A New Life in Seattle

A New Life in Seattle
August, 2018

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Reb's Rowdy Touts for Hot B Flicks: The Raid 2

So much has been made of the graphic violence in this film that we really must start with a note about films in the days before movies existed. The Iliad, written somewhere between 760-710 BC, is one of the most graphically violent tales ever written. And if the technology had existed, Homer would have been happy to write it as a screenplay, then direct it and accept a cameo in exchange for hot sex with an actor or 2. It's a simple, streamlined tale about a few final weeks in the Trojan War. And the battle scenes aren't pretty, to say the very least: spears through the ears and mouths, cloven skulls...The crowds then didn't cotton to action off the page or discreetly edited bloodshed. They wanted it heavy and heavy they got--for all of which the epic stands as a glorious work of art.

Just bear that in mind before passing on a truly sensational film--one of the finest, and most important, martial arts films ever made. It tackles a long divided, much maligned tradition: on the left side, thousands of Golden Harvest chopsocky films with Wire Fu, crap dubbing and badly edited fights...on the right side, the romanticized and stylized Crouching Tiger school.

Keep the tradition in your minds as well. For The Raid 2 is neither a gangster movie with some Kung Fu nor a Same Old Same Fu movie with a tagged-on gangster story. The director, Gareth Evans, set out to top his indie cult hit The Raid with a seamless blending of the best martial arts ever filmed and a well-written, nicely acted crime film Scorcese could admire. And you needn't have seen the original Raid to be blown away by Raid 2: twice as good in every way. The 'sequel' picks up shortly after The Raid with two characters meeting grim ends--then we're off and running in a new direction.

We can forget almost every martial artist actor since Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan with the arrival of Indonesian star Iko Uwais...and the phenomenal Yayan Ruhian, who does villain star turns in both films. Each man equals Lee and Chan in physical prowess and screen charisma. All the dreadful cinematic sins of the past forty years are washed away by the brilliance of Gareth Evans, his cast--and, lord God, his cinematographers. No night fights with the best moves lost in darkness and shadows. No quick-cut editing to obscure the logic and flow of the moves. Almost no slow motion. No wires for high flying kicks. Again and again, viewers' jaws will be dropped by the power, grace and beauty of the actors' moves--and the brilliance of the camera work (one man fighting several within a tiny car--the action filmed through the cutaway roof).

One other radical departure: after forty years of Chinese and Japanese-based martial arts films, it's cool to see the Indonesians finally get their due. Think Thai kickboxing mixed with loads of knives.

The story? An accomplished riff on Internal Affairs. The greatest gangster picture ever? Noooo. But the greatest martial crime film? In my own opinion, yes.

Definitely worth your while. Read the Iliad first if you need to prepare for the mayhem.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Coming Tuesday, April 22

Reb's Rowdy Touts for Hot B Flicks returns with a review of The Raid 2...and marks the return of this blog to Active status. I've been remiss, preoccupied by work on Boss #3...the new Seattle blog...and moving preparations.

Here's to Tuesday and to lively fun in May!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Literary Factories: The Shocking Conclusion

We begin as we began, with a nod to Russell Blake: thriving proof that lively, entertaining books can be written--on a rolling basis--in only five or six weeks. As illustrated in the second part of this series, Blake is part of a long tradition of ultra-prolific and successful authors. I read his work with real pleasure. And when I was growing up I read with equal pleasure books by well-known writers who also wrote at lightning speed: H. Rider Haggard, Alexander Dumas, Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc.

Today I might not be reading at all if I hadn't started long ago with books that rocked my boat: SheKing Solomon's Mines, Tarzan,  etc.

But only books of a certain sort--employing certain formulas--can be written at this speed and on a rolling basis. As readers, almost all of us have other reading hungers--often for the sorts of books that can't be written so quickly, or with no break between. Many top mystery writers tend to limit themselves to one or two books a year. James Lee Burke--a favorite of Russell Blake's--has written twenty Dave Robicheaux mysteries since 1987. The beautiful style, the rich characterization, the intricate plotting--these things all take time.

I hear an objection. A voice from the back: 'Don't even try to tell us that great writing can't be done at lightning speed. You ever heard of Jack Kerouac or Lord Byron?'

