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I CARE A LOT reveals Netflix’s care for algorithms

It’s a good day to be alive Queens and Kings, because today we’re going to do a quick review of I Care A Lot.

I Care a Lot is a dark comedy thriller directed by J Blakeson and released exclusively on Netflix.

I had some mixed thoughts on this movie, but I mainly wanted to talk about it because it’s the third Netflix original film I’ve seen in the past month and surprisingly I feel the exact same way about this movie as I do the other two. Those other two being White Tiger and The Dig, which could not be more different than I Care a Lot… so what’s going on here? There are three things I wanted to talk about this movie.

I want to talk about the strange creative decisions around the beginning of this movie. I want to talk about deranging depiction of this amoral character. Then I want to muse a bit about how this movie was made in the first place.

Premise

I Care a Lot is about a professional legal guardian who manipulates U.S. Courts to take advantage of seniors. The justice system in America allows judges to declare seniors unfit to make their own decisions if accompanied by a diagnosis from a doctor. The main character of this movie — Marla Grayson, played by an excellent Rosamund Pike — has created a racket between a local doctor, a nursing home director and herself. The way it works is the doctor identifies mentally unfit seniors with a lot of money and declares them unfit to make decisions. The doctor then tells Marla who becomes the senior’s legal guardian and possesses all their stuff. Then Marla puts the senior in a nursing home with no way of contacting the outside world and sells all their stuff for personal profit. It’s a pretty despicable thing to do, but potentially an interesting character to explore. One day, Marla does this scheme to a senior who’s connected to the mob and a very angry Peter Dinklage arrives to settle the score but Marla will not back down. It’s kind of a whacky premise and that’s a lot of what I want to talk about in this movie.

Strange Creative Decisions

After watching three Netflix movies in a month, I am convinced they have some internal list of production requirements for every movie they make. This list undoubtedly includes every movie needing to begin with some kind of summary of what’s going to happen. I imagine this is because they have terabytes of data showing most people drop out of a movie within the first ten minutes. With the competitions of the attention economy, Netflix of course needs to do everything it can to prevent people from doing anything but watching their content all day. So this company — seemingly a celebration of the arts by making film more accessible to more people — it uses its multibillion dollar resources to force all creatives to shoehorn in an extended trailer in the first 10 minutes of their movie. It goes without saying, this makes the movie worse.

I Care a Lot opens with a monologue from Marla justifying her amoral worldview intercut with a montage of one of her victims attempting to retrieve their mother from her scheme. This is a pretty fine introduction on its own, showing the chaos and anger created by her work although she likely never sees that up close. It’s a good way to give the audience the full perspective on her character. She may be the main character of this movie, and we may come to root for her in some way because that’s how stories work, but she’s not a sympathetic hero. That’s what this introduction establishes. That’s all fine, but immediately afterward we get an uninspired courtroom scene where Marla basically reiterates the specifics of her character, her scheme, and the plot of the movie.

Now, there’s a compelling counterpoint here. This movie has a lot of complicated moving parts and you could argue the audiences needs a way to know what’s actually happening in plain English because not everyone can intuitively understand how a doctor’s office could conspire with a legal guardian and a nursing home. And I might agree with you most of the time. But what’s so bizarre about I Care a Lot’s handling of this type of introduction is it flatly redundant. The scenes after this bad introduction show Marla putting together her latest scheme. She calls the nursing home director about a vacancy in his institution that she gets first dibs to fill. She meets with the doctor who explains why one particular senior is a “cherry” because they have no living family so Marla can easily manipulate them. And best of all, we get to see Marla make her case to her own victim when she shows up to her house and applies thinly veiled threats while still pretending to appear as the good guy in the situation. All of this builds an intriguing main character while giving us all the context we need for her story. If you watch this movie and you skip the entire courtroom scene, it not only still makes sense — it is a significantly better movie.

The reason it’s a better movie is because that opening monologue influences every subsequent scene we see with the character. The monologue acts as the “real Marla” and in every scene we see her in afterward we are always searching for her real Marla — the ruthless capitalist who’s willing to extort the disadvantaged for profit. When we watch her interact with medical professionals or justify her actions to her victims, there’s a tension for the audience because we have reason to believe she’s putting on an act and we’re waiting for her to have a crack in the façade.

