When Buffy kills Angel, she can't face her friends and departs alone; only now has she truly lost of everything.

Whilst Part One focuses on Angel's past, Part Two hints a lot towards key developments in future. There's another reference to the Mayor and his interest in Buffy, Xander tells Willow he loves her while she's unconscious and Willow begins practicing magic with the restoration ritual. These will have all flown over our heads when it first aired, but it's great to go back and catch them on the way through the rewatch.

And so to the heartbreaking end of the episode. It still pains me to this day that Xander is never called out on his lie, but without it, the ending wouldn't be so awful. Buffy saved the world again, but at great personal cost this time, something which this season has continually hinted towards. When she pulls off in the bus at the end, to the strains of Sarah MacLachlan's Full of Grace, it feels very final despite knowing that she'll come back. The ramifications of this episode also have a long-lasting impact on the third season, which is also arguably the series' most consistently good run. 

Well, that's the second season everyone. It's all going rather quickly now. Also, just as the Angel series was announced after Becoming, I'm announcing that I shall be doing an Angel re-watch alongside the Buffy one when we get to the end of the third season. How very exciting. Well, for me anyway, I've only seen the entirety of Angel once through.

Quote of the Week:

Angel: No weapons... No friends... No hope. Take all that away and what's left?
Buffy: Me.
*Air punch*

Let's Get Trivial: The Mutant Enemy monster at the end dispenses with his usual 'Grr arrgh' to say 'Oh I need a hug'. You and me both, fella.

Demonology 101: Whistler is the first instance of a good demon existing in the Buffyverse, something that becomes increasingly important to both Buffy and Angel in their respective series.

- Becky

You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Go Fish, here.

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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

TV REVIEW: Game of Thrones - The Lion and The Rose

As ever, major spoilers in the following review... Please don't read ahead if you haven't seen this episode.


It's an outing at the writer's desk for George RR Martin himself this time as we enter the second episode of this season, The Lion and the Rose. It's a fairly big sign that something big is coming if you see Mr Martin's name in the opening credits and so it proves once again. The episode opens in brutal fashion as Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon) engages in a human hunt with companion and the newly christened Reek (Alfie Allen) by his side who has cast off his old identity as Theon Greyjoy. Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) continues his journey north with Jojen (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Meera (Ellie Kendrick) and Hodor (Kristian Nairn) and has visions of where they must go next. Then, to King's Landing, where the final preparations are being made for Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Margeary's (Natalie Dormer) wedding.

With a show such as Game of Thrones, there are always going to be those episodes where certain moments will overshadow the scenes that have gone before it for a variety of reasons. In some cases, it is from the sheer shock of what you had just seen, such as the Red Wedding. And it is to another wedding we turn for the other reaction that might overshadow the episode; sheer, unadulterated glee. It seems morally wrong to revel in the death of a character, but Game of Thrones doesn't exactly operate on an even keel when it comes to moral codes. Then there is the fact that the character in question is one of the most odious, most hated and downright evil characters to have ever walked across the screen.

Jack Gleeson's performance as Joffrey has always been one of the best in the series, capturing the Boy-King's maniacal love of power and the torture he inflicts on others. He's slowly grown into the character everybody loves to loathe and in some ways, it will be sad to see him go. However, just in case we had any sympathetic feelings at all, Martin leads up to the fatal moment with one of the worst acts of Joffrey's brutality not involving a crossbow. A not-so-subtle power-game between Joffrey and Tyrion showcases the King's hatred of his uncle, using a play with dwarfs to illustrate the War of Five Armies, not only humiliating Tyrion, but also torturing poor Sansa with some graphic attacks on the player representing her brother, Robb. Tyrion slowly placing his hand over his wife's during this scene was one of the sweetest moments in a dark episode.

And so to the death itself. Book readers will know how it is done, but I'm enjoying reading everyone's various theories around the internet (I won't be detailing it here). The episode had already been fairly brutal before we even got to King's Landing (more on that shortly), but there was an over-riding sense of things coming to an end slowly building throughout. With Shae sent away by Tyrion, Stannis and Melisandre regrouping at Dragonstone and the Boltons on the move, the episode felt more characteristic of the usual 'Episode 9' dramatic turns rather than the second episode. By the time we got to the wedding, the tension mounted slowly with every cruel comment or prank that Joffrey played. The moment itself was built beautifully as everyone slowly realised that he was choking; some hesitated, some rushed in gallantly, some stood back and watched it happen. And then for the fans, there was a nice, extended close-up of Joffrey's purple, bloated face, just so we could all make sure. It's not hard not to cheer at that.

Now to the scenes that we saw prior to the Purple Wedding. The episode opened far more brutally than it would later end, as Ramsay Snow uses his authority to engage in a hunt, chasing down a young woman with hounds and his bow-toting companion. The hunt itself was composed well, building throughout and getting considerably more graphic as the victim was chased down. Whilst not quite at the Joffrey level of hatred just yet, Snow is putting in a decent bid to replace him as the show's most reviled character. Theon may have been an ambitious but useless leader, but his plight is a sympathetic one and Allen's performance of the transition from the brash, over-compensating Theon to the maligned, broken Reek has been excellent. The look on his face when he found out that Robb was dead was heartbreaking.

