Tag Archives: The Raid 2

John Wick

A breath of fresh air in the American action movie landscape, John Wick delivers on everything it sets out to do.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

john wick 1The dog should not have any actual weight prescribed to it.  It should just be a MacGuffin, a paper-thin excuse for yet another violent revenge flick, a self-parodying barrel-scraper that induces unintended/perfectly intentional laughter whenever it’s brought up for whatever reason.  That’s how this should go.  That’s how this is apparently supposed to go, if you purely subscribe to the American action movie way of doing things.  The catalyst for the violence has long since stopped mattering to the majority of mid-level non-blockbuster action movies.  Nobody really cares what motivates the (nearly always) grizzled white man to whip out their pistol and start painting the sets red, right, so why invest any meaning into it anymore?  Just pick the most obvious tropes – usually involving the fridging or kidnapping of women – and away we go.

“F*ck that,” says John Wick, which gets into its head this crazy little concept that if you actually invest something into the world and characters and set-up for that violence, then the violence might carry legitimate weight beyond a reflexive appreciation for cool bloodshed.  So the dog is still a MacGuffin – whatever is the instigator for the revenge in these films always is – but it’s one that carries legitimate emotional attachment for John Wick (Keanu Reeves) himself.  It’s more than just a parting gift from his recently-deceased wife to him, it’s the last tangible evidence that he can and does deserve the better life he escaped his mob days for.  That he can be actually be a good person and that the universe won’t rip his wife from him totally as recompense for his sins.  That he won’t be alone.

That’s why Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) ordering its killing for no other reason than its being loud is such a blow to John.  It’s his worst fears coming true, his hope being extinguished, a grizzly reminder that he cannot escape and does not deserve to escape, that he will be forever alone.  And the film takes great pains to communicate this to the viewer.  A relatively decent stretch of the opening of the movie is dedicated to demonstrating John’s solemn grieving and how the dog, and what it represents, is the thing that finally causes him to break that stoicism and grieve like a human instead of a force of nature.  It doesn’t matter that he has Daisy for barely a day before she’s taken from him, it still f*cking hurts, as his rather terrifying mid-film monologue to Viggo Tasarov (Michael Nyqvist) demonstrates.

Plus, that dog is so f*cking cute it’s unreal.

That kind of attention to detail is why John Wick is so bloody good and such a wonderful breath of fresh air in the non-blockbuster American action movie landscape.  This is not a film that simply slaps together the barest vestiges of plot, character and theme, attaches them either side of a rote series of action beats, stretches the thing out to an uncomfortably long time, and then calls it a day.  This is a film that has real genuine effort put into everything, a film made by people who wanted to tell a genuine story, with a series of themes and characters they genuinely wanted to see through, and action that helps tell that story instead of simply marking time.

Specifically, the world of John Wick is a wonderful concoction.  A seedy yet high-class and professional world of connected and business-like mob members, gangsters, and code-honouring hitmen and hitwomen.  Everyone knows each other, all put up the veneer of being (or genuinely are) respectful to one another, and most hang out in a specially decked-out and designated neutral ground hotel in upscale New York called The Continental with its own bar, concierge (Lance Reddick), and a highly-trained medic on standby.  Services are paid for in special gold coins, certain cops are acutely aware of what goes on and know exactly what the smart response is, and there are swift and severe punishments for breaking any rules or codes of ethics.

It’s extremely well drawn and sketched out, but it doesn’t overwhelm the film, it never overtakes the film barring a scene or two of loose end wrap-ups.  This is all instead world-building that correctly sits on the sidelines in favour of Wick’s personal journey of revenge and Viggo’s seemingly mandatory attempts to prevent said revenge.  The film does not stop for extended periods of time to explain the history of The Continental, how the cleaners work, and how everybody knows each other.  These things exist and how they exist is told through actions instead of straight exposition.  Most similar action films wouldn’t even attempt this level of world-building, let alone trying to integrate it this smoothly, and the fact that John Wick does so demonstrates just how much genuine effort and love went into this thing.

Following on from that, this movie looks amazing!  The way that it plays with colours and the warmth of such to tell its story as well as add stylish flourishes during the rare instances in which a shower of red gore decorates a part of the scenery is subtly clever stuff, but it’s the action scenes that really stick out above all else.  Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch – the latter of which is not credited because weird DGA rules – shoot their action scenes much like how Soderbergh shot Haywire’s action scenes: clean and clear where every shot has been carefully arranged to frame the action, and shaky-cam is very sparsely-deployed and never in such a way that the action on screen is obscured or hard to follow.  It’s so controlled and thought-out in a way that most action films really aren’t nowadays; I’m reminded a lot of The Raid 2, in that respect.

But with that said, John Wick is still a load of fun.  It takes itself seriously when it needs to, but knows when to kick back and just have some good old fashioned fun.  Much of the world is played for wonderful deadpan humour, and the action scenes themselves are a tonne of fun thanks to clever staging and that stylish verve which cribs a lot from classic John Woo gun-fu films.  There’s a kind of grace and balletic nature to proceedings, as John tears his way through waves of goons with a precision and rhythm that has the feel of an extended and tight dance number, a feeling helped by the way that Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richards’ score synchronises extremely well with the action.  Any time the pacing is thrown off, like with a poorly-timed reload or if John ever takes a hit or if a knife is brought into play, it feels jarring yet far more alive than yet another scrappy brawl with a jittery camera would be.