But we don’t get that experience, because in the first ten minutes Marla makes a very see-through case for her career so audience members barely paying attention will get the memo even if the movie’s playing in the background while they’re cooking mac and cheese. And that courtroom scene not only serves as exposition, but it also blatantly establishes the extent of Marla’s ruthlessness. She has this super aggressive confrontation with a victim outside the courtroom where she makes it very clear she’s a sociopathic bitch.

Personally, I think this detracts from the movie because we don’t see that side of Marla’s ruthlessness until maybe halfway through the movie. It’s almost like the movie was written without this bullshit 10-minute opener and would’ve been way better without it.

And I want to throw in here, this is also true for the other two movies I mentioned earlier. White Tiger opens with its story in media res, so you get a random scene from the end of the story and spend the entire film leading up to that moment. The Dig also gives a broad overview of the purpose of the movie and leaves nothing to be surprised by later. In all three instances the same thing can be said: these creative decisions may have hooked in some viewers to watch past the first ten minutes, but those decisions also flatten the emotional weight of the narrative beats later in the movie. As a result, all three movies feel really by-the-numbers. There’s no tonal or emotional weaving of the story. It feels like something made through focus-testing.

Strange depiction of amoral character

That leads me to my next point which is the strange characterization of Marla, which — yeah — seems like the result of focus testing in the most pessimistic way possible.

There’s a school of thought that screenwriting is actually the art of manipulation. This is best expressed through a bible for screenwriters called “Save the Cat,” by Blake Snyder. This book gets its title from a recommendation made within it to make your main character likable before you progress with the plot so the audience is invested in their story. The book explains how this is relatively simple to do and references an older movie where the opening scene shows the main character saving a cat from getting run over by a car. This is an inside joke for some screenwriters now, for example the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis opens with its main character saving a cat, and that’s actually the only driver for the narrative for 30 minutes or so. Anyway, I’ve read Save the Cat and I thought it was a bullshit book. Maybe a great way to make formulaic movies with no emotion, but nothing earth shattering in terms of advice. The most memorable thing about that book is its many examples of manipulative filmmaking techniques to trick audiences into unearned emotional attachments. Like if the fact a character saves a cat dramatically changes your view on if they’re a good person or not, you’re probably not watching a very complicated film.  

What’s so upsetting about I Care a Lot’s variant of Marla saving a cat is it does so by making her a feminist. Here’s the scene:

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Ok, this guy just had his mother stolen from him by a parasitic purveyor of the worst sins of corrupt capitalism. She has extorted a vulnerable elderly person, sold all of her belongings, liquidated all her assets, and irrevocably devastated this person’s family. She did this on-purpose, it’s not a side effect of some other goal she had, the goal is to manipulate to extort these people into bankruptcy until they are dead. If the word “bitch” is meant for anything, it is used to describe people like Marla. It is deranging to me that some Netflix producer did the calculus of “man, our main character is a rotten amoral villain, how can we turn that around for the audience?” And the answer they came up with was “Let’s make her a boss ass bitch too. That’ll make it ok.” She’s also gay. Fill out that spot on the Netflix writing bingo.

Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being a feminist. There’s nothing wrong with being gay. But obviously neither of those things make you immune to being an asshole, which Marla undoubtedly is. And whenever the movie feels like it needs to re-up its sympathy for her character it plays on those two points. “People don’t like me because I’m a woman” and “Oh no my poor girlfriend was hurt.” If people don’t like this character, it’s because she belongs in one of the deepest layers of hell. Honestly, she makes the murderers in this movie seem likable by comparison. And it’s not because she’s a woman or gay, it’s because she sucks. As maddening as this was, I should acknowledge the movie does leave a window of potential irony near the end. Which would suggest the people who made the movie may know Marla is a bad actor by using this argument… but I’m not confident that’s the case so it still left me shook.

Movie as Mad Libs

That whole thing was so disturbing to me because it was emblematic of a general problem with this movie which is it doesn’t feel like a creative work, it feels like a movie made with mad libs. What if an amoral gay woman with legal expertise tried to kidnap a mob boss’ mother? There’s nothing inherently wrong about that, but every part of this movie seemed guided by some strange algorithm for audience retention rather than any real storytelling. Like despite themes about morality and perseverance, it’s not really about either of those things. It’s about the next plot beat. It’s about getting you to the end of this movie by dangling bite-sized conflicts until you get to the credits.

I may be making huge assumptions about how this movie was made, but it doesn’t seem implausible given the end product — which is what it is, it’s not really a movie it’s a product to waste your time on. Not unlike a really long doom scrolling session on Twitter or Tik Tok. This movie is just something to do.

