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27 reviews in total 
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The Raid 2 (2014)
An unparallelled action film that will embarrass anything produced in Hollywood and Honk Kong in 2014. Over to you South Korea, can you top this?, 4 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

After reviewing the worldwide cult hit 'The Raid' in 2012, I knew there was going to be a sequel. As good as this Indonesian action film was, you had to ask yourself 'How on earth is the director going to top this?'. Welsh director Gareth Evans simply makes 'Raid 2' bigger, louder, harder, faster and nastier! Easy really.

'Raid 2' starts almost immediately after the conclusion of 'The Raid', where Rama (Iko Uwais) intends on ending police corruption in Jakarta, Indonesia. He approaches a shadowy internal affairs team, who convince Rama to go undercover in prison in order to get close to the local crime lord Ucok (Arifin Putra). Ucok's father Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) is one of the big cheeses in the district who soon becomes embroiled in a gangland war. 'Raid 2' is an all-too familiar story of family, business, betrayal and police corruption, and Evans doesn't break new ground in the story.

The only reason to watch 'Raid 2' is for the action, and by heck does this Welshman know action! He throws in some new characters to the mix; from the returning Yayan Ruhian who has morphed from Mad Dog into Prakaso; Baseball Bat Man, Hammer Girl, and the Assassin. Baseball Bat Man's comedy outweighs his fighting skills, he certainly knows how to make his bat go 'ping'! On the other hand, Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) is a sight to behold, not least in a breathtaking tube-train fight scene. Just imagine what she could do with a fully kitted tool-belt! The Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman) seems hell-bent on emulating and bettering Mad Dog's viciousness in the original. Crime boss Bejo (Alex Abbad) gets the prize for comedy villain, every time he was on camera he reminded me of Peter Sellars' Dr. Strangelove in Stanley Kubrick's aforementioned film, with possibly the worst side-parted hairstyle i've seen since Javier Bardem's barnet in the Coen brother's 'No Country For Old Men'.

Rama has a face-off with all of them and many many many more. The first films success allowed Evans to script a bigger story on an even bigger budget, relishing the opportunity to expand his repertoire, and he doesn't disappoint. Crafting jaw-dropping set-piece after jaw-dropping set-piece, the cinematic inventiveness on show is breathtaking. And it isn't just fight sequences that he's now regarded in awe, unleashing an astonishing car chase which will leave you scratching your head in disbelief. This car chase is part of a glorious final act which effortlessly usurps anything in 'The Raid'. The inevitable fight between Rama and the Assassin is a seismic masterpiece of technique, editing, camera-work and choreography, especially in the lightening-fast close-up action shots. Contrasting the two fighters within a pristine white kitchen adds grace to the bone-crunching mayhem on show.

Evans hasn't lost any of the claustrophobic intensity of the first film, who now shows off a whole new world of dangerous possibilities. The premise for 'Raid 2' may be simple, but the execution is anything but. 'Raid 2' is so good that you wonder why anyone would bother watching the first film (please do though!), a sequel that eclipses the original in virtually every way imaginable. If they haven't already, Hollywood or Hong Kong has got to put Gareth Evans on their payroll, as 'Raid 2' is an unparallelled action film that will embarrasses anything produced from those countries this year. Over to you South Korea, can you top this?

5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
There's a lot to ponder in 'Post Tenebras Lux' but a lot that you may cast aside just as quickly, 6 February 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Mexican film-maker Carlos Reygadas returns with his most ambitious film yet with 'Post Tenebras Lux', in the most part using a self-made beer-glass camera lens which refracts his figures, doubles the image and leaves the screen's borders blurred.

The opening sequence sums up the dreamlike drama of this film, where a young child is surrounded by a pack of dogs and horses from daylight to darkness. Your mind starts to panic as you assume the worst will happen, questions go through your mind about the wellbeing of the child. Its an unnerving scene. Things get stranger still, with a series of seemingly unconnected stories; where English children play rugby in a school; a red Lucifer/goat-like figure making housecalls with a toolbox; and a bathhouse where orgies take place in rooms named after Hegel and Duchamp. Inbetween the many short stories, a couple called Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro) and Natalia (Nathalia Acevedo) live in a big house with their children in the mountains somewhere in Mexico. Their lives and the people that work for them are the only concentrated narrative strands running through this film.

