Every so often a movie comes along which is a game-changer for its genre, a film which adheres to the basic rules but approaches the task in such a way as to set a new bar; The Raid is such a film.
Directed by young Welshman Gareth Evans, what we have here is nothing less than a breathtaking reboot of the action movie. It's startlingly simple in its basic concept, but delivered with such panache and verve that, at times, it almost defies belief.
Imagine a mash-up between Die Hard, Assault on Precinct 13, Aliens, Fist of Fury and the early films of John Woo and you'd be halfway to picturing just how visceral and balletically violent this gem is.
Set in Jakarta, a vicious drug lord (Ray Sahetapy) has been holed up in the top floor of an impregnable tower block for the best part of a decade, the dozen or so floors below him occupied by the dregs of Indonesia's criminal classes. The authorities despatch a SWAT team to take him down, only for things to unravel early in their mission. With bullets flying and bodies piling up, young cop Rama (Iko Uwais) has to rely on his considerable expertise in the Indonesian martial art of silat to negotiate his way through the bad lads and back to his pregnant wife.
And what expertise... Evans and his primary cast went through almost a year of preparation to choreograph the spectacular fight sequences, with no CG trickery or fast-cutting used. Instead we get long shots and extended takes of Rama and his colleagues using fists, feet, knives, machetes and, at one point, a fridge to escape the villains. Spectacular barely begins to describe it.
There are sufficient plot twists to provide much-needed breathers for the viewer, but what you're presented with in The Raid is nothing less than the best action movie I've seen in well over a decade. Don't miss it. HHHHH
2 DAYS IN NEW YORK Comedy. Starring Julie Delpy, Chris Rock, Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Alex Nahon. Directed by Julie Delpy. Cert 15A
Following on from the witty and charming 2 Days in Paris, Julie Delpy adheres to the Before Sunrise/Before Sunset model and sticks with her characters in a shift of time and location which lifts the spirits and also gives pause for thought.
Wearing its Woody Allen influences on its sleeve, the movie sees neurotic photographer/ artist Marion (Delpy) living in New York with her new partner Mingus (Chris Rock, excellent in a straight role). Her life is disrupted by the arrival of her father (Albert Delpy) and sister Rose (Alexia Landeau), who unexpectedly drags along her waster boyfriend Manu (Alex Nahon), who also happens to be Marion's ex.
The cultural clash between the volatile French and more restrained Americans is played to the hilt, the whole story being driven by first-class writing and pitch-perfect ensemble playing. Well worth a look. HHHII
THE DICTATOR Comedy. Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley, Jason Mantzoukas, Sayed Badreya. Directed by Larry Charles. Cert 16
Having touched bottom with his Candid Camera schtick in the abominable Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen has opted for a more straightforward approach in The Dictator, and the results are little short of disastrous. Playing the 'beloved oppressor' of the fictional Middle Eastern country of Wadiya, Admiral General Aladeen, Baron Cohen and his three co-screenwriters have concocted a premise in which the despot travels to the United States, is left for dead by a rival (a lost-looking Ben Kingsley), replaced by his double and finds a sort of redemption by falling for the manager of a right-on vegan food store, played by Anna Faris.
The basic plot would shame an Adam Sandler movie, but what's truly shocking is just how thoroughly unfunny most of the material is.
Despite four screenwriters being credited, much of The Dictator has the feel of an improvised on-set lark, with non-gags left hanging limply to die before director Larry Charles cuts swiftly to the next scene.
At a mercifully brief 83 minutes, The Dictator won't waste too much of your life but, despite one or two mildly amusing lines and one funny scene, it's a poor excuse for a comedy which, at times, borders on the grotesque.
Ali G and Borat were inspired creations but this indicates that Sacha Baron Cohen has little going for him when it comes to comedy writing or acting. All in all, a depressing and at times distressing experience. HIIII