And can I say I don’t understand that business model for companies like Netflix. Wouldn’t you rather put out a movie that gets genuine recommendations, rather than trick people into watching something mediocre? Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. They must be happy with the results though because I can’t think of a single Netflix move I’ve liked. Some of the TV shows are ok, but they all seem like generic filler.

And that’s what this movie is.

I give I Care a Lot a 2/5. It’s not terrible. If you skip the first ten minutes it’s actually close to an average movie overall, but by the second half it really loses anything it had going for it and you’re just finishing it because, it’s just something to do.

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Movies

10 Years Later… THE RAID is the most influential action film of the modern era

It’s a good day to be alive Kings and Queens because we’re talking about a very important film called The Raid.

The Raid is a 2011 Indonesian martial-arts action film directed by Gareth Evans. The Raid turns 10-years-old this year, and I am specifically talking about it today because of a vote from my supporters for what I should review next. If you’d like to vote on the next movie I review, feel free to check out the details in the description or watch this video until the end.

The Raid is a movie that made a splash to the few people who saw it when it was first released, but it has grown in renown through spirited word-of-mouth in the action genre community. The status of The Raid is raised every time a new film comes out that has clearly taken inspiration from it — which at this point might be every action movie made. The Raid may not be the best action film, but it is easily one of the most influential.

I haven’t seen this movie since it came out, and returning to it a decade later was an interesting experience. It remains a movie that’s clear-eyed about its identity and what it does best, but so much of the movie has been absorbed into the mainstream filmmaking it doesn’t have the same spark of magic in once did. If you haven’t seen The Raid already, but you’ve seen movies inspired by it — you may not be able to experience it in the same way that made it so influential when it was first released. But it is undoubtedly a movie that deserves to be preserved in history for the impact it made on action filmmaking.

There are three things I want to talk about with this movie:

I want to talk about its minimalist or nonexistent storytelling. I want to talk about the action choreography which will make up the bulk of this video. Then I want to talk a little bit about the production of this movie and how it may have impacted its original critical reception.

Background

Before we talk about this movie though, it’s really vital to understand the context of the action genre when The Raid was released. To put it bluntly: action movies were in a bad place.

In 2011, the defining action style was the infamous shaky-cam — the shorthand phrase for a handheld operated camera with shakiness applied intentionally. Originally seared into audiences’ minds by the Blair Witch Project, shaky cam was later embraced by director Paul Greengrass who heavily relied on it throughout the Bourne trilogy. The Bourne series showed even Matt Damon could look cool if you shook the camera enough. It also had the added benefit of making the fictional world seem “realistic.” Shaky cam sequences didn’t have the distinct shine of planned-out big-budget set pieces. Therefore it was a technique that was not only an innovation in camera operating but conveyed a sense of chaotic realism that defined this era of cinema. Throughout the mid-2000s there was a trend of gritty realism in film largely due to the prevalence of shaky cam. You can see some very appropriate usages of this style in movies like 28 Weeks Later, Children of Men, or I Am Legend. But the shaky cam went from popular to parody when it became a crutch for filmmakers who didn’t understand why it was used in the first place. Shaky cam is great at setting a chaotic mood or intentionally disorienting the audience, so if you don’t want to do either of those things… it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use it. Yet during this era there were many movies where more-than-capable action stars had their talent squandered by a style meant to obscure what the audience could see. Movies like The Expendables, Quantum of Solace, and Transporter 3. Of course, the reason these movies used shaky cam was because it was something new to liven up a genre that had largely stayed the same for decades.

Prior to the gritty realism of the 2000s, action movies were defined by a glossy professionalism, often carried by charismatic stars cracking jokes and skulls in equal measure. This was such an established formula, Hollywood had practically engineered the perfect action star and copy/pasted them three separate times. That’s how we got Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Sylvester Stallone — among others. Each had their own claim to fame in Conan the Barbarian, Die Hard, and Rambo. These movies are still celebrated as genre classics, but like any trend it eventually fell out of favor. These stars from the 1980s were forced to experiment in the 1990s with various degrees of success. I think the story of each of these actors speaks to the stagnating appeal of the action genre. Schwarzenegger was the most willing to court more cerebral filmmakers and found a lot of artistic and commercial success in movies like Total Recall, Terminator 2, and Last Action Hero. In fact, Last Action Hero was very much an ironic criticism of the genre that hadn’t changed in years and even that movie was more than a decade old by the time The Raid came out. Bruce Willis seemed to abandon the action genre entirely, instead transitioning to the film equivalent of a pop star. He seemed to take whatever role was handed to him — which may have worked well enough, but the point being his career wasn’t flourishing because of an innovation in action movies but rather his decision to leave them behind. It wasn’t until later in his career he went back to the genre with significantly diminished returns. Meanwhile Stallone’s career most embodied someone sticking to their guns as he continued to release very traditional action movies like Judge Dredd, Rocky V, and Demolition Man. All of these are footnotes though his declining career… though I actually like Demolition Man.