Praise must also go to Keanu Reeves as Wick himself.  On paper, the film wouldn’t seem to ask him to do much except glower angrily at things and be a walking badass, but Reeves also makes sure to keep John’s grief bubbling just under the surface, informing nearly everything the character does and letting it explode in a mid-film monologue that is some of his best work in forever and is quite possibly the most terrifying I’ve ever found him.  He’s obviously given help by Derek Kolstad’s great script, but Reeves still works his ass off to imbue John Wick with a depth that most other actors in this role likely wouldn’t have bothered trying.  He’s backed up on all sides by a uniformly excellent supporting cast – Michael Nyqvist is brilliant as the father who only seems to want to protect his son out of obligation, Alfie Allen is delightfully turd-like, Adrianne Palicki has a lot of fun as an overly-cocky femme fatale, among others – but he is the centre and he nails it completely.

When I first heard about John Wick a good 8 or so months ago, it was from that trailer and I was sold completely because it sounded like a dumb silly action film, and I like me a good dumb silly action film.  But John Wick turns out to be way smarter than that.  What plays as ridiculous in a trailer is revealed to be understandable in context, the work of a film that invests enough emotion and depth and attention to detail in its world to make the revenge rampage matter.  This is a film that remembers that violence is more affecting and more gripping when affixed to actually interesting characters and worlds than when it’s just thrown up on screen with a minimal amount of context.  That’s already enough to recommend John Wick, but the fact that the construction of those action scenes also has that same love and care and detail paid to it?  Well, that causes this to be one of the best pure action films I’ve seen so far this decade.

I love this movie, do not miss out on it.

Callum Petch is a twenty-something trying to be sure.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!

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Callum Petch’s Top 10 of 2014: #5 – #1

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Welcome back to the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2014.  If you missed Part 1, where we counted down entries #10 to #6, then you can go here to get caught up.  Otherwise, we are going to get straight back down to business.  So, without any further ado, GO GIRLS GO!

There may be spoilers.  Proceed with caution.


under the skin05] Under The Skin

Dir: Jonathan Glazer

Star: Scarlett Johannson

Under The Skin is not on the list because I enjoyed it.  The rest of the films on this list are here because I enjoyed them; the commonly accepted barometer by which people typically measure the quality of a film.  Under The Skin is not here for that, for I did not enjoy Under The Skin.  I experienced Under The Skin, I endured Under The Skin, but I did not enjoy Under The Skin.  Instead, Under The Skin is here, and is this high on the list, for two specific reasons.

The first – and honestly the more minor of the two, which is crazy to believe – is Scarlett Johannson’s performance as the lead character, which is the single best performance by anybody in any film released in 2014.  Her performance of the main character is sensational, having to simultaneously keep them an enigma and yet clearly be able to give the audience some semblance of a clue as what is going on in their mind-set, and she is more than up to the task.  Shedding all of her effortless movie star charisma, she positions herself in this very alien register, taking detached to new heights and playing each new revelation about her character – the discovery of a conscience, strange new emotions, exploring the form that it has taken, the reaction to its humanity – as major game-changers without bursting into a flood of emotion.  She is on a whole other level compared to everyone else this year, and I spent so much of the film’s runtime in awe of her.

You know, when I wasn’t being made incredibly uncomfortable.  That’s the second reason why Under The Skin is on this list, it got to me.  It really got to me.  If I were a hack writer and wanted to undermine the seriousness of that last statement, I’d make pun involving the film’s title right now.  But, although I am, I don’t want to.  Under The Skin really got to me.  See, I am very sexually repressed, possibly bordering on asexual.  I always have been.  Nudity makes me uncomfortable, the concept of sex grosses me out, and having to witness sex or nudity causes me to want to reach for the exit as fast as possible.  One of the main aspects of Under The Skin is all about sex, sexuality, and the body, but the film never shoots any of these aspects in an erotic way.  It instead presents them coldly, clinically, alien, and explores how we are affected by each of those things.

Many of the film’s most disturbing sequences for me come from the depiction of nudity.  The full-frontal shots of the men that return to the protagonists’ dark void of a room, the scene where the biker examines the protagonist, the sequence where they look at themselves naked in the mirror and inspect their body… all scenes that made me thoroughly uncomfortable because they contextualise themselves in the way that I often see the naked flesh, as something alien and strange.  It’s not just that we are presented with these images, it’s the way that we are presented with these images as something unusual and slightly imposing.  It taps very much into my psyche and pushes many of my buttons, confronting me with my fears in a presentation that visualises how I possibly see them deep down.

Not to mention how the film very much plays out its narrative as the visualisation of gender performance and gender awakening.  The protagonist slowly identifying as female, putting on the airs required to be seen as acceptable in modern society, and being viciously punished the second it fails to keep up that act.  If the film weren’t so deliberately abstract, Under The Skin could very much be read as a blisteringly angry clarion call against the way that our patriarchal society treats and views women.  That hateful attitude – not to its protagonist, instead from how our world is presented through alien eyes, how our sh*tty attitudes towards women and our complicated relationships with nudity and sex can look to an outsider – seeps through the entire film and serves to further prey on my underlying fears and deep-seated issues.

No film this year has stuck with me and affected me in the same way that Under The Skin has.  It’s not exactly a film I am clamouring to see again – I had to pause the thing three times whilst watching it because I just needed to stop and calm down – but it more than earns its place on this list.


