Monday, April 16, 2012

Movie Reviews: Cabin in the Woods / The Raid

A double-bill review this week with looks at two very different movies that share a panache for gore, violence and most importantly, creativity.  

Joss Whedon, the creative mind behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the upcoming Avengers movie wrote a supremely original script that spins the horror movie genre on a skewed axis and provides an extremely entertaining final 30 minutes.  The Cabin in the Woods, a movie that was made back in 2009 and sat on the studio shelf looking for a distributor, has a typical setup to most teen-horror flicks.  5 friends go on a weekend trip to an isolated cabin.  The jock and his slightly slutty girlfriend, the nerdy guy, the virgin girl and the stoner dude.  All characters and actors (including a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) are stereotypical takes on the countless slasher themes we've seen so many times in "scary" movies.

After a short buildup with some character devleopment, the teens reach the "Cabin" in the woods.  From here on out, the story is flipped almost literally upside down and thanks to an over-arching conspiracy thread powered by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford.  Whedon's fantastic script (brought to life effectively by first-time director Drew Goddard, of the Cloverfield production team) looks at the horror genre as a whole and turns Cabin into an extremely intense and surprisingly funny film towards the end.  The scene with the elevators (those who have seen in will know what I mean) near the end is an amazing homage to the history of horror in the movies and one of the best gory action sequences I've ever seen.

Look for a cameo near the end of a horror/action movie legend.  This is yet another entertaining movie offering from 2012 and another hit for Whedon who will challenge The Dark Knight's opening weekend box-office record in two weeks with The Avengers.  A solid 4 out of 5 for The Cabin in the Woods.  Avoid all spoiler-laced reviews before seeing this one and enjoy the ride.

The Raid: Redepmtion is an Indonesian film directed by Welsh director Gareth Evans that stands alone as the best martial arts movie I've ever seen.  Take what you've seen from The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Tarantino's films and mash it all together and multiply the gore and violence factor by about 10.  This recipe is what's behind Evans' latest gem.

The plot of The Raid involves a local police force and their attempt to take down a drug lord Tama who is holed up in a well-defensed Indonesian high rise building.  A team of about 20 special forces operatives equipped with body armor and an arsenal of guns infiltrate the building.  The bulk of the 100-minute movie focuses on the raid attempt and completely showcases the amazing skills of all the actors involved.  Led by martial arts expert Iko Uwais, Evans' collection of trained assassins are let loose in the building as Tama's men go to war with guns, knives and most importantly fists against the police forces.

The action throughout is intense and enhanced by the original accompanying score from Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda which takes the combat visuals to the next level.  There are so many bullet wounds, stabbings, bone breaking and overall carnage in this movie that the violence turns into something almost poetic and not over-the-top.  Several fight sequences in the halls of the building feature carefully crafted movements that must have took weeks to time correctly.  Evans knows how to shoot these types of combat scenes, always keeping the camera just far enough away from the action so we can take it in as an audience without all the usual quick cuts you see in most action films.

The final fight sequence between two of the protagonists and Tama's best assassin lasts about 15 minutes and is unbelievably complex and original in scope.  After it was over, everyone in my theater clapped in approval.  It was definitely one of the best action sequences I've seen in a movie.  You can probably wait for video on this one (especially since the subtitled dialogue is not enhanced through cinematic sound systems) but if you are at all a fan of action films, make sure you don't miss The Raid which I consider to be the best martial arts movie ever filmed.  A near-perfect 4.5 out of 5 JR's for this one.

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