All of this is to say, by the 2000s the laurels of big explosions, one-liners, and muscular dudes weren’t something the genre could rest on any longer. It also couldn’t recreate these stars no matter how hard they tried to replicate them in The Rock, Vin Diesel, or Jason Statham. Because like many American trends, the commercialization of the action genre had become so much about the branding that it lost its soul. And the soul of the action genre has always been in Asian martial arts. 

Today we see martial arts as a stylish version of violence, but the precursor to the modern action film was the martial arts film. These movies were not necessarily violent so much as showcasing an artform. The concept of an action movie came out of films marveling at the incredible feats of people like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. The true appeal of martial arts is witnessing a beautifully choreographed display of human strength and agility. Of course, it helps it culminates with someone getting kicked in the face. It was ultimately the artistry of martial arts that created a sense of awe for viewers and inspired a fandom for the genre. Hollywood discovered the awe of martial arts could be replicated with stunt work, special effects, and whatever else money could buy. This worked for a little while, but by the late 90s movies like Con Air and The Rock were still trading in the cheap currency of explosions and corny jokes. Meanwhile movies like Face/Off or even Rush Hour managed to inspire some sincere appreciation among audiences. It’s also why martial arts stars like Jet Li, Donnie Yen or Tony Jaa could be celebrated as successors to the legacy of martial arts — but the same could not be said for American action stars active in the same time period. Even the de facto Western action hero — James Bones — had gotten so dull that series was outdone by the Bourne trilogy.

The genre had become so hollow and derivative, any tiny bit of innovation had the potential to influence the entire industry. This is why the Bourne series’ approach — with its very specific gimmick — was misapplied to a bunch of movies which had no business utilizing shaky cam. Filmmakers were willing to try new things because knew they needed to rejuvenate the genre, but it was more than that. The reality was the genre had needed saving for a long time.

And that is when The Raid came out.

Premise / Minimalist storytelling

Typically, I give a premise of the movie I’m talking about instead of going through its story because I think too many reviews just mindlessly recite narrative beats as if that conveys some judgement on the quality of a movie. The Raid is unique because there is no story. There is only a premise. The main character is named Rama — not that you’d ever know that by watching it — and he is a member of a special forces unit sent to raid a tenement owned by a drug lord. The raid on this building goes bad and he has to fight his way to the top to take out the drug lord. By the way, the drug lord has two associates: Andi and Mad Dog. Mad Dog is the more apparent antagonist in the story and Andi is Rama’s brother, not that that matters.

I’ve always believed the narrative of an action movie should exist to serve the action of the movie. This is a point that often gets lost whenever there is something I liked disproportionately more than general audiences. For example, I have a very high opinion of movies like Crank, Desperado, and Lucy. You might say you don’t like those movies because they are idiotic. I would not argue against that, but they are all movies that have a clear understanding of their purpose. You want a movie with constant action? Ok here’s a guy who has to keep his heartrate up or else he dies. You want a movie about a badass guitar player who shoots guns? Ok, we put a gun inside this man’s guitar. You want a power fantasy? Ok, here’s a lady who gets exponentially more powerful until she… whatever happens at the end of that movie. These movies have a purity to them. More importantly they never slow down for an asinine narrative no one cares about. Does anyone really care about the romantic interest or is that a cheap attempt to attract female audience members? Does anyone really care about saving the world or is that an excuse to make an action movie in the first place? The Raid has no sense of obligation to the tropes of the genre and it is better for it. It is a movie about cops and robbers shooting each other and that’s all you need to know.

I like that this movie doesn’t waste its time on unnecessary plot details, but it’s worth noting this was the prevailing criticism of the movie at the time. Roger Ebert was one of the critics who said the movie doesn’t have a plot but only “plot markers.” He also said The Raid was more comparable to a video game — which anyone who knows Ebert’s views on video games will interpret that as a slight on The Raid’s legitimacy as art. If you’re one of those people who see action movies as all mindless violence, I can understand how the lack of narrative elements may lead you to believe The Raid is some gross fetishization of violence. However, that reductionist view of The Raid misses its greatest accomplishment which is innovating on cinematic action.