An important point, sir. Thank you. I acknowledge that both men wrote quickly and that Byron, in particular, liked to boast that he never revised--that he wrote as the lion leaps and if he missed he'd leap again. That said, let me respond with two points. The shorter first:
1) Byron was an English Lord with a very long inner division: he had literary genius...but believed writing was unmanly and unworthy of his rank. He never achieved his full genius till he discovered a form--in his comic epics--where his offhanded, slapdash style perfectly suited the form and the themes. Even more important: Lord Byron lied through his teeth: I've seen samples of his writing...and they show significant revisions.
2) Kerouac requires a quote from writer Andrea Shea. On the Road is often cited as proof that spontaneous writing is better. But writers lie like bastards. Read:

Legend has it that Kerouac wrote OTR in three weeks, typing almost nonstop on a 120-foot roll of paper. The truth is that the book actually had a much longer, bumpier journey from inspiration to publication, complete with multiple rewrites...'Three weeks' is what Kerouac answered when talk show Steve Allen asked how long it took to write OTR...What JAck should have said was, 'I typed it up in three weeks.'

As readers--and as writers--we need to ponder the differing payoffs of books. Writer must be getting something they can't do without, whichever camp they park in: those who can't help spending long months, or years, on their books...and those who can't stop producing in only a couple of months. The first camp may find the payoff in the backbreaking quest for perfection. The second camp may find it in the rolling pleasure brought to thousands on thousands of readers.

I like to mix up my reading: mysteries, histories, literary...and, now and then, a classic like the Aeneid that took Virgil ten years to write.

Not so fast, though, Reb MacRath. It's true Virgil wrote one or two lines a day, then spent the rest of every day fine-tuning and polishing. But it's also true that Virgil was being very well paid--and would end up one of the wealthiest men in all Rome. He had no incentive to finish the book in a year. Furthermore, he had no laptop. And--

Oh, dear, this is so complex. Gotta go now--time to work on my labour of eighteen months...then check out Russell Blake's latest...then read a poem or two by my favorite poet, Auden.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Reb's Rowdy Touts for Hot B Flicks: Sabotage

As Agent Mahone said to Michael Scofield in Prison Break: 'You've never gone a day in your life without a plan. Don't start on me now...' Those words come to mind after seeing Sabotage, the latest attempt by Arnold Schwarzenegger to reclaim his box office crown. The film's opening numbers: as dismal as his last two films. Reviews: exceptionally hostile. The film itself: well worth a look if you're an Arnold watcher...and if you remember that this man has succeeded in doing whatever he set out to do all his life.

I believe he has a plan, to which I'll return in a minute. As for the film, it's far better than the critics would have you believe. And, though it has violent moments, it isn't a Non-Stop procession of exploding heads and gore. Except for the thrilling finale, most of the violence happens on-screen or is edited discreetly. Furthermore, Arnold gives a far better performance than anyone's allowed. As a DEA agent still mourning the murder of his wife, he's more restrained than usual and focused on his work, but flashes of passion and wit still break through. 

The hook is a good one and holds us: Arnold's DEA team of undercover agents steal ten million dollars in the opening drug bust and store it for reclaiming later. But the money is gone when they get there...the whole team falls under suspicion...and someone starts picking them off one by one as in Ten Little Indians. And the film's main strength lies in its handling of the mystery and the suspense.

The film's main two flaws: 1) The team remains in dirt bag character even when they're by themselves so we don't get to know them as people. 2) We don't need to hear the f-word in every single sentence to recall they're supposed to be druggies.

Neither one of those flaws should prevent you from taking a chance on this film. For, trust me on this, Arnold does have a plan--and it's important to anyone who's past the age of thirty. In The Expendables, back in 2010, we saw a bloated version of the man who had been king. It was good to see him, after seven years, but not to see him like that. What a gut! And he didn't look much better in The Expendables 2 or The Last Stand. But he knew the real game was one of Beat the Clock: as an action star he had perhaps 7-10 years, tops, before he was too old. And the problem was: it might take him a couple of years to get back into shape. Arnold had to understand: no one who loved the young Arnold wants to see him old and fat. Film by film, we've started to see him slowly rechisel his body. Meanwhile, he's worked with both good directors and actors.

The master links in Arnold's plan have to be Terminator 5, slotted for next year, and The Legend of Conan (no details announced). Till T5, we'll have Maggie (a zombie film) and The Expendables 3. My prediction? He'll keep all his work in the gym under wraps--and unveil it in T5, at which time he'll be 68. Proof to the world that a fat older man can claw his way back to the top of the heap.