04] The Raid 2the raid 2

Dir: Gareth Evans

Star: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Alex Abbad

It’s all about pacing.  The Raid didn’t understand proper pacing; that was a film that started at 11 and tried to stay at 11 for all 90 of its minutes.  That gets tiring and it means that your finale doesn’t hit anywhere near as hard as it should do, and in fact bores a bit.  The Raid 2 gets pacing.  It gets pacing very much so.  It starts at about 2 or 3 and then slowly builds to its 11 finale, so the 150 minutes that the film runs for pretty much fly by and its excellent finale works gangbusters and never ever bores or drags.

The Raid 2 also has a plot, something that The Raid sort of hinted at having but ultimately cut most of because it got in the way of the fighting.  It’s not a particularly original story – undercover cop infiltrates a criminal organisation to bring it down from the inside, son of criminal organisation wants to prove himself to his father but his impatience leads to temptation, and then everything goes to hell – but it is fascinatingly told with strong characters and excellent performances.  There’s a real stylish cleanness to proceedings, where every single frame is immaculately constructed and every shot tells you a story of some kind – a care and love that’s frequently missing from other action films nowadays in their desire to “immerse” the viewer by simulating being stuck on a rollercoaster mid-barrel-roll-crash.

Then there are the action scenes.  Oh, man, the action scenes!  Again, the film benefits from understanding pacing.  They’re doled out when they fit the narrative, there are no extended fight sequences just for the sake of 15 or so minutes having passed without a few dozen dudes being murdered, and they escalate.  The film’s opening fight involves a good 20 or so guys against 1 but lasts barely 90 seconds, the introduction of important lieutenants get fight scenes to establish their gimmick and dangerousness but they never drag, the final string of action sequences have ebbs and flows, peaks and troughs, and enough breaks between them to keep the plot going and not make the last 30 minutes feel like an endurance test.  Plus, each sequence has enough variety and innovation to keep them from blending into one another.

And that final fight!  Oh, man, that final fight!  It is paced perfectly, the choreography is outstanding, the camerawork is beautiful, the story it tells is captivating and doesn’t require a single line of dialogue, and there is just this electric feeling to it that stands it above all other action scenes I’ve seen this year and maybe even this decade.  It is a perfect six-and-a-half minute encapsulation of everything The Raid 2 does right and every single time I see it I am left short of breath with my palpable adrenaline running through me and a burning desire to fist-pump the air repeatedly.

Prior to seeing The Raid 2, I was excited but also very cautious and sceptical.  After all, I was excited for The Raid and I have never been able to truly love that film.  But The Raid 2 blew me away totally, surpassing my every expectation, fixing every problem with the first film, and being my favourite film of 2014 for the longest time.  Gareth Evans is planning a third entry for some point in the future and I will be satisfied however it turns out.  If it happens, I cannot wait to see how he tries to top what is almost the perfect action film.  If it doesn’t, then I will still be satisfied thanks to this film kicking so much arse and that ending shot and line being almost the most perfect in all of 2014.  This is what sequel-making should be like.


the double03] The Double

Dir: Richard Ayoade

Star: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn

When I saw The Double in the cinema, the thing that stuck out the most to me was the sound design.  Everything about the way that The Double sounded just appealed to me.  The way that the film balanced its score – its bloody, bloody, bloody brilliant score by Andrew Hewitt – with the various diegetic sounds of the film’s world that it handles in such a way as to draw direct focus to them in an almost drone-like repetitiveness.  It does an outstanding job of getting the viewer inside the head of Simon James, conceptualising what it is like to be a spineless creep drifting through life making no impression, and I have done an appalling job at explaining and describing it.  Watching the film is the easiest way to understand why it works for me, so props to the entire sound team for their work here.

In fact, watching The Double is one of the best ways to understand why it works so well.  There have been many, many times this year where I think back on the film and question whether it is truly a comedy – the register it operates on being that black and the tone being that deadpan – only to re-watch it or certain clips from it and find myself laughing raucously along for pretty much every single one of its 93 minutes.  The world that the film exists in is such a bleak and miserable place that there are sections of the police force set-up solely for the purpose of dealing with jumpers in a certain area, yet the officers’ matter-of-factness about their job and the open contempt they have for those they have to deal with somehow manages to make their existence darkly laughable.  James is such a pathetic wet doormat when it comes to the world that it loops around from being sad to outright hilarious.  And the world’s singularly gloomy and laser-focussed hatred of Simon skips straight past irritating and is instead a constant source of laughs.

The world of The Double, whilst we’re on the subject, is one of the most singularly focussed, believable and immersive worlds that I have seen a film construct in a long time.  Even though it’s clearly not our world and many holes, specifically as to how this dystopia is like outside of the focus we get on Simon, are left unexplained, it still feels immersive.  I sit down and I just get transported to this world and at no point do I question it or get dragged out of it.  The sets do such a great job at filling in the details, the low-key lighting and claustrophobic camerawork paint the oppressive nature superbly, and little details like the glimpses of the in-universe TV series The Replicator, a look at their coins, and the usages of South Korean and Japanese artists on the soundtrack give an indication of life in this world outside of Simon James.

