This Great Evil

Month: March, 2012

Lessons learned from The Raid: Redemption

The Raid: Redemption is a fine action/martial arts/gorefest movie. It doesn’t quite reach any pantheons of the genre, because of a god awful script and some really god awful cinematography. The latter, however, was probably intentional. Here are a few takeaways from that watching that movie.

1. Dubstep

Yes, dubstep. While The Raid: Redemption was heavily influenced by the action cinema of the 70s and Asian martial art flicks, the film’s biggest contribution to action is dubstep. Jesus Christ there’s a lot of bwwwwwwwwwwwwwabwwwabwwabwbewbwbwbwbwbwbv. To be fair, dubstep isn’t necessarily a bad thing in action films. Action movies rely a lot on heavy bass on the soundtrack, and dubstep is all about bass. It’s just…a little god damned wiggedy whack and jarring to hear this much dubstep when Indonesian men are gruesomely fucking up other Indonesian men, and god damned jarring when the soundtrack switches from dubstep to a light piano melody.

2. If you’re going to have a terrible script, shoot it in a foreign language

The Raid: Redemption’s script is god awful. While there are a lot of rave reviews for the film itself, I’ve yet to see anyone go so far as to praise the script. It’s generic, cliched, underdeveloped, messy and just not very good. However, all of this (and the bad dialogue) is a lot more palatable because the film’s in Indonesian. Reading subtitles adds a layer of distance between you and the terrible dialogue, and Indonesian’s very lyrical slurring add some class to the shitty writing. Listen to the way the bad guy says, “Please enjoy yourself,” in the trailer. Terrible line of dialogue soothed by neat pronunciation.

3. Never trust IMDB and the internet about a movie

Prior to watching the movie, I had heard an awful lot of raucous on the internet about how The Raid: Redemption was one of the greatest action movies ever made. I didn’t really take any of these exultations to heart, but the rave reviews from fanboys and IMDB users did convince me to watch the movie. While I think The Raid: Redemption was pretty good, it was nowhere near as good as some of the folks on the web have been making this film out to be. The fact that this movie has an 8.4 on IMDB is just…beyond me.

I’m generalizing here – there are obviously very insightful and tasteful critics on the internet – but the vast majority of these kind of reviews are short-sighted and hyperbolic, especially when you lump them together in an aggregate. Remember when The Dark Knight and Inception cracked IMDB’s Top 10 movies of all time? Remember when Avatar did? Yeah. Jeez.

4. The arthouse theater is a terrible place to watch an action movie

So, I might have liked the aforementioned dubstep soundtrack a little more if the speakers in my auditorium weren’t crap. And I might have liked The Raid: Redemption a whole lot more if the theater wasn’t tiny as hell and I had a seat that didn’t force me to crank my neck at a 70 degree angle.

Look, most modern indie movies – the vast majority of the films shown in arthouse theaters – rely on a clever script rather than great visual storytelling. Lighting a scene well, using good filmstock and/or high-end digital cameras, commissioning a great score…that’s really fucking expensive. Writing great characters, coming up with smooth, witty one-liners? It just takes time. So, for a good portion of the films being shown at your local arthouse theater, a crappy projector, crappy screen and crappy sound system don’t kill the movie.

For an action movie? Yeah, that shit definitely – bwwwwwwwwwwwabwwwwwabwwwabwbwbwbwwb – kills the movie.

Miming the visual language of reality TV

The hunger games, as you may or may not know, is a series of stomach punching exercises that dieters frequently do to take their minds off of eating food. The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is a smash-hit satire cum teenage romance story book turned into a recently opened smash-hit satire cum teenage romance movie.

The titular games is a nightmarish sci-fi interpretation of modern reality TV in which 24 tributes from various districts in the future United States (Panem) compete to see who can kill each other the fastest. Perhaps unsurprisingly, director Gary Ross chooses to approximate the visual cues and beats associated with modern reality TV in filming his adaptation.

You know the drill: people running the show say something dramatic, cut to cameraman shakily panning to close ups of the main protagonists, rinse and repeat. All other shots are a blend of static, obviously staged long shots, and semi-frantic handheld shots in which the camera operators desperately try to the follow unscripted action.

Aesthetically and pragmatically, this visual rhythm makes sense. We get the look that we subconsciously associate with reality TV while the scenes take less time to shoot (the director can give more general instructions to his camera crew instead of meticulously framing and blocking each shot). To a point, this method works in the movie.

