Monday, May 14, 2012

Film Round-Up, May 2012: God Bless America, Meeting Evil, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Raid: The Redemption

Bit of a mixed bag, though I enjoyed Raid: The Redemption immensely, in a "I'm starving and Five Guys is just off this exit" kind of way. 

I saw the martial arts masterpiece--directed by a Welshman, no less--at my local AMC. The afternoon screening consisted of three other guys and an elderly couple. I saw the couple and thought, "Do they know what they're about to watch?" 

Apparently not. They left about twenty minutes into the film, never to return. My guess is they thought the movie wasn't violent enough. "In my day, we had Sam Peckinpaugh. That guy knew had to do a splatter pic that would bring tears to your eyes." 

As always, these reviews previously appeared in ICON and are reprinted with permission.


God Bless America (Dir: Bobcat Goldthwait). Starring: Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr. Lonely and ignored, Frank (Murray) is a middle-aged nobody living in a world that he loathes. Pointless celebrities are idolized. The public insults and tortures the weak for its own enjoyment. Everyone, tethered to technology, regurgitates the same talking points they heard on the morning commute. "Nobody talks about anything real anymore," he laments. After he's fired and diagnosed with a brain tumor, the timid Frank finds his spark. He embarks on a soul-cleansing, civilization-saving killing spree, picking up a similarly minded, tart-tongued teenager (Barr) early on. Writer-director Goldthwait offers an extended middle finger to America's cultural wasteland—political pundits, American Idol, middle-aged men who lust after teenage girls. He's frequently dead-on and profanely eloquent. And occasionally boring: the ranting as dialogue loses steam about halfway through. TV veteran Murray (delivering his lines in a hypnotic sad-sack rhythm) and Barr (all barbed sarcasm) pick up the slack by providing a heartbeat to the slaughter as cultural commentary. Currently available on demand. *** [R]

Meeting Evil (Dir: Chris Fisher). Starring: Luke Wilson, Samuel L. Jackson, Leslie Bibb, Peyton List. Defeated family man John (Wilson) is having the kind of day usually described in country songs. He comes without a job and to a foreclosure notice on the door. His relationship with his wife (Bibb) and kids is strained; in fact, there's a good chance she's sleeping with the pool installation guy. Just when things can't get any worse, a well-dressed stranger (Jackson) appears at his doorstep, claiming car trouble and hiding a disturbing agenda. John is soon thrown into a world of chaos, as the dapper psychopath leads the helpless suburbanite on a deadly journey. Overblown thriller starts slowly before bombarding us with plot twists and character revelations to make up for lost time. These are confusing more than intriguing. Why does Bibb's character suddenly turn into a Linda Fiorentino-like tough cookie? Is Jackson a supernatural killing machine or just ninja quick? Another drama about how the suburbs are ripe with evil and ulterior motives, only with those important elements missing. ** [R]

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Dirs: Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones). Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam. A re-release that will bring much rejoicing, and not just to the quote-loving fanboys. Right now, it is the best comedy of the year. The legendary troupe's 1975 masterpiece—a zany ode to the bravery of King Arthur and his men —has been remastered and begins with Gilliam's wry commentary to previously unseen animated footage. Don't watch it for those reasons. Watch because there's an agenda-less, overflowing joy that isn't seen in today's comedies. The wackiness and quick wit aren't cloaked in irony and sarcasm. The performers, who also wrote the script, approach every scene as an opportunity to do something memorable, like a rebellious teenager testing their parents' authority. And with every killer rabbit and shrubbery joke, they pull it off. Watch because Python is a rarity, a sketch comedy pioneer whose accomplishments don't have an expiration date. The movie will run at the Ritz Bourse through at least Thursday, May 3, with no guarantee of future engagements. **** [PG]

Raid: The Redemption (Dir: Gareth Evans). Starring: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Doni Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno, Ray Sahetapy. Eleven-year-old me's favorite movie of all time. A SWAT team is dispatched to a slum high-rise with a simple task: remove ruthless crime lord Tama (Sahetapy) from his headquarters while avoiding the dangerous tenants who reside there. But the team's cover gets blown, prompting Tama to lock down the building and proclaim open season on the unwelcome visitors. Now, the good guys have to battle an inexhaustible supply of well-armed, skillfully violent punks, though the quick reflexes and fatal fists of a rookie cop (Uwais, in a dazzling athletic performance) could provide the equalizer. Essentially a series of fight scenes interrupted by dialogue and plot twists, Raid: The Redemption is so breathlessly choreographed and intoxicatingly violent that we can't keep our eyes off it. Writer-director-editor Evans taps into our fascination with violence, but not in a way that's exploitative or fetishistic. We just can't wait to behold what kind of gruesome artistry comes next. Already a cult hit, Ritz Theaters in Philadelphia actually dropped it from their schedule. **** [R]  

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