Action choreography

The Raid’s biggest innovation in action filmmaking is such an obvious creative decision that you wonder why it took so long for someone to figure it out. Although, you could argue it’s how the genre started and it took this long to go back to the roots. Rather than cast a charming lead actor and sending them to stunt boot camp for months, The Raid casts established martial artists with a lot of experience doing action choreography. This is what the action genre did originally when they took advantage of the talent of Bruce Lee and put him in film. The main character of The Raid is played by Iko Uwais and prior to working in film, Uwais was a delivery driver for a company not unlike Fedex but for South East Asia. He practiced martial arts as a hobby and was by no means an aspiring actor. Director Gareth Evans met Uwais when he was working on a documentary about martial arts in Indonesia. This is also true for Yayan Ruhian, the actor who plays Mad Dog. Ruhian was a martial artist by trade, working as a trainer and referee before he was brought on to The Raid. While the Director Gareth Evans is the person who put together the entire production, a lot of the fight choreography was done by Uwais and Ruhian — including scenes with neither of their characters.

The martial arts background of the cast and production is what gives The Raid’s action such a unique feel. It was a style that was antithetical to the action genre’s obsession with shaky cam at that time. The camera shots in The Raid show very clearly what is happening in the fights. The movie can do this because the stars don’t need a handicap to sell the action. The Raid doesn’t have any of the classic tricks of working with stunt professionals like exclusively showing a character from the back, or intercutting close-ups on their face to distract the audience from recognizing there’s a body double being used. These are conventions that were in place for so long, I’m not certain filmmakers or audiences realized just how limiting they were to the action genre’s potential. The Raid executes its action without these limitations providing a spectacle many people had never seen before. You’re not suspending your disbelief and imagining a fight taking place, you’re seeing one happen in real time.  

The action choreography does the heavy lifting but the camera work and editing play a significant role in The Raid’s success. I said before The Raid was antithetical to shaky cam, but it’s worth addressing the movie does have a lot of shaky cam. There are some production reasons for this — mainly to create the chaotic atmosphere of a mission going bad — but a key difference between The Raid and other movies is its willingness to string together its stunts into a cohesive fight. You never get lost in what I refer to as “the geometry of the scene,” which is a way of saying: am I getting lost in what’s happening? Getting lost in the geometry of the scene means you have no sense of place, you’re confused by what’s happening and you don’t understand how characters get from one shot to the next. Geometric challenges are not exclusive to action movies. Amateur filmmakers often get this wrong because they don’t know about basic continuity like the 180 degree rule. If you compare two movies with different views on the geometry of the scene, any viewer can feel the difference even if they can’t articulate what it is.

Take this bank robbery scene from Michael Mann’s Heat. There are multiple characters in a huge open room but there are several shots designed to give you your bearings. You have a clear sense of the size of the room. You know where each character is standing. You can see how far away they are from each other. You have a general sense of who is in the scene and the film editing is practically invisible. You’re watching to see what will happen next.

Compare that to the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time which uses long lenses and a lot of close-ups so you don’t get anywhere near the level of familiarity of the scene as you do in Heat. This constriction is very obvious to the viewer — even if you can’t describe it how I just did. As a result, you’re yearning for additional information from the movie. Where are these characters? What does the room look like? How many people are there? The Safdie Brothers are doing this intentionally because they want the audience to feel uncomfortable in this scene. The point is — intentional or not — the filmmaking makes it difficult to understand the geometry of the scene. Many action filmmakers create the same effect in their movies, but it’s not intentional it’s just sloppy.

The Raid goes out of its way to maintain the geometry of the scene. One of the most effective ways it does this through consistent transition shots between one stunt to the next. In traditional Hollywood action, the filmmaking is driven by obscuring the magic of filmmaking — specifically the presence of stunt professionals. You’ll have a shot of an actor approaching someone they are about to fight, then a hard cut to the actual fight performed by a stunt double, and then another shot after the fight is over. Obviously that’s a huge simplification, but you get the idea. There is a practical reason for this, but it makes it easy to lose track of what’s going on if you have an inexperienced filmmaker or editor. Some of the decisions that lead to losing the geometry of the scene are in service to hiding stunt professionals. In fact, after shaky cam became popular, some action films took the approach of drowning the action in an avalanche of quick cuts so you’re never certain when a stunt begins or ends. The Raid does not take that approach. Since the stars are capable martial artists, you don’t need to fool the audience through a lot of cutting. There’s actually more cuts during a stunt than in between them. This may not be obvious to the ordinary viewer, but try paying specific attention to this one detail: count the times the film shows an uninterrupted flow of Rama finishing with one foe and beginning with another. It’s pretty frequent and as a result you always know what’s going on. You can always see where he’s coming from and where he’s going next.