Some shots, however, are just terribly composed. Consider the following two shots from the film:

 

 

 

 

In the first shot, Katniss occupies the right side of the frame. This shot is then match cut to a shot of Prim’s hand occupying the right side of the frame with the pin. The characters swap sides of the frame, making the transition between the two shots jarring and ever so slightly confusing. There are numerous other instances scattered throughout the first act where bad camerawork either obscures or confuses action to detrimental effect.

It’s admirable that Ross decided to imbue his movie with a peculiar yet narratively logical aesthetic. However, he makes two massive flaws in his approach.  Many of the shots in the film are just poorly framed, considered and edited. Whether that’s because of less precise direction or just because the production team was screwed for time is something we might find out when the DVD comes out.

The other big, big problem with his approach is that his camera is incredibly frenetic during the first act scenes in District 12, i.e. the parts outside of the games, but winds up calming down during the actual fucking games part of The Hunger Games. This sort of approach is just…weird. Why the fuck are you starting to use a tripod when Katniss starts running through the god damned forest, man? Why would you intentionally make the opening that’s supposed to draw in new viewers and explain the world of Panem incredibly hard to follow and shakey up the fucking ass?

What the fucking fuck, mate?

Maybe I’m giving Ross too much credit. Maybe, instead of all this reality TV bullshit, Ross just watched too much Winter’s Bone and wanted to emulate that film’s camerawork in the sections of the film set in District 12. Whatever, bro. Enjoy the Everest-sized mountain of cash your film just earned.

To do over spring break

What I hope to do:
  • Update this site
  • Finish reading Deng Xiaoping biography
  • Finish Maximum Campus
  • Finish playing through a review copy of Katy Perry’s Sims 3 expansion pack
  • Feel empowered by writing a blisteringly negative review of said pack
What I will actually get done:
  • Feel like shit
  • Go to sleep
  • Wake up a week later

Stretched out posts

Writing crap on Word Press is a lot like a habit. You gotta do it all the damn time or it doesn’t stick. The last several attempts I’ve made at keeping something like this up and running haven’t stuck. The problem with those is that I imposed a rigid structure and gimmick. Writing felt too much like an obligation, not a hobby. I get enough of writing to meet specifications in my other, real job.

This blog, however, has no gimmicky restrictions. I’m free to write whatever I damn well choose to. The problem comes in the dry season. January/February? I’m still catching up on some of last year’s smaller films. I have stuff to write about. March? Dry season. Dumping ground for the blockbusters studios don’t have much confidence in (see Watchmen, John Carter) and indie comedies (Jeff Who Lives At Home, Friends with Kids). I don’t really care about either kind of movies.

John Carter was pretty good, but it’s nothing real interesting to talk about. It’s a straightforward film, with no real complexities or wrinkles.

Friends with Kids? Maybe in 10 years. If I get a sex change operation.

I’m interested in watching The Hunger Games, but that isn’t out till next week. No press screenings in sight, at least not for me. I don’t think it’ll be a good movie, but, hey, there’s always room for surprise. Low expectations are meant to be beaten, right?

When dry season comes along, you struggle to find stuff to talk about. I’ve kind of wanted to write something about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – massively underrated, but only because it’s regarded with as much revile as the late Kim Jong-il. But, again, not really interesting. Especially after the Oscars and after Max von Sydow had any chance at stealing Christopher Plummer’s trophy.

You know what I will talk about? Modern Warfare 3. Damn underrated game, among hip, alternative crowds (90+ on IGN was always a given). Sure, the game boils down to, basically, pure mechanics, but few games on the hardcore consoles aim for the cheap party crowd anymore. Rock Band and Guitar Hero require a large investment in plastic peripherals and space – stuff of which I don’t really have the luxury. So, what’s left? Some shitty racing games, and the Call of Duty games. Say what you will about Infinity Ward, but they’ve always kept split screen (much like Bungie). Mad props for pairing this iteration of Modern Warfare with the best co-op shooting game on a console.

Chinese Restaurant Haikus: Bob’s Noodles 66

Back from the dead, much like your average orange chicken dish from Panda-Mandarin-Hunan-Szechuan-Place Express. 

Lunch on the real cheap

Fresh, tasty, good, authentic stuff

You get what you paid

305 N Washington St
Rockville, MD 20850