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Non-Review Review: Apostle

The paraphrase Ernest Hemmingway, Apostle happens at first very slowly and then all at once.

Written, directed and editted by Gareth Evans, Apostle wears its influences on its sleeve. The premise of the film invites an easy observation along the lines of The Raid meets The Wicker Man.” This is massively reductive, of course. It also misunderstands the film. If anything, the more accurate (but equally reductive) description of Apostle might be “The Raid by way of The Wicker Man.” Evans period piece exploration of religion and devotion is very much a game of two halves. Perhaps even that might be more accurately formulated as two-thirds-to-one-third.

The only boy who could ever reach me…

Apostle suffers somewhat in its pacing. The first two acts of the film are given over to a sense of mounting dread and anxiety, to the slow and gradual reveal of what precise brand of horror is unfolding on this mysterious island maintained by this mysterious cult. Evans is a capable director who skillfully creates a sense of the uncomfortable and the uncanny, but the issue with Apostle is that any cinematically literate audience has a very good idea where these two acts of mounting dread are inevitably leading.

However, Apostle really comes into its own when it finally plays the hand that it has been carefully and slowly hinting towards in its first ninety minutes.

Burning inside.

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Non-Review Review: Mile 22

Mile 22 is an intriguing and muddled piece of work.

Judged by the standards of contemporary filmmaking, Mile 22 is a deeply frustrating and disjointed piece of cinema. In some ways, it seems strange to describe it as a movie. It is a film with one of the most blatant and transparent sequel hooks in recent memory, cutting to the credits at what feels like the end of the second act. This sense of confusion and bewilderment is only increased by Berg’s direction of action sequences, which are disorienting to the point where they come close to incomprehensibility.

Wahl-to-Wahl action.

However, while these elements add up to an underwhelming cinematic experience, there is something strangely compelling in the way that Berg stitches together this relatively straightforward narrative. The chaos at the heart of the movie makes it hard to enjoy the action sequences, but offers an endearing frenetic energy that sustains the film. There are moments when Mile 22 borders on the self-aware, particularly as at careens towards a climax that seems to have been reverse-engineered from two separate Mark Wahlberg memes.

The results are baffling, but fun to pick at.

Picking up the pace.

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Non-Review Review: Headshot

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

The obvious (and easy) comparison for Headshot is The Raid.

Part of that is down to the superficial similarities. Both are relatively straightforward Indonesian action movies starring Iko Uwais with an emphasis on martial arts. Even beyond that, The Raid was a breakout hit and exists as one of the defining modern martial arts movies for wider audiences. Even without the similar stuntwork and the combination of lead actor and genre, The Raid would be a stock point of comparison for Headshot. The film even seems to invite and encourage the comparison, with directors Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto consciously evoking Gareth Evans’ style.

Headed into danger.

Headed into danger.

The comparison does Headshot no favours. For all the similarities between the two films, the differences are telling. Headshot has a style that consciously evokes The Raid, but it lacks its streamlined efficiency. It has a number of impressive prop-heavy set pieces that call to mind the impressive work in The Raid, but it never embraces the loose and freewheeling style that made The Raid so striking. More than that, Headshot never manages the delicate balance between rudimentary character work and a solid story, leading to a film that feels both paper-thin and over-developed.

Headshot is a solidly middle-of-the-road martial arts slugfest, but it lacks the sheer “wow!” factor that made The Raid pop.

Bar none.

Bar none.

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Non-Review Review: The Raid 2

The Raid is a modern action classic. It’s a rather simple premise executed with incredible flair – a bunch of cops find themselves trapped in a high-raise tower with an army of organised thugs, forced to fight their way to freedom. It’s not the most original of plots, but it works quite well as a framework upon which to hang some genuinely breathtaking martial arts set pieces. It was a showcase for director Gareth Evans and fight choreographers Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian.

The Raid 2 has much to recommend it – with Evans and his collaborators dramatically increasing the mayhem captured on screen. There are any number of memorable fight sequences contained within the film, with Evans, Uwais and Ruhian finding all sorts creative manners of dispatch. The stunts are bigger, the scale larger and the ambition more palpable. In terms of sheer action quotient, the bar has been well and truly raised.

It is a bit of a bloody mess...

It is a bit of a bloody mess…

Unfortunately, The Raid 2 lacks the elegant simplicity of its predecessor. Confined to a single building for one hundred minutes, The Raid was tight and claustrophobic – moving like a locomotive. Running almost an hour longer, The Raid 2 is rather bloated and overstated. Evans’ ambition extends beyond stunt work and fight sequences, and so he tries to craft a crime epic that seems half-way between Infernal Affairs and Only God Forgives, lacking the humanity of the former and the operatic sensibilities of the later.

The result is an overblown mess of a film that really comes together for a powerhouse final forty minutes. The last act of The Raid 2 manages to capture the frantic momentum of the first film, with a sense of constantly escalating scale and brutality. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t quite measure up.

Raiding the pantry...

Raiding the pantry…

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