Not only does The Raid keep the geometry of the scene, but it’s uniquely aware of the fact these stunts take place in an actual world with characters who want to use everything they can to their advantage. I can’t count the number of times an action movie explains why a character can’t just shoot everyone or why they’re fighting with their fists instead of using a weapon of some kind. The real reason is the people designing the choreography on these films aren’t necessarily afforded the luxury of incorporating props or expanding the budget for flashier maneuvers. They have to contain their stunt work to the bare essentials and that’s evident in a lot of action movies. Whereas The Raid’s fights use the environment quite a lot, tossing guys into walls, using shards of glass from broken lights, or — in what is one of the more memorable moments of the movie — performing a finishing move on a broken doorway. The action of The Raid understands the potency of short-term gimmicks like incorporating a unique weapon in a fight or responding to the floor falling apart. It uses enough of these gimmicks to liven up the stunts beyond constant fisticuffs and it makes sense given the world of the film. Random thugs would use whatever advantage they can to get one over on a trained commando. The prevalence of unpredictable elements contribute to the believability of the world while providing an extra spectacle of danger to all the action.

The achievements of The Raid’s action go beyond above-average competency in camerawork and choreography, there are also some fun shots throughout the film. A lot of these more memorable shots are a result of the cameras utilizing fig rigs — a kind of circular piece of metal where the camera is placed in the center of the rig and operators hold on the outside. This rig allows operators to whip the camera or rotate it with a lot of accuracy. The most common fun shot is when Rama or someone else does a spinning kick and the camera movement adds a greater sense of inertia by following that movement in sync. Another fun shot is when the camera passes through a hole in the floor, which is actually a practical effect rather than an editing trick. One camera crew is lowering the rig to another. This is only possible because the rig is small enough to allow for that type of transfer.

The Raid’s chief interest in serving the action of the film results in a movie cast by capable martial artists, with the support of a production crew that knows how to get the most out of that talent. It was this keen understanding of how to maximize the return of the movie’s best elements that made it such a groundbreaking film. With all that said, I do want to take a minute to address some elements of the movie that haven’t held up as well as its main draw.

Production elements

One of the weaknesses of The Raid is its uninspiring post-production work. Most notably its dull gray color grading that saps any personality from the movie. I want to be clear and say this is not a criticism of setting the movie in a location that’s supposed to be depressing and gross. I understand the desire to portray a drug lord’s headquarters as an undesirable location, but there’s a way to do that without making the movie look like shit. On this very channel I have reviewed movies like Leviathan, which are all about drenching the audience in a sense of hopelessness and some of that comes from the drab environments of the story. And I can think of plenty of other movies that portray locations like the one in The Raid but they don’t look anywhere near as bad. Hell, even Dredd — the movie people claim is basically an adaptation of The Raid for American audiences — that movie uses high contrast and selective bright colors to effectively portray the grimy ugliness of the slums. Whereas The Raid is defined by low contrast and washed-out colors… honestly this movie might as well be in black and white.

I think this lifeless visual style is what attracted so much negativity around The Raid’s violence. It’s not just that the movie is violent, but it creates an atmosphere of coldness that makes it easy to assume the filmmakers are masochistic and revel in the dark cruelty of violence. Personally, I believe this was simply the result of new filmmakers experimenting with their style. Unfortunately for them, this particular style is a detriment to what the movie wanted to accomplish.  

I’m also not a huge fan of the music in this movie. I had a joke in here saying it sounded like imitation Linkin Park instrumentals, but I looked up the composer and discovered it was Mike Shinoda. Who is… literally the guy from Linkin Park. I guess that’s why it sounds like that.

Closing thoughts

Anyway, like any truly groundbreaking work, The Raid has a collection of flaws that may make it difficult to enjoy for normie audience members but make no mistake — it is the movie that changed action for modern filmmaking. Even though I can probably make an argument that whatever The Raid accomplished was also accomplished a decade earlier in The Matrix… that would be overlooking how The Raid had a fraction of the budget, no star power whatsoever, foreign language barriers, and literal “guy off the street” choreographers advising the stunt work and yet it was still incredibly successful.

