#245: The Raid 2. You’ll get a unique 2-for-1 discount on my plot summaries today! The prequel is roving somewhere below #250 but, and you don’t often get to say this about action movies, we need it for the second part to make sense. In the prequel, the cop Rama and his squad of rookie officers are led on a suicide mission into the lair of a powerful gangster boss. Said lair is a thoroughly thug-infested apartment tower, with the boss dwelling on the upmost floor. Naturally, Rama has to fight his way up just like Bruce Lee would have done, just with more neck-breaking and throat-slashing and the aid of heavy ordnance, his expendable companions dropping beside him like the meat shields they were meant to be. Rama being on the verge of mental and physical collapse, the bad guy fortunately gets himself shot in the head when he bad-mouths another bad guy who is holding a gun to his head and the film ends. The Raid 2 then starts just a couple of hours later and with a narrative move that would make Dragonball Z shed a wistful tear. It is revealed that the original bad guy’s power level really wasn’t that impressive and a NEW bad guy appears, killing Rama’s brother along with some established figures of organised crime to prove how impressive his power level is. Rama’s quest begins anew, slightly more complex this time, but it ends with a lot of people dead with broken necks, slashed throats and another headshot for the bad guy. The martial arts choreography in these two is brutal, sure, but it’s also one of the best that I have ever come across. Even just the final fight between Rama and “The Assassin” contains more quality and effort than other movies can boast as a whole, and director Gareth Evans spent six weeks exclusively to design it. The character development of Rama however is a huge letdown, as he traded the slight hint of personality he had in the first movie for a complete makeover in prison that left him an oafish brute. The most interesting character in both movies goes by the name of Mad Dog. Miraculously, Mad Dog doesn’t even survive the first movie and then he reappears in the sequel anyway, under a different name but with the same characteristics and played by the same actor as before. Details like these leave me indecisive whether I’m dealing with a brain-dead piece of beat ‘em up here or with a profound parable on the circle of life and reincarnation. Maybe martial arts actors are just too difficult to come by.
#244: A Christmas Story. Set in 1940, 12-year-old Ralphie wants an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle for Christmas. The movie, narrated by his older self, deals with his trials and tribulations of having to convince his mother, his teacher and a mall Santa that he in no way could ever “shoot his eye out”. Before its creation, many studios doubted that a Christmas story should be set in the Depression era and rejected to produce it. The only way to strike a deal with them was director Bob Clark’s promise to make an en vogue horror film for them subsequently (which he, as far as I can see, never did, but he did produce Rhinestone with Sylvester Stallone afterwards which is pretty horrible in itself). A Christmas Story probably owes much of its success to nostalgia. Ralphie’s nameless father “Old Man” produces various instances of comedy gold and even if it’s not a great film altogether, I might use it as repository of silly quotes for years to come.
#243: Rope. The first movie by Alfred Hitchcock in the list! After the disappointment that The Killing has been for me, Rope revitalised my enthusiasm. Hitchcock has always been obsessed with perfect crimes (and plots that don’t require a change of scenery; I wonder how he would have liked Buried) and the culprits in this one share his sentiments. Two men strangle one of their friends without having a motive and hide his body in their apartment. Convinced that they have just attained criminal perfection, they host a dinner party immediately afterwards to bask in their own brilliance. Unfortunately for them, they invited their old teacher (James Stewart) who proves to be slightly more brilliant than they are and gradually dismantles their stratagems. I sometimes have problems with “getting” old movies, but even though this was made in 1948 it seems inexplicably modern – arrogance just never gets old.
#242: Stalag 17. It’s Christmas yet again, though this time in a German camp for American prisoners of war. Just the right place for a juicy war comedy, I concur. The harmony in the camp, which as you might imagine has been strained to begin with, is disrupted. The prisoners have come to suspect that there is a Nazi informer within their ranks who is supplying the barrack’s warden Sgt. Schulz with information. None of their secrets, might it be the hiding place of their radio or an attempted escape, seems to be safe and Schulz is always one step ahead of their game. Stalag 17 manages to achieve something that so many films try to do and always fail: it’s diversified. It’s a war film, sure, but it is also a comedy that can get hilariously absurd. One day, Sgt. Schulz walks in on his prisoners, all of them dressed as Adolf Hitler for the occasion, who are staging a mock reading of Mein Kampf. He is stupefied when they suddenly turn around and mockingly hail him. Though, while Schulz does joke around with the men it never gets to the point of slapstick. The terrors of prison camps might be dampened in Stalag 17, but they’re not simply glossed over. The prisoners and their wardens, all comedy aside, are nonetheless in merciless opposition and no personal bonding can keep the German soldiers from shooting anyone who isn’t willing to submit. Now in case all of this hasn’t been enough, Stalag 17 also boasts the suspense of a detective story. The prisoners suspect their fellow inmate Sefton, the black marketeer of the barracks who frequently trades with the prison personnel, to be the leak in their system, who in turn has to figure out who the real mole is during the course of the movie. Interestingly, we as viewers get to see the conclusion at about the same time as the actors do. Stalag 17 was shot in sequence, meaning that the chronology in the movie and the order that the scenes were recorded in are the same. To end this with my most memorable quotation: At ease! (go watch it, you’ll see)
#241: The Beauty and the Beast. The 1991 adaption by Disney. The original French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête that the story is based on was first written down and published in 1740, with oral lore dating back a lot further. For what it’s worth, the film is decent but I don’t agree with the final outcome. If you’re directing a story about how important inner values are, why would the beast’s final reward be the retransformation to his former posh pizzaz? Aren’t they afraid of him having a relapse? What if Belle decides to leave him because they traded his amazing mane for a dull head of hair? Of course it’s only fair that the beast’s servants don’t have to be animated furniture and fine bone china for the rest of their existence, but they weren’t responsible for the curse to begin with.
DROPOUT: The Lego Movie. No, the captain is not kidding. The Lego Movie has indeed entered, however briefly, the Top 250. In a world made of Lego, there are people made of Lego, who build all sorts of structures out of Lego. At the core of this animated box of bricks is a story revolving around master builders who also build things out of Lego, just a bit more efficiently. Again, starting the movie without prior knowledge, I was dumbfounded at how well-made it turned out to be. Especially the beginning is overwhelming, even though it turns slightly more mediocre as the film progresses. They paid great attention to detail and there is always something going on in the background, which makes pinning your eyes on the screen a constant necessity. Lego nostalgia might not be enough to keep this movie in the hall of fame but still, it is oddly satisfying to watch Lego Batman arguing with Lego Gandalf at a builder meeting while Lego Abraham Lincoln flies off on his rocket-powered chair.