But The Double is about Simon James, and his physical doppelgänger, James Simon.  Simon is such a spineless timid useless tool that he is incapable of spitting pretty much anything out.  He walks around in life like he doesn’t exist and uses that to his advantage with his quietly obsessive stalking of his co-worker Hannah.  It is quite clear that he wants to just say the words to her, but he glides through life so passively, and has for so long, that he is incapable of doing so.  Crucially, the film recognises that James’ stalking of Hannah isn’t romantic and never endorses it – right up to the end, too; the last scene’s dreamlike ambiguity providing yet another fantastic ending for a 2014 film, a recurring thing with most every one of the entries on this list – but forces the viewer to have to get inside Simon’s head regardless and see why this has come to be.  It’s a difficult balancing act, and the film pulls it off just about with surprising deftness.

James, meanwhile, is a detestable little shit.  A weasely, conniving, smug prick whose slow absorption of Simon’s life is teeth-gratingly tough to watch.  He is that rare character whom I hate for the reasons the film wants for me to hate him.  As somebody who loves well-written and entertaining characters – and I mean properly loves, where I won’t sit there and demand their head on a pike because I juts enjoy their presence too much – it takes a lot to make me hate a character for the reasons that I am supposed to, but The Double pulls it off flawlessly thanks to an excellent script, by Ayoade and Avi Korine, and Jesse Eisenberg putting in the best male performance I have seen in a film all year.  He’s always been good, and I have always liked him, but he is on show-stopping form as Simon and James, twisting performances that he’s given in Adventureland and The Social Network into something new and fresh and majorly compelling.  The film hangs on his performances and he is more than up to the task.

Plenty of critics were tripping over themselves at the time of The Double’s release to throw plaudits in its direction, only for everyone to cool off and mostly forget it the further the year went on.  I honestly don’t know why because it is the best British film that I have seen all year and one of the absolute very best films of 2014.  Ayoade has had a fantastic directorial career so far, and I cannot wait to see how he tries to top this.


02] Life Itselflife itself

Dir: Steve James

Surprised?  So am I.  For the last month or so, I was quite certain that Life Itself was going to be my Film of 2014, such was the power, emotion and energy it stirred in me as I watched it.  It touched me in a way that no other movie released in 2014, or even that I had seen in 2014, had been able to do.  It sent me into floods of tears and re-invigorated my passion for movies.  Yet, when it came time to set in stone my official list for 2014, I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t put it at the top.  As it turns out, there is one other film that has stuck with me more and affected me more and that I just plain loved more than Life Itself.

That, however, is not to discredit Life ItselfLife Itself is a genuinely uplifting, interesting, and frequently heart-breaking mediation on movies, friendships, rivalries, the progress of society in the last 50 years, the power of criticism, death, and life.  It’s a documentary that uses its supposedly restrictive set-up – a biopic about film critic Roger Ebert – to explore so many themes and ideas, without ever losing sight of its original subject, that even people who have no interest in Roger Ebert can watch the film and get something out of it.  It is a vital documentary and the truest possible definition of a “feel-good movie”.

I will not, however, be writing any more about it.  Not because there’s not enough happening in the film to be able to do so, lord no, but because I can’t.  Fact is, I said everything I can say about Life Itself in my review from back in November.  In it, I laid bare my feelings on Ebert, the ways in which the film touched me, and why it got me so and that took so much painstaking effort to do that I can’t go through it again.  I can’t try and improve or re-state my thoughts on Life Itself because I said damn near everything I had to or could say about it back there, and I don’t want to have to repeat that or condense it to fit in the five allotted paragraphs that each entry in this list gets.  So, if you want further explanations and reasoning as to why Life Itself is this high up on my list, go and (re-)read my review.  But know that Life Itself deserves to be this high on my personal Top 10.

The only reason why it is not number one, is because of the following film…


gone girl01] Gone Girl

Dir: David Fincher

Star: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon

NO, SERIOUSLY, MEGA SPOILERS, DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN GONE GIRL.

I sympathise with and root for Amy Elliott-Dunne.

The more that Gone Girl has been rattling around in my brain, the more that that realisation has stuck out in my brain.  Amy Elliott-Dunne is a psychopath, somebody who uses and discards people as she sees fit, somebody who goes the extra morality-crossing mile to get what she wants, a woman who refuses to compromise, and who is willing to commit a man to death and outright murder another in order to get out on top.  She forcibly inseminates herself with a kid she doesn’t really want to keep a loose end under her thumb, she fakes being a rape victim, she is a walking embodiment of everything that MRAs fear women to be.

And I sympathise and root for her.

Not completely, of course, there are lines that I won’t follow her across, but enough that I get why she does the things she does and quietly hope that she successfully pulls one over on everybody.  Gone Girl is very much presented as a “He Said/She Said” narrative and I am very much more inclined to believe the “She Said” side, even after the reveal that the diary was faked and everything that Amy has ever revealed about her relationship with Nick is thrown into question.  Nick, as presented in both Amy’s version of events and his own segments of the film, is a whiny, selfish, complacent ass who never fully appreciates what he has after he gets it, forces his life on others, bleeds his supportive wife dry, and doesn’t even have the spine to end things with her before moving on to somebody else.  He does have redeeming qualities, and he is forced into situations and events where it is hard to not feel sorry for him, but when Amy states out loud, point blank, that Nick Dunne “took and took from me until I no longer existed.  That’s murder,” I honestly find it hard to disagree with her.