Amidst all the death, we also got a few quieter scenes to highlight some of the underlying issues in Westeros. A particularly good scene was that between Tywin and Olenna (Diana Rigg is just marvellous isn't she?) which reminded everyone of the Westeros financial troubles. Tywin may shit gold as the saying goes, but the crown still owes a hell of a lot of money. Can we also have a round of applause for Oberyn, the sassiest man in Westeros? Seriously, Pedro Pascal is knocking this role out of the park. I want to see him go toe-to-toe with Tywin and Cersei at least once a week for this season. I also loved the scene between Jaime and Bronn. I may still remind myself that Jaime once pushed a child out of a window, but the fact I have to do this is a testament to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and the writers for giving him such a compelling, sympathetic arc.

The fourth season is clearly set to pull no punches, starting with a major demise in the second episode. The big, dramatic moments will always be the ones that people remember, but where Game of Thrones really excels is those scenes in between.

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of the previous episode, Two Swords, here.

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Saturday, 12 April 2014

FILM REVIEW: The Raid 2


The notion of 'bigger is better' is an old one when it comes to film-making and particularly when it comes to sequels. The Raid was as lean as they come, a film set entirely in one location and with a scant plot on which to hang a series of impressive fight sequences on. Whilst character beats, particularly with Rama (the surely soon to be international action superstar Iko Uwais) and brother Andi (Donny Alamsyah), were well-handled, they aren't the bits that everyone talks about when they talk about The Raid. It's the door kill, or the drugs lab fight, or the stunning silhouette shot on the staircase before all hell breaks loose. To go bigger from there is the next logical step, zooming out from the microcosmic workings of the tower block to the wider criminal underworld in which it belongs.

Picking up just a couple of hours after the climax of the first film, The Raid 2 finds Rama tasked with an undercover mission to root out the corrupt cops within the Jakarta police force. He quickly befriends Uco (a scene-stealing Arifin Putra), the son of Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), the head of the biggest crime family in Jakarta who has ruled for years in a truce with the Goto crime family from Japan. However, the uneasy peace is threatened by shadowy background dealings and Rama finds himself involved more and more until he realises he must fight his way out.

With a longer run-time, Evans allows the story to breathe in a way that the claustrophobic location of The Raid couldn't and the sequel is much stronger for it. For all of the violence and technical bravado, this is a film about the importance of family and not losing touch with yourself or your loved ones. Time is taken to establish family dynamics, relationship histories and character motivations to almost Shakespearian levels (Uco is a potent combination of Hal and Hotspur whilst Bangun displays all the world-weariness of a Henry IV). Even characters such as Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) have a clear and tangible history to them. It may be simple character-based work (too often forgotten in the action genre), but it serves to enhance the film beyond just its action sequences and as it builds towards its climactic showdown, the emotional resonance deepens and the fights become that bit more involving.

Once again, the action sequences are going to be the bits that everyone will talk about when it comes to the film. Thankfully, the fight choreography is once again superb, each fight as unique and as unpredictable as the next whether they're set in a prison yard or in the inside of a car. Evans' kinetic camera work is perfectly pitched, sweeping with the performers as they crash through their fight sequences, close enough to retain the immediacy of The Raid, but also with enough sense of when to hold back and let the punches speak for themselves. It is endlessly inventive; you watch from camera angles you never thought possible, or fly through a wall with one of Rama's victims. The larger cityscape also gives Evans a broader canvas to paint red and each location is utilised well to keep the action fresh, be it a subway train or a swanky nightclub.

The brutality of the images are enhanced greatly by the film's soundscape; hits are felt with shuddering thuds, weapons carry their own unique soundtrack (Baseball Bat Man is more often heard before he is seen) and bodies hit walls with wince-inducing decibel levels. The music, scored by Fajar Yuskemal, Aria Prayogi and Joseph Trapanese, underscores the building tension well without threatening to overwhelm the action. However, Evans' real skill is knowing when to pull all of this back. Often, the film's quieter moments are its most powerful; it's the sense you get at the back of your neck when the music stops or a character composes themselves and the film develop its own rhythm of ebbs and flows to which you quickly become accustomed. 

There's a keen understanding here of the importance of the calm before the storm and the quiet that descends after it, even if it is just to allow the audience to breathe for a second (trust me, you'll need it). It's also in these quieter moments that the performances shine. Uwais is given more emotional work for Rama here and rises to the challenge admirably, retaining the quiet charisma and giving you an admirable hero to root for. Putra's Uco is an electric presence, all pent-up rage and swagger, whilst Yayan Ruhian gives a tragic performance as Prakoso and gets a fantastic fight sequence all to himself.