I don’t think The Raid’s influence on the industry can be understated. If it were not for The Raid the identity of some of the best movies in the past decade would be remarkably different. Movies like Mad Max Fury Road, Kingsman, Fast and Furious, or Alita Battle Angel would not have the technical proficiency and visceral action that The Raid paved the way for. This is without even acknowledging the existence of the John Wick franchise — which is almost certainly an extension of what The Raid accomplished. I think I can even argue someone at Disney saw The Raid because the action sequences in Captain America Civil War and Iron Man 3 are incredibly different from the first installment of both of those franchises. The latter installments have clear inspiration from The Raid’s focus on coherent technical stunt work rather than the smoke and mirrors superhero movies typically relied on.

Of course, the greatest legacy of The Raid is its sequel The Raid 2 — which is frankly a better movie by every possible metric. The cinematography is beautiful, the action choreography is just as visceral, there’s actually a story with memorable villains, and it crafts an epic tale rather than a 90 minute distraction. Since the first movie had no meaningful story, it’s reasonable to skip it and go straight to the sequel if you’re just looking for something good to watch. But as someone who loves movies — specifically as someone who loves action movies when they are done well — The Raid deserves historic recognition for basically saving the genre from irrelevancy.

It helps that the production crew of The Raid are so humbled by its success. Gareth Evans is actually a Welsh director — he’s not from Indonesia or anything, he just happened to be shooting a documentary there. And it’s not like he had a pedigree of films before making The Raid. He saw an opportunity to work with some talented people and pursued it. In kind, the stars of this movie saw an opportunity to make something fun and they just went with it. And now they’re scattered across Hollywood with Iko Uwais appearing in other Hollywood action movies, and Yayan Ruhian is now active in Asian cinema. So not only is the purpose of The Raid relatively pure, but it’s creators have a similar purity.

These creators weren’t descendants of famed martial artists or renowned Hollywood directors. They’re just regular guys. This may not be obvious to people watching this, but if you’re making martial arts documentaries in Indonesia — that’s like the film industry equivalent or working an office job. You get assigned a project and by the time it’s done you may have enough to file for unemployment until the next mercenary job is assigned to you. And some of these guys were literally working in the gig economy before they got the opportunity to work on something cool. Each creator had their own interest in the project and they brought their passion and ideas to the film. Some of them wanted to distill action to its core essentials and some of them wanted to showcase the martial arts they had performed all their life. They worked well together because they were all in it to make something they were proud of.

And as a result, they changed the action genre forever.  

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SHITHOUSE encapsulates everything wrong with how some men view relationships

What score would you give a movie with competent production, excellent writing, good acting, and emblematic of one of the most damaging trends in the modern era? I don’t know either, but I put a lot of my thoughts on Shithouse (or “Sh!thouse” as seen on Amazon) in this video.

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Movies

Review: It Follows May Be The Last Horror Film

Is there anything scarier than having sex for the first time? The world is filled with fear-mongering messaging of what might happen when you have sex. The devout claim sex before marriage will forever taint your purity, damning you to hell. Social advice says introducing sex too soon into a relationship can irreversibly change the dynamic, altering how your partner thinks of you. Even after you escape the peer-pressure trials of virginity, there persists a worry throughout adult life of the consequences of sex. In the post-AIDs world we’re aware of the possibility of transmittable STDs and things that can hang over you for the rest of your life. If you’re one of the unlucky ones to contract a disease it might feel like a force of nature is following you, bringing imminent doom along with it.

It Follows is about a force of imminent doom literally following a girl named Jay, after she has sex with a guy named Hugh. After their sexual encounter, Hugh knocks Jay out with chloroform, ties her to a wheelchair, and explains the rules of the curse: It will always follow her, it only moves at a walking pace, but it’s “not dumb.” It can take any form, but only people who have the curse can see it. If she has sex with someone else it will follow them instead of her, but if they die it will follow her again, and if Jay dies the curse will start to follow Hugh again. Hugh drops Jay off at her house and vanishes from town. Jay’s left to deal with the consequence of this curse with the help of her sister and their friends Paul and Dara.