Does this mean that Nick deserves the death sentence that Amy hands down to him?  Honestly, the fact that I don’t immediately go “no” scares me a little bit.

The cold-blooded murder of Desi is seemingly more black and white: she murders him in order to return to Nick and complete the fabricated cover story that paints her as a victim who managed to escape from a crazed ex-boyfriend.  She lies, and therefore she is not to be trusted – incidentally, brief side bar, I absolutely agree with those who interpret Gone Girl to be misogynistic as pretty much every female character in the film is a walking embodiment of a negative male viewpoint of a woman, but I find the dualities between that misogyny and its frequently blistering feminist heart (both embodied by Amy Elliott-Dunne) to be so loaded and so complex that the film cannot be dismissed so easily without a hugely detailed and in-depth analysis from people far more qualified than myself (although I could also be talking out of my arse and apologising for loving something so problematic, that’s the beauty of critical analysis).

gone girl

Yet, Amy is very much trapped with Desi.  She’s stuck in a figurative prison, partially of her own making and partially of Desi’s making.  She’s made commitments she doesn’t want to follow through on, Desi always carries this creepy possessive air around with him, and the slow realisation seeps in for Amy that Desi is the worst traits of Nick only with genuine devotion replacing quietly-resentful hatred.  She’s traded one loveless, inescapable relationship for another and, in both instances, she no longer exists.  Her only out is through force, to turn the tables and take their agency away from them.  Amy has spent much of her life being driven about by men.  In a way, she still is, but now she’s getting a say in the matter.

Does this mean that Desi deserves to get his throat slit?  I will answer “no” far quicker than I would the question earlier, but that itself raises further questions.  Is the fact that Nick isn’t being directly murdered by Amy making it easier for me to not immediately turn on her?  Am I projecting with Desi?  After all, he doesn’t openly act possessive and the film purposefully spends little time with him to properly deepen his character.  Am I just assuming and judging someone without truly knowing them?  Is this all being fuelled by a misunderstanding and misappropriation of feminism on my part?

These are the sorts of thoughts and moral quandaries and conundrums that have been rolling around in my head for the last 3 months, more so the further we got to the end of the year.  More so than even Under The Skin, Gone Girl is a film that has clung to my brain since I first saw it in the cinemas and it has not let go since.  What began as a love for a smart, stylish, complex, and slightly trashy thriller with a phenomenal performance by Rosamund Pike – in other words, a film I loved as a film – has evolved into a constant moral discussion and self-examination that refuses to let me get up and walk away.  Gone Girl commands my thoughts, Gone Girl asks tough questions of myself, Gone Girl is seared into my brain like no other film that I can recall.

And that is why Gone Girl is my Film of 2014.  Not only is it the best made film of the entire year – absolutely nothing else is operating on the same continent as the ball park that Gone Girl resides in – it is the most thought-provoking and personally challenging film I have bared witness to in a long, long time.  I cannot wait to watch it again.


And there you have it.  My Top 10 Films of 2014.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments below and tell me your favourite films of 2014!  Tomorrow, I will return with the first half of My Bottom 10 Films of 2014.  Prepare the pitchforks and torches.

Callum Petch just wants to be a woman.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

And like that *poof* he’s gone!

jmsJust over two-and-a-half years ago I started yet another blog that, like the previous ones, would inevitably hold my interest for a month or so until I got distracted by some new shiny things. I started it with the lofty ambition of watching all of the IMDB Top 250 films, and generally trying to fill the gaps in my cinematic tastes and knowledge.

On one hand it was a categorical failure, as I’m still well over 70 films away from completing the set. However, if the underlying aim was to get me watching and writing more about film, and to put me in touch with an online community of some of the loveliest film fans in existence, then colour me a winner (as well as a sentimental old fool). Besides, any top 250 film list that doesn’t contain a single Powell/Pressburger picture isn’t worth the pixels it’s displaying on.

And that’s why I’m really quite sad about moving on. While Failed Critics has been online I’ve doubled the number of kids at home, moved house to accommodate said kids, and found myself in the rare and privileged position of developing a career that I not only enjoy, but am actually quite good at. Something eventually had to give, and although I’m going to miss this place I know I’m leaving it in the very capable hands of our podcast’s own Owen Hughes, Steve Norman, and Carole Petts; as well as a loose collection of brilliant writers – all of whom have been brilliant to read and elevated the site far beyond what I ever hoped to achieve on my own.

I’ve had some fantastic experiences while running the site, attending the Prometheus premiere (and becoming life-long mates with Jason Flemyng and Benny Wong); watching a weekend of David Bowie films at the ICA; and a couple of great years at the Glasgow Film Festival where I got to feel like a ‘proper’ critic for two weeks. I’d like to thank everyone I’ve ever spoken to about film on Twitter, and everyone who has ever read an article on the site or downloaded the podcast. Every single one of those page views or downloads has made this mid-thirties man inordinately happy.

I’ll still be watching films, talking about them on Twitter, and keeping my Letterboxd ratings up-to-date. And maybe in time I’ll even get around to popping back on the podcast, or helping run the annual awards. For now though, please continue to visit the site and support the brilliant work Owen has already been doing while I’ve been otherwise engaged. I can’t wait to see what he does with the place.

Until then, let me leave you with my ten (sort of) favourite films that I saw for the first time while running the site. I think they sum up the era pretty well.