In a movie industry saturated with sequels and franchises, it is not only refreshing to see a sequel that more than lives up to the hype of the first film, but one that is brave enough to take risks, to expand and to explore a new story. The Raid 2 is something really quite exhilarating.

*****
- Becky

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Thursday, 10 April 2014

FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Go Fish

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Not a huge amount relevant to this episode. Angel's still evil, I guess.


Heading for the State Championships, the Sunnydale High swim team are taking advantage of their prestige, but soon one of their number is found eviscerated on the beach and one in the cafeteria. Xander spots a fish monster leaving the scene of the crime and decides to go undercover to investigate whilst Buffy protects the next swimmer on the list. Go Fish is probably one of Buffy's more science-fictiony episodes and it does attempt to provide a commentary on the lengths American schools will go to to enable their teams to win as well as the personal lengths athletes will go to. It's also still as bad as I remembered.

Flirting with B-movie territory, thanks in part to the obvious man in a fish monster suit, Go Fish is an episode about various kinds of body horror. First up, the swim team themselves obviously turn into giant gill monster fish things, leaving their human skin behind. Writer Marti Noxon has often spoken about the central metaphor of steroid usage and it's largely the most effective aspect of the episode, if not the most subtle. The swim team become overly aggressive and arrogant, almost territorial, as their success grows. However, it soon becomes clear it is as a result of bodily corruption so bad that Angel spits out Gage's blood and lets him go. We know it must be serious when Evil Angel doesn't want to kill someone.

The horror, then, is about the corruption from within, demonstrated brilliantly in the scene in which Gage transforms into a fish monster right before Buffy in the boy's locker room. It's a superb job of the make-up department and I can't help but wince every time Gage starts ripping open his own chest to see scales underneath. Even the aforementioned obvious man in a suit look is handled well, all scaly and oozy, despite the resemblance to the fish monster things from Stingray. The idea of your body out of your control is a common horror trope, particularly analogous to cancer or other bodily degenerative diseases. Here, the swim team's bodies are in the control of their coach, continuing a Soviet experiment that clearly didn't work out too well.

However, this isn't the only type of body horror explored in this episode and it's arguably the less subtle of the two. When taken out on a date with Cameron, swim team star and all round monologuing douchebag, Buffy finds herself having to fend off unwanted sexual advances; he locks her in the car and tries to force himself on her. Thankfully, Buffy manages to sprain his wrist and break his nose and escapes the situation. Though clearly not at fault, Cameron, the coach and Snyder all blame Buffy because of the way she dresses. Later, Buffy is thrown to the fish men because 'boys have other needs'. Basically, Buffy is about to be gang-raped by fish monsters. In both situations, her bodily autonomy is taken away from her and they are the most psychologically disturbing moments in the episode. Linking back to the episode's theme of the lengths American schools will go to to protect their own teams, I'm reminded of the recent Steubenville rape case and the way in which the footballers were treated not only by the town, but by the press. Go Fish aired 16 years ago and this aspect of it is still relevant. That's not only scary, it's depressing. 

It's not all depressing body stuff though. In fact, one of the most hilarious moments of the episode comes with the big reveal of Xander in Speedos. Depending on your feelings towards Xander, this may be one of his character highlights. It's a scene that showcases the sparkling dialogue that Noxon is brilliant at as well as the chemistry between the four high school leads. At Xander's proclamation that he's undercover, Buffy snorts and declares 'not under much'. Meanwhile, Cordelia and Willow can barely contain their glee. It's little moments like this, and the constant fish-related puns, that stop this episode from being entirely unsubtle metaphor and helps us to keep in mind that the show can be so much better.

If it does have all this stuff going on, then why do I think it is a bad episode? The trouble with Go Fish is it just feels completely out of sync with this stage in the season. This is the episode before the big two-part finale and it's a retrograde step, especially considering how well I Only Have Eyes For You set up the dynamics of the Buffy/Angel relationship. It says absolutely nothing about the central characters and does little to build anticipation going forward. Since Surprise, we've had such an excellent run of episodes, both arc-related and Monster-of-the-Week so I always find it disappointing when I get to Go Fish because it feels like it should be in the first half of the season and not the back run of episodes. In fact, as my 'Previously...' stated, there's nothing really in this episode to tie it into anything else. Substitute Angel for a random vamp and it could even be a first season episode.

Next week, thankfully, the show will return massively to form and I'll have more stuff to write about. I am never not an emotional wreck at the end of the Becoming two-parter. Why does Season 2 make me cry so much?!

Quote of the Week:

Buffy: I think we should lock up the rest of the swim team before they get in touch with their inner halibut.

Let's Get Trivial: This is the last episode in which the opening 'Into every generation...' speech is used.

Sunnydale Who's Who: Gage is played by Wentworth Miller, he of Prison Break fame and recent scribe of the magnificent Stoker. Also look out for a small part from Shane West, who he didn't really do much after the double whammy of a Nicholas Sparks movie and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, as another member of the swim team in one of Xander's steam room scenes.

- Becky

You can read Becky's look at I Only Have Eyes for You here.

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