THE RAID 2 (2014, directed by Gareth Evans, 150 min., Indonesia)
NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME 2 (2013, directed by Lars Van Trier, 123 min., Denmark)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Director Gareth Evans’ 2012 film Raid: The Redemption was the freshest slab of action cinema to bloody-up the screen since the early ’90s heyday of John Woo. The film followed Rama (self-contained martial artist Iko Uwais) as a member of a SWAT team climbing the stairs of a high rise housing project in Jakarta to arrest the drug lord who living in the top floor suite. The team soon finds out it is a trap and they are being hunted for bounty by the residents. This ingeniously simple premise was just the framework for an unending series of gloriously inventive fight scenes that built to a frenzied finale. The Raid 2 can’t hope to top the original for freshness but it delivers the sort of joint-snapping gusto that action fans should find irresistible.
The Raid 2 brings the character of Rama back but inserts him into a more formulaic plot. Here Rama must leave his wife and child to go undercover in a hellish prison and befriend a mobster’s son Uco (Arifin Putra) in order to infiltrate his gang. After his release, Rama slowly earns the confidence of mob boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) and draws the suspicions of Bangun’s wayward son Uco. The plotline is either classic or hackneyed but it is really just there to string together a large number of physical confrontations. The conflicts are settled with a martial arts discipline known as “silat,” which is a mixture of direct strikes and joint twisting that is sure to evoke empathic groans as we witness the pain. Some of these fights take on an epic scale, including a muddy battle in the prison yard where Rama is able to win Uco’s trust by saving his life. Yet some of the most thrilling are set in close quarters, like a battle in Rama’s tiny prison cell and a later tussle inside a moving car.
Villains rush at Rama with curved knives, aluminum baseball bats and whirling hammers (powered by Julie Estelle as the scene-stealing “Hammer Girl”) but running a full 49 minutes longer than the original, The Raid 2′s pummeling fists batter us into bored submission by the end. Still, while Raid 2 wastes a lot of its punches, what is on screen puts to shame the CGI kerfuffles that pass for action from Hollywood studios these days. Nonetheless, a little restraint and Raid 2 really could have kicked some ass.
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Thankfully, we only had a wait a couple of weeks before the second and final part of Lars Von Trier’s latest arrived in neighborhood theaters. Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2 picks up directly after Volume 1, with the bruised and bloodied Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) telling how she recovered groove after losing all sexual sensation. Where Vol. One reveled in the spectacle of a beautiful young woman (Joe as played by Stacy Martin) throwing all propriety and common sense to the wind in a fornicating frenzy, Vol. 2 gets into her self-hatred as Joe explores the darker side of sadomasochism.
Again, Stellan Skarsgard is there as Seligman to aid Joe’s recovery and add a scholar’s perspective with the allegories and metaphors that he teases out from her libidinal journey. There are many anecdotal asides in this shaggy dog tale, from a flashback to the child Joe masturbating till she levitates and later to the older Joe’s weekly beatings at the blithely professional hands of “K” (played by the lad who danced as Billy Elliot in the 1999 film, of all people.) As the story grows more grim, Seligman struggles to get at the root of Joe’s pain as we finally solve the mystery of who left Joe beaten in the street to begin with.
Although sprawling and prone to digressions, Nymphomaniac Vols 1 & 2 takes shape as a treatise on storytelling, not just the personal stories we define ourselves by but the myth, legend and history that is handed down to shape and mold us in society. Particularly interesting is the point Seligman makes saying that if Joe was a man, her story would not be viewed as pathological acting-out at all, just a horny boy being a horny boy.
With everything sorted out so rationally it is gratifying that Von Trier ends the Nymphomaniac saga with a bang, one that respectfully restores the mystery of Joe after prodding her to confess everything. Joe may have paid with a pound of flesh for being the modern Whore of Babylon but Von Trier generously lets her extract a price as well.