The Raid/The Raid 2

One of the earliest films we reviewed for the podcast back in 2012, and the opening still fills me with nostalgic glee. I only need to see that blue Sony Pictures Classics title card to be transported back to the John Woo/Chow Yun Fat Hong Kong action films of the late 80s/early 90s, but The Raid follows up on this promise and was the most fun I had in a cinema that year. The sequel (out on DVD next week) is a completely different, but just as impressive beast. Not many films had such a unanimous affect on the podcast team.

The Lego Movie

Currently sat at the top of my 2014 ‘Best of’ list, and it’s going to take something pretty special to budge it. I can’t imagine that I would have made a beeline to see it on the preview weekend if I hadn’t been running a film site, let alone paying to see it again the following week. But Christopher Miller and Phil Lord’s anarchic, brave, and playful animation is so funny that I don’t care how much of an advert it is.

The Before films

In an early podcast, I remember Gerry McAuley almost blowing a gasket over how much he hated Before Sunrise, the Richard Linklater film starring a young and gloriously pretentious Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. At roughly the same time we had an argument over (500) Days of Summer, which he enjoyed and I felt was trite, overwhelmingly kooky, and horribly shallow. I then went and watched Before Sunrise, and very quickly followed it up with Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. Much like Mia Wallace suggests everyone is either a Beatles or a Stones fan in Pulp Fiction, I have a theory that you’re either a (500) Days of Summer or a Before… fan. Pick a side.

Barry Lyndon

In the weeks running up to our Stanley Kubrick podcast special I was l living and breathing Kubrick. Already my favourite director, I relished the chance to revisit some of my favourites (A Clockwork Orange, Dr Strangelove, 2001) as well as delve into a few that I had missed (Paths of Glory, The Killing, Lolita). It was this recommendation from Owen though that completely blew me away that week. Barry Lyndon’s episodic nature and purposely static action may not be to everyone’s taste, but I was utterly bewitched by this gorgeous and entertaining masterpiece.

My Neighbour Totoro/Grave of the Fireflies

Before I started Failed Critics I had never seen a Studio Ghibli film. Let that sink in. Then in our second podcast we had a Triple Bill of Films with Child Protagonists, and Gerry chose (I think) both My Neighbour Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, released as a double bill in 1988. During their recent theatrical rerelease I took my daughter to see My Neighbour Totoro as the first film that she really watched at the cinema (great hipster credentials for the future!), but chose to watch Grave of the Fireflies on my own. Which was lucky as I basically sobbed non-stop through most of it. Simply the finest anti-war film I’ve seen, and up there with Life is Beautiful in terms of raw emotional reactions I’ve had to films.

Christiane F

Another brutal punch-to-the-stomach of a film. I saw this as part of Bowiefest and, while the Thin White Duke makes an appearance in concert and his music forms the soundtrack, the star is Natja Brunckhorst, who plays the titular character. Based on the real life memoirs of a 14-year-old drug addict and sexually exploited child, it is an incredibly stark and realistic portrayal of 1980s Berlin. As hard-hitting as it gets.

Avengers Assemble

This was our first ever ‘Best Film of the Year’ winner, and is still the touchstone for the podcast team in terms of how to do a comic book film. If we have a catchphrase on the podcast, it’s probably “this is one of the best comic book/action films since Avengers”, and it’s easy to see why it gets so much love. A brilliantly warm and funny script from director Joss Whedon, pitch-perfect performances from all (particularly Robert Downey Jnr and Tom Hiddlestone), and the sense that Marvel are risking everything and succeeding on such an ambitious project. I’ll never tire of watching this film.

The Intouchables

This French comedy really shouldn’t work. ‘Immigrant and petty thief somehow ends up with a job looking after a millionaire paraplegic, and hilarity ensues’ sounds like an Adam Sandler movie pitch that Awesome-O would come up with in the seminal South Park episode. But this film above all others is the only one still undefeated in terms of my recommending it to people and their enjoying it. Is there anyone out there who doesn’t love it?

Rust and Bone

I’m a big fan of naturalistic French sex/relationship dramas, so when this film combined that genre with an incredible performance from Marion Cottilard and a brilliant soundtrack it seemed destined to be my favourite film of 2012. A story of violence, redemption, and killer whales dancing to Katy Perry’s Firework, and if that doesn’t make you want to watch it then I give up. Oh wait, I already am.

The Act of Killing

In my view not only the best film of last year, but simply one of the most important films ever made. This Indonesian documentary looked into a brutal and horrifying era of that country’s history, but rather than presenting the facts of the genocide that occurred in the 1960s the film gives the perpetrators of mass murder the opportunity to discuss and recreate their crimes in their favourite cinematic styles. What could have been a horribly crass piece of filmmaking ends up making the viewer look directly into the abyss of the darkest aspects of human behaviour. Essential viewing.

Failed Critics Podcast: The Raid 2, The Quiet Ones, and farewell to the Loud One

The Raid 2 RamaThis week’s podcast welcomes back the loud, opinionated, and slightly drunk Svengali-figure of James Diamond, for one week only before he disappears on leave for a while. Don’t worry though, as Steve and Owen continue to show a suitable lack of respect.

We also get into this week’s new releases, mainly the brutal gangster epic The Raid 2, and the latest offering from the resurrected Hammer Studio, The Quiet Ones. We also have time to discuss Under the Skin, Tropic Thunder, and Snowpiercer once more, as well as trying to figure out why hard-rated action films appear to by a dying breed.