These disparate short stories seem to be used to map out the different aspects of Reygadas's home country. The rugby match is the one scene that doesn't fit into this film, I assume its used as a unifying concept for Mexico's people who shouldn't be fighting amongst themselves but working as a team for the greater good, regardless of their backgrounds and beliefs.

'Post Tenebras Lux' is a sketchy film that flits between the real and unreal. By taking so many different snapshots of life, the message is often lost. These broad brushstrokes are occasionally impressive in situations you least expect, such as in the forest and the headless man. Beautifully filmed, Reygadas's vision and imagination unlocks images you may not have seen otherwise, or unsuspecting thoughts and feelings. There's a lot to ponder in 'Post Tenebras Lux' but a lot that you may cast aside just as quickly, what's left may be all you need from this film.

Patagonia (2010)
It forces you to sit down and just enjoy watching an interesting sequence of events., 14 January 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'Patagonia' is a film directed by Marc Evans, providing a unique insight into two cultures that you wouldn't have ever considered to co-exist. I wasn't aware that Patagonia is a Welsh settlement in Argentina, since the mid 19th century where Welsh citizens were invited by the Argentine government to come to live in Patagonia. Miraculously, Patagonia still retains its Welsh community and is still thriving.

The film is anchored by two stories, one spoken in Welsh and the other in Spanish, where both sets of people are searching for their identities. Rhys (Matthew Gravelle) is a photographer assigned with capturing the essence of Patagonia, and takes his girlfriend Gwen (Nia Roberts) for a working holiday. Travelling in the opposite direction is the elderly Argentinian Cerys (Marta Lubos) who wants to trace her ancestors before she dies, and misleads the unwitting teenage Alejandro (Nahaul Perez Biscayart) to come with her.

The photography is stunning, with some wonderful scenes of the contrasts between the lush green hills of Northern Wales and the dusty deserts of the Patagonian landscapes. Both sets of couples experience various states of discomfort and joy in trying to find themselves, providing a nice balance between them which makes the film work. 'Patagonia' may often be cliché-ridden, sentimental and implausible but there is a warmth to the characters, especially Cerys and Alejandro, which is often very touching. Its one of those films which tugs on your emotions more than your imagination, and forces you to sit down and just enjoy watching an interesting sequence of events.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
'12 Years A Slave' is a savage account of slavery and the Americans treatment of black people., 13 January 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Steve McQueens new film '12 Years A Slave' is an adaptation of the memoirs of Solomon Northup, a free black American violinist from New York who was kidnapped and sold as a slave to a Louisiana plantation owner in 1841.

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has a wife (Kelsey Scott) and children, and was enticed by a couple of showmen to play for a lot of money. After a heavy night of drinking with these men, he awakes to quickly realise that he is to be taken to New Orleans to meet the first of many unscrupulous men who use him as a slave. Slave trader Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti) gives Solomon his new slave name Platt, and sells him to plantation owner Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). As the film title suggests Northup spends the next 12 years as a slave, not just with Ford but also for an even more wicked cotton plantation owner, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).

"Sin, there is no sin. I can do as I wish with my property", Epps is the quintessential hate- figure, a renowned "nigger breaker" who shows no compunction in lacerating his slaves whenever he chooses. By the time Northup becomes Epps' property, McQueens' singular focus on Northup's nightmare is all too real and harrowing. Northup dominates the film, but the strength of '12 Years A Slave' is not just in showing what he has gone through but that for the women its far worse. Women are regularly torn from their children who are sold separately, the likes of Patsy (Lupita Nyong'o) suffer the added torment of rape. Patsy is Epps' mistress of choice, not only does she suffer the abuse from him but also from the jealous Mrs Epps (Sarah Paulson) who is as equally vengeful.

Its an understatement to say that '12 Years A Slave' isn't an easy watch, McQueens unflinching and unsentimental film relives America's enslavement of black people in all its horror. There is so much detail in this film, even the language is historically accurate. Although filmed impeccably, there's a lot of economy in McQueens artistic flourishes, which is a shame. Everything is shown through the tormented eyes of the slaves, specifically Northup. McQueen isn't afraid to prolong the agony for maximum emotional impact, not least in the incredible hanging sequence where Northup's toes are barely touching the damp muddy ground. Its a thought-provoking and poignant moment, showing us not just the excruciating pain and suffering he had to endure but that all the other slaves carried on as normal for fear of similar reprisals if they helped him.