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It Follows has been summarized as being about “a walking STD,” which even director David Robert Mitchell has said “when you say it out loud, it sounds like the worst thing ever,” and I would agree that any synopsis of It Follows makes it sound dubious at best. In reality, It Follows has to be one of the cleverer horror films in recent memory. Slasher films, which are characterized as some menacing creature or person going around killing teenagers, have been criticized for tropes such as slow walking villains, useless companions, and sex-eager teenagers. It Follows embraces these tropes and wraps them around a concept that justifies them.

For example, law enforcement is typically useless in horror films and It Follows embodies this trope through Jay’s friends, helpless to assist her, despite their willingness to. This is because only people who have the curse can see the curse, which is an extension of the “supernatural STD” concept where no one really understands what it’s like unless you have it. On that note, a common joke for slasher films is teenagers’ insistence to take their clothes off, but for It Follows it’s actually a plot point, since the only way for the curse to be passed on is through sex. They’ve actually managed to write-in gratuitous nudity (although there isn’t any among the teen protagonists). Most impressive of all is their handling of the “slow walking villain trope.” I’ve always thought it was silly when a villain like Jason Voorhees casually strolls his way over to his victims who are sprinting away at breakneck speeds. However, the curse of It Follows is more terrifying specifically because it is so slow. The decreased tempo contributes to the impression that it will never stop, and indeed it never does. It’s a curse that haunts Jay ceaselessly, and a horror concept that’s just as effective in the daytime as it is at night.

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In fact, It Follows doesn’t rely on cheap horror tricks that would only work in a dark theater with booming audio. The film doesn’t have jump scares, or horrifying gore imagery (outside of one death at the beginning). It’s just a concept that eats at you. A persistent being that follows you, forever. You get to see the supernatural force multiple times in the film, and it’s always just a regular person. An old woman, a tall man, a naked woman, or a naked man. It’s never anything unusual, outside of knowing what will happen if it actually touches you. This made the movie easy to watch, but I noticed immediately after finishing the film that it royally messed with my head. I began to associate people walking in my direction with life-ending doom. Walking to work in the middle of the day, I’d be wary of people making direct eye contact, walking toward me. I’d remind myself it was just a movie, but the fact that the movie stuck with me during the daylight was impressive. It takes a fair bit of cinematic craft to accomplish that.

Of which there is an abundance of in It Follows. From the opening sequence alone, when the destruction of the curse’s force is established, you can tell there is some real talent both behind the camera and in the audio booth. Director David Robert Mitchell reportedly used a lot of wide angle shots to give the film an “expansive look,” but that doubles as making the audience peer to the edge of the frame, constantly looking for the next slow-moving pedestrian that could be the next bringer of doom. Frequently the terror of the scene is introduced with no real grandeur. It unceremoniously shows up far in the background and slowly creeps in as the scene plays out. These moments are gut-wrenching, to say the least. This is all assisted by the memorable soundtrack done by Disasterpiece, who mixed up a unique combination of 80s chiptunes with screeching horror synths. The blend of 1980s style with new horror made it feel like the film was constantly paying homage to the horror films the filmmakers watched when they were younger.

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And that’s where I really marvel at It Follows’ execution. The Slasher film genre became hugely popular for a lot of reasons, but one thing that stayed consistent was young teenagers who had sex always died. There’s a theory that the reason for this was because the conservative filmmakers who made those films were trying to convince young teens not to be so promiscuous and that was their way of sending messages to the youth they couldn’t connect with. It sounds insane, but there’s actually a lot of film theory articles written about that topic, and an even more insane amount of evidence supporting the theory. Which makes It Follows’  sex-focused plot even more ingenious. It’s another layer of folding all of the genre’s past into one film. Across the board It Follows encompasses everything the genre is about, takes every flaw, and turns it into a positive, even the bizarre ulterior motive of encouraging abstinence (or at the very least, being prude).

There are certainly things scarier than having sex for the first time. A murderer chasing you in the woods, or an alien hunting you on a spaceship, or being lost in the jungle while a predator stalks you, or having a mischievous Englishman haunt your dreams. Hollywood has spent decades thinking of scary concepts, and some are more terrifying than others. What all of those concepts have in common is that none of them are very likely to ever happen to you. It Follows is unique because it preys upon a fear that many people actually have: trusting people enough to have sex with them, and worrying about what will happen afterwards. I’m sure the filmmakers weren’t intending to send ulterior messaging like their forefathers before them, but It Follows’ creativity ascends over its predecessors, and the filmmakers’ ability to reanimate a decades-decaying genre riddled with criticisms is astounding. With that in mind, It Follows is arguably the quintessential horror film.

5/5