We’re back next week with one of those fresh-voiced substitutes that we keep teasing you with, and our thoughts on The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

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Failed Critics Podcast: Captain America, Major Spoilers, and General Shambles

Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Robert Redford and Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Welcome to this weeks Failed Critics Podcast, and in this episode we’re reviewing two of the most anticipated films of the early blockbuster season. Marvel Phase Two continues apace with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while another sequel in the shape of Muppets Most Wanted also comes under the spotlight.

James is away this week, but we’re joined by our friend Carole Petts as the team not only review Captain America 2, but also delve into what it means for the MCU in Spoiler Alert. Owen also gives us a sneak preview of another highly anticipated sequel after he was lucky enough to gaze upon the brutal spectacle of The Raid 2.

We’re hopefully back to normal next week, with James back in the saddle and reviews of Noah and The Double.

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The Raid 2 (Berandal)

Iko Uwais in The Raid 2The Raid 2 is a cut 20 minutes and tighter focus away from being near-perfect.

by Callum Petch

Well, holy crap.

Look, despite anything bad I have to say in this review, I loved The Raid 2.  I got out of the cinema last night extremely giddy at what I had witnessed.  Said feelings only grew the longer I stayed awake and they are still here the day after.  If anything, that film keeps rising in my estimations the more I think about it.  When it officially releases on April 18th, I will be going to see it again.  If it were in the cinema again before that date, I would drop everything and see it again.  It is, in a word, amazing.  Unfortunately, there are legitimate problems with The Raid 2 and I can’t switch off my critic hat to ignore them.  So, regardless of whatever negative words I attach to this gushing session, you should not let it get in the way of going to watch The Raid 2 the very second it drops.  Promise me that and I promise you that you won’t regret it.  It really is that good.

OK, now to get professional.  Real Talk: I was not a fan of The Raid.  Well, maybe that’s a poor way of phrasing it.  I thought it was alright.  The first half of the film was great, it was tense, exciting and a lot of fun.  Unfortunately, the film really ran out of steam by about the midway point.  It attempted to force in a plot that was immediately forgettable, slowed the pacing to a crawl and had a final fight scene that, whilst undeniably badass, went on for so long I could see the seasons change outside my window by the halfway point.  There was half of a great film there, and half of a dull slog weighing down the back end.

The Raid 2 does not have that pacing or interest problem.  Even with its much-publicised two and a half hour runtime, this is not a film that drags at any point.  OK, maybe the opening crams too much exposition into too long of a time frame before the real fun starts, but once it does start, the film knows how far apart each of those fight scenes should be.  It knows how to make the plot-oriented stretches of the film feel as propulsive as the rest of it so that, even though I was never 100% certain as to who everyone was and what was going on (more on that in a moment), I was still as enraptured by villains secretly scheming with one another as I was when a man’s face was being forcibly applied to a hibachi grill.  There are actual peaks and troughs, here, and the film wisely holds off pitching its action scenes to 11 until the final hour (save for an absolutely stunning prison riot at about the 25/30 minute mark) to keep that section of the film, the cathartic and climactic release, from feeling like an extended sequence of “been there, done that”.

That being said, The Raid 2 still does not need to be two and a half hours.  The scope is much wider, this time, more resembling a sprawling crime drama except that any and all problems are solved by extended bouts of extreme violence, but it’s a bit too wide for its own good.  Following straight on from the first film, Rama (Iko Uwais) is sent undercover in order to help root out corruption on the Indonesian police force by cosying up to Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) who runs Jakarta’s biggest crime syndicate.  That goal, however, rarely comes up again and Rama himself spends most of the film being shoved to the side-lines as the slowly-becoming-more-disgruntled Uco finds himself tempted by another rising crime boss in the shape of Bejo (Alex Abbad) who is trying to raise his stature in the criminal underworld by stirring up trouble between Bangun’s group and a Japanese crime syndicate led by Goto.

Seem a little bit too muddled yet?  Well, throw in about another 10 or so characters, each with less of a personality than the last, all of them affiliated with one side in some way shape or form and some with full-on subplots of their of their own, and a whole bunch of betrayals and double-crosses and you have the plot of The Raid 2.  You can’t fault writer-director-editor Gareth Evans for trying to address the original’s lack of plot, but he’s honestly not there yet in terms of keeping everything coherent.  It’s a bit too wide-reaching, there are too many characters running about (as cool as every fight sequence involving them are, Bejo does not need three separate gimmick-based assassins doing his dirty work in-story) and the overall aim and direction becomes a bit muddled, especially for Rama.  The ending of the film does strongly tease a sequel (and Evans has stated he wants to make this series a trilogy), so maybe some of the bloat and needless character work in this film will pay off in two or three years’ time, and again it’s a testament to Evans’ growing skills as a filmmaker that I was always thoroughly engaged during the plot stretches, but I can’t help but wish it were 20 minutes shorter and tighter in its focus.