'12 Years A Slave' has some superb performances by a very strong cast, the big surprise being the unknown Nyong'o who is superb as Patsy. The film unearths devastating performances from the two outstanding British actors Fassbender and Ejiofor, using opposing techniques to flesh out their roles. The more theatrical Fassbender is repellent to the core, the epitome of evil. His faith in his religion and his own manipulation of it is a sad and all too real indictment of how religion is used to justify the worst in men. Ejiofor is spellbinding as the more internalised Northup, using his body and face to convey Northup's terror and anguish. And those eyes, those pained eyes of his which shows a normally articulate man inhibited by his inability to speak up for fear of being beaten or far worse.

'12 Years A Slave' is a savage account of slavery and the Americans treatment of black people. Slavery may be a thing of the past, but the film does also highlight the fact that enslavement comes in many forms and that it does still exist, its just not as visible.

8 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
The girls endearing teenage logic is hard to resist as much as their punk lyrics, 1 December 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson returns with 'We Are the Best!', an adaptation of a graphic novel by his wife. The story is a fictionalised account of her own teenage years as a punk rocker.

'We Are the Best!' is set in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1982. Pigeonholed as outcasts by other children, the bespectacled Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and mo-hawked Klara (Mira Grosin) try to create their own punk band. Unable to play a single instrument, Bobo and Klara's youthful spirit can only take them so far before they have to learn to play. Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) has been singled out even more by the kids in her school because of her Christian beliefs, but everyone knows she's a gifted classical guitar player. With some resistance, she is coaxed by the girls into their band. Bizarrely, we don't know the name of their band, but a punk band is born nonetheless. What these collective outsiders lack in skill is bypassed with enthusiasm, determination and a refusal to be told what they can and can't do.

Moodysson concentrates on the exuberance of youth, celebrating the highs of friendships and the chaotic lows of arguments, boyfriends, parents, jealousies, growing up and everything else! Everything is treated with a lack of cynicism, everyone is treated with a sense of perspective and affection. Of course, it helps that you've got three genuine and utterly infectious teenage girls to make you laugh constantly. Hedvig, Klara and Bobo display in their own individual way their sensitivities and uncertainties with life.

The girls collective hatred of sport, religion, beauty products ("We're anti make-up!") and the mainstream is moving and very funny, their endearing teenage logic is hard to resist as much as their punk lyrics ("Abort the sport!"). Throw in a great Scandinavian punk soundtrack that will have you singing along after the film has finished, and there's no denying that the punk spirit lives on! "Brezhnev, Reagan. F*** off!"

13 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
'The Selfish Giant' is the sort of film that the British excel in, 23 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'The Selfish Giant' is British filmmaker Clio Barnard's new film, set on the same Bradford estate that featured in her debut 'The Arbor'. Swifty (Shaun Thomas) and Arbor (Conner Chapman) are two thirteen year old boys, best friends who always seem to be upto something they shouldn't be in. But theirs is not merely a selfish path of youthful gratification, they know their parents struggles and want to improve their lives.

Victims of their circumstances, expelled from school and lacking a purpose in life, the boys drift aimlessly down a dangerous path. The boys hit upon a scrap metal scam, stealing copper cables left on a railway line by some just as untrustworthy individuals. They soon embark on trying to make a living from scrap metal, twinned with a fascination for horses. Swifty in particular has a gift with horses, and feels even more at home with them then he does with Arbor. He's the more sensitive and innocent of the two, Arbor's behavioural problems (ADHD) and big mouth tends to land them both in trouble.

The boys start to work for a local scrap-dealer named Kitten (Sean Gilder). Kitten shows no qualms about exploiting the boys' willingness to earn money, encouraging them to rent his horse and cart from him in order to collect scrap metal from sources that aren't legal. Kitten also runs an illegal horse-and-cart race, shown in one of the standout scenes, and he wastes no time in employing Swifty as a jockey. Barnard makes a subtle comment on child exploitation, but far more on the world commodities boom which has led to many people taking huge risks where copper has become the new gold. It also illustrates the waste that exists in society , plus how an entrepreneurial spirit can make money out of anything.

'The Selfish Giant' is the sort of film that the British excel in, and there is a point where you do get tired of yet another film about how grim it is up North. But you cannot fault the film, and if anything its nowhere near as bleak as you'd have imagined. First-timers Conner Chapman and Shaun Thomas are exceptional, as are the whole cast who give the whole film a naturalistic feel.

There's clearly a lot of anger in this film concerning the way society has let down these boys and forgotten about these communities. Barnard doesn't pull any punches but there is a surprising level of compassion and grace from the adults which really pulls on your emotions. For all the hardships they've suffered there's still something inside them which burns through their grim reality to reveal what it really takes to be an adult and a parent. The final moments of the film are practically dialogue-free, but you won't find a more powerful sequence all year.

Room 237 (2012/I)
4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
If this film is about obsessive behaviours, its succeeded. As a documentary, its an absolute shocker., 23 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'Room 237' is a documentary by Rodney Ascher, a curious film based on Stanley Kubrick's classic horror film 'The Shining'. This documentary shows off the obsessive theories of a few ultra-obsessive fans on what they think 'The Shining' is really about.

Five different narrators pitch various interpretations of the film, accompanied by footage from the film. Kubrick was renowned for his perfectionism, and the narrators spared no time in putting every minute detail under the microscope. One narrator thinks the film is about the genocide of the American Indians, another associates it to the Nazi holocaust. An even more outlandish claim is from another narrator who thinks the film is Kubrick's confession for faking the television footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing at the behest of the U.S. government!

But there's more, the hotel manager has a hard-on (see film image above), Jack Nicholson is reading a porn magazine, and a Ski poster is seen as a Minotaur. Canned goods and the number 42 are discussed at length. You cant help but laugh at first, but by halfway through this documentary you will be shaking your head in disbelief, repeating to yourself 'Have these people got nothing better to do in their lives?'. As if thats not enough, we see a sequence where the film is played and superimposed with the film played backwards, illiciting a new level of justifications, connections, theories and conspiracies. By now you are feeling as murderous as Jack Nicholson was in the film!

The narrators premise for such barmy ideas is based on the notion that as Kubrick was such a meticulous filmmaker, everything in the film has a meaning. You have to assume Ascher is sending up these people. Chuckles turn to bemusement and then anger, knowing that this isn't the warped interpretations of one person, there's plenty of them out there! However much you liked 'The Shining', you couldn't care less about the self-indulgent ramblings of these contradictory narrators over 100 soul-destroying minutes of utter tedium. Let's hope i never get cornered by a film obsessive at a party! If this film is about obsessive behaviours, its succeeded. As a documentary, its an absolute shocker.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
'Mister John' is a clever film, and a very subtle one too., 23 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Husband-and-wife team Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy return with their second film 'Mister John', starring Aidan Gillen as Gerry. He's had to travel to Singapore because his brother John had an untimely death.

Gerry has never been to see John in Singapore before, and in turn never met his wife Kim (Zoe Tay) and teenage daughter Sarah (Molly Rose Lawlor). The title of the film refers to the name of Johns bar, which Kim now has to run on her own. Gerry seems to have enough problems of his own, not least his dwindling relationship with his wife and daughter. Its an excuse that Gerry takes advantage of, the distraction of foreign climes and John's demise are at first enough to keep him occupied. He thrives on taking on the responsibility of standing in for John, he even wears John's clothes. Kim keeps her grief in check too, mostly to lessen the pain on her daughter.

'Mister John' is a clever film, and a very subtle one too. This beautifully shot film could have gone down many routes, but instead paints an opaque picture of a mans struggles within himself. Little is known about a lot of things, and you can't help but ask a lot of questions. Why had Gerry not seen John in such a long time? Why has his marriage broken down? Was John's death an accident? Is there more to John's business than we are shown? Who is Kim, and can she be trusted? None, and many others, go unanswered.

Rather than become frustrated by any lack of closure, you're fascinated with Gerry's passive acceptance of his troubles. Gerry does slowly reveal his impotence and vulnerability, issues which plague his relationship with his wife and brother. Its an incredibly subtle performance from the excellent Aidan Gillen, you witness a man who has finally come to terms with loss, and by doing so breaks down whatever wall was stopping him from moving on.