Because, and I mean this with total sincerity, if the story being told were clearer and the scope reigned in just a bit, The Raid 2 would be near-perfect.  In fact, let’s stop beating around the bush and just talk about the fight scenes, already.  They start with a group of about 50 prisoners all trying to bum-rush Rama who is sitting in a locked prison toilet stall.  That’s how they start and, by the end of the film, that one is positively small-scale.  However, although there are many scenes of one man fighting his way through a seemingly endless horde of metaphorical red-shirts, the film doesn’t just decide to start at, say, 9 and go higher from there.  There are just as many shorter fight scenes of one guy fighting his way through, say, four or five metaphorical red-shirts or a fight involving just two guys that’s over in seconds instead of minutes.  Again, it all comes back to the film’s airtight and propulsive pacing.  Evans and his fight choreographers (star Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian) know when to reign it in and when to go big, which makes the big moments that much bigger.

And of those big moments?  Let me put it this way, The Raid 2 will fill up all top three slots on your Best Action Scenes of 2014 list and they will stay there until the end of the year.  Seriously, they’re that good and it’s not just down to some stunning choreography, which manages to be showy yet relatively realistic with extremely fast exchanges of strikes and no shortage of painful-looking limb breakages.  Although he still employs shaky-cam at several points, Evans seems more confident in his fight work or direction in general, because most every fight is shot super clearly and shots last much longer than in Hollywood action films.  Not once did I lose track of who was hitting who, where they were in relation to the rest of the scene and what else was going on around them; there’s excellent scene geography going on here.

But that’s not to say that the camera isn’t getting in on the action.  In fact, the sheer dynamism of the camera is why I’m stunned at the fact that the scene geography is so well done.  During an extended prison riot, the camera rarely stays in one place for long, running all over the scene to keep an eye on what else is going on around the fringes.  Quick whip pans help keep up energy and camera shakes help sell some of the more painful collisions of heads with scenery.  Sometimes the camera is almost literally flung about the scene, too; a chase with an escaping gangster has the camera move with him so that it crashes through a window at the same time he does.  It’s kinetic, frenetic and masterfully done.  Also, it must be said, even outside of the fight scenes there are some gorgeously composed shots going on here.  Big credit should be given to the film’s cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono, they knocked it out of the park, here.

Yet that is nothing compared to how this film sounds!  There is some exceptional sound work throughout this thing.  Every hit sounds like there’s real force in its delivery, every stab from a weapon sounds painful, every bone snapped is physically wince-worthy and every gunshot is a deafening roar.  The fight scenes are excellent as is, but the sound work creates fights that have real impact and that only adds to the effect.  As for the score, barring an absolutely killer end credits theme, its mostly content help drive the action.  It doesn’t particularly call attention to itself but it fits the events on screen brilliantly, often with nice thumping energy and good builds to natural crescendos.  It’s one of those scores that you can’t necessarily hum individual tunes for but, in the moment, you know that you’d rather have nothing else backing it.

Now a moment to address the violence.  Yes, The Raid 2 is exceedingly violent.  It is even more violent than the original and, yes, that is more than possible.  One of the film’s smaller-scale yet best fights involves a single mute deaf girl carving her through six guards on a subway train with only two claw hammers.  Baseball bats are brutally buried in people’s faces.  Throats are ripped or stabbed or gouged or many other rather horrible things I’d prefer not to think of.  Shotguns utterly demolish faces.  Hibachi grills burn off half off somebody’s face.  Blood flows like wine at a party where everybody is too smashed to hold their drinks properly.  It will be too much for many people and some will claim that it’s all too gratuitous and meaningless, due to their aforementioned lack of coherent plot issues.  And taken on its own, yeah, maybe the violence is too much.

But when combined with the choreography, the cinematography, the sound work and the pacing it serves a true purpose: to create fight scenes with real impact and thrills that are rarer in modern day action films than I’d like.  It’s visceral, it’s uncompromising, it’s 900 other clichéd words you’ve heard from pretty much every other reviewer on the planet by this point but it works.  It works.  I was wincing at the more painful moves, laughing at some of the pitch black humour that litters the film, silently begging them to use that thing that was lying about the scene and then cheering when they did, on the edge of my seat during some of the closer fights and gasping in amazement at certain violent flourishes or impressive moves.  So was everyone else in my screening.  The Raid 2 delivers thrills aplenty during every single one of its action sequences (without wishing to spoil, the action scenes are not just hand-to-hand fight after hand-to-hand fight).

It also, and this is how confident I am in my opinion here that I am willing to go on official record with this, has my favourite fight scene of all time.  In one absolutely heart-in-mouth beautiful sequence, everything in the film goes up to 12.  The choreography, the sound work, the score, the camerawork, the violence and the pacing all come together to create a piece of ridiculously exciting, jaw-dropping and all of the available words in a thesaurus that still don’t quite adequately get across just how f*cking awesome it is.  Wisely, the film saves it for the end and doesn’t even try to wrap up the plot with something close to its level and it absolutely justifies the ticket price and 2 hour build-up alone.  Holy crap.

So, as you may be able to tell, I loved The Raid 2.  It is not perfect, its plot is too convoluted, it has too many characters and strands that don’t go anywhere and it is 20 minutes too long by virtue of that too-wide scope, but I honestly don’t care.  I am still high off of the energy I got from seeing it nearly 24 hours ago as I type these words.  When it is on, almost nothing else comes close to the level that The Raid 2 is operating on and I order you to go and see it.  I don’t care if extreme violence turns you off of films, I don’t care that you don’t want to read subtitles and I don’t care that you’re not old enough or don’t have any money, right now.  I am ordering you to go and see The Raid 2 and to see it in cinemas.  So do so.

Callum Petch has an old head on young shoulders.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!