7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
'A Touch of Sin' starts off well but can't maintain the tension and drama for the whole film, 18 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Chinese film-maker Jia Zhang-ke's new film 'A Touch of Sin' is made up of four stories loosely connected to each other. <!--more-->Zhou San (Wang Baoqiang) introduces us to the first of the four characters, a quiet man who seems to have a lot to hide. As with the other characters, Zhou San works away from home and thus separated from his family and home. Dahai (Jiang Wu) tells another story, a coal miner who won't stop pestering everyone about how his boss sold off the mine and got rich while never distributing the wealth to the village. One too many outbursts leads to a chain of events which ends badly.

The third story sees Hubei (Zhao Tao) working in a massage parlour as a receptionist, who is having an affair with a married man. Having waited so long for him to make up his mind, Hubei gives him 6 months to leave his wife. Troubles with work and her private life soon catch up with Hubei, as it does with the final character Xiao Hui (Luo Lanshan). The youngest of the four characters, Xiao Hui drifts from job to job, seemingly in a permanent state of flux. He left his last job through an act of cowardice, involving a work-related accident with a colleague. Permanently broke and unable to find his feet anywhere, Hubei finds the struggle of keeping a job and sending money to his mother difficult to fathom.

'A Touch of Sin' exposes the four individuals struggles in modern China, revealing a growing discontent between the exploited working classes and the ruling elite which forces them to take measures into their own hands. Animals are metaphors for these people who are transported from place to place, who have no apparent control over their location or destiny. These lost souls are defined by a stark landscape of degradation, greed and corruption. There's nowhere to hide, each cannot continue with the life they've led, being controlled by others who gain everything and return very little. Each has to make a decision whether to become part of the system which will benefit themselves but lose all sense of morality and ethics, to avenge their ills, or to curl up and die.

'A Touch of Sin' starts off well, Dahai's story is one which will probably interest you the most. But the film is too long, and suffers from a second half which doesn't quite match the tension and drama of the first half. Its a bleak and unforgiving film, such is the pessimism in Zhang- Ke's dehumanised China that there is simply nowhere to run. In one scene, one characters asks another if he ever feels like travelling abroad. "Why would I?" he replies. "Everywhere is broke. Foreigners come here now." Welcome to the new China.

1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Upstream Color descends into so much abstraction that you are left with just a flicker of life., 7 September 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Writer, director and actor Shane Carruth follows up his admirable debut 'Primer' with his new film 'Upstream Color'. Carruth plays Jeff, a reformed alcoholic, who falls in love with Kris (Amy Seimetz). But this is no ordinary love story, a couple pulled together by fate and their past histories.

'Upstream Color' is dominated by Kris's story, who is kidnapped by a man who implants her with a worm. The worm renders Kris powerless, the man uses unorthodox psychological tests to manipulate her into giving up all her money and property. Then things get really strange, Kris approaches a man who helps to remove the worm inside her by connecting her to a pig. This mysterious man is central to this film, a man who documents the sounds around him, and has a pig farm. He has the ability to follow peoples lives like a shadow, as if he's an angel or a ghost. We don't know his purpose, or even if he really exists, but Kris wants to seek him out.

Kris tries to gain control of her life again after having her savings, her home and job taken from her. After many journeys on the same trains to and from their jobs, Jeff befriends the still affected and uncomfortable Kris. And thus begins their struggle to make sense of the world thats taken everything away from them, two broken souls combining their strengths and many weaknesses to find the 'truth'.

'Upstream Color' is a very demanding film, tracing the patterns of life and the meaning of life itself. Purposely elusive and opaque, you'll find little resolution by the end of this disorientating film. The problem with this film is not that it doesn't make any sense, its that you don't care enough to want to join the dots. The weak link is Kris and Jeffs often frustrating and incomprehensible relationship, not helped by Carruths attempt to channel everything from poetry, history, science, nature, fate and much more through these lost souls.

'Upstream Color' is an ambitious audio-visual spectacle. Carruth is an impressive one-man film crew, who undertakes virtually every aspect of his films, which affords him complete control. The score and photography are superb, as is the editing, in fact the whole production is exquisitely conceived. Sometimes you will watch a film which baffles you, but you are still thrilled and comforted by its fantasy, however unimaginable it appears.

As beautiful as this film looks and sounds, you can't seek out what isn't there, and it doesn't enhance or enlighten your perception of the world. Ultimately, after an excellent 40 minutes, 'Upstream Color' descends into so much abstraction that you are left with just a flicker of life.

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