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Anton Sirius With His First TIFF 2011 Report, Asskicking Edition! THE RAID! KILLER ELITE!

Ola, starkinder! Yes, it's that time of year again... time for my pretentious ass to taunt you with reports from the Toronto International Film Festival, and of films I get to see before you do. Nyah nyah!

This is just a quick hit 'n' run, but I've got more reviews coming (including the new Cronenberg and Maddin joints) in a jiff, an interview with Paul "Phantom of the Rainbow Connection" Williams lined up, and I may be poking my head in during the week on a certain movie shooting up here, the teaser poster for which you've probably already seen if like most folks you're into naked, blood-soaked health care professionals.

Also, if you felt a psychic disturbance sometime around 7:30 EST yesterday, it was just Harry and I shaking hands for the first time.

The Raid (2011, directed by Gareth Huw Evans)

When Ong Bak hit the scene a decade or so ago everyone flipped out over Tony Jaa and the awesome brutality of the muy thai fight scenes, but the film itself got a few fanboy sneers for not being the polished production you might expect out of the more established film industries of the east.

The Raid might end up having just as big an impact as Ong Bak did, but the fanboys are gonna have to find something else to complain about.

Telling the story of a botched police raid on the tenement stronghold of a Jakarta crime lord, The Raid featured basically everything you could possibly want in an action film. Simple yet propulsive plot? (It's basically a Die Hard riff). Check. Charismatic star? (Iko Uwais carries himself on-screen like the Indonesian Ryan Gosling, if Gosling could kill a man with his bare hands in under five seconds.) Check. Worthy opponents? (If Uwais is the Indonesian Gosling, Ray Sahetapy as Tama the crime lord might as well be the Indonesian Benicio del Toro. And the nastier of his two main henchmen gets played by the film's fight choreographer, Yayn Ruhian, and is simply called Mad Dog.) Great fight scenes? (Silat, the Indonesian house brand martial arts style on display here, comes across like muy thai's vicious cousin.) Check. Massive body count? (This isn't a 'tap and you fall down' martial arts movie. Even beyond all the machete action, automatic weapons fire, exploding refrigerators and close-range bullets to the temple, an awful lot of people get stabbed in the throat in The Raid.) Check check check asterisk asterisk holy shit exclamation point check.

What sets The Raid apart from the recent wave of muy thai films like Ong Bak, Tom-Yung-Goong and Chocolate though is the story-telling. Welsh transplant writer/director Gareth Evans does a fantastic job of showcasing the fight scenes while still keeping the film moving relentlessly forward. The quiet moments are few, far between and placed with precision, and the rest is thunderous bloody mayhem, with none of the set pieces feeling like they were shoe-horned in just because they looked cool. It's Evans, just as much as Uwais, who's the real breakaway star here, and he's established himself as a young action director who demands that you pay attention to whatever project he's taking aim at next.

If anything The Raid feels like a next step forward down the path Ong Bak opened up. Ten years ago, the idea that there even could be an 'undiscovered' cinematic martial art style was a mind-blower. The Raid can't blaze that trail twice, but it doesn't need to, and doesn't even try. Instead, The Raid just focuses on kicking your ass so hard you're shitting out of your nostrils for a week.

And really, isn't that what we all want from our action flicks?

Killer Elite (2011, directed by Gary McKendry)

The fact that a Jason Statham film is a Gala might be the funniest joke this festival has ever played on its audience.

Now don't get me wrong: Killer Elite is a perfectly respectable Jason Statham film. It's not a fluffy piece of cartoony silliness like Crank, and even has delusions of importance, but the thought of people getting dressed to the nines and heading to the opera house TIFF uses for their Gala screenings to watch Statham and Clive Owen kick each other's ass is just hilarious. (Mind you, this year's Gala lineup also features a U2 doc, a Gerard Butler film, a Luc Besson film, and Madonna's directorial debut, so maybe it isn't that out of place after all...)

Anyway, the plot: Statham is an ex-SEAL and independent contractor in the '80s who leaves the business after a crisis of conscience. He gets dragged back in when his mentor (Robert DeNiro) is held hostage after failing to complete a seemingly impossible job for an exiled sheik: kill the three SAS bastards who killed the sheik's three eldest sons during the Oman conflict, but make all the deaths look like accidents. As if the job wasn't hard enough, the sheik wants videotaped confessions from all three, and a group of ex-SAS bigshots called the Feather Men quickly get wind of Statham's assignment and set their attack dog Spike (played by Owen) loose to stop him.

If Killer Elite reminded me of anything it was Ronin, and not just because DeNiro's in both. Now, that's not the compliment it might be from some people. I think Ronin's horribly overrated in some circles, and cool car chases (OK, REALLY cool car chases) don't make up for things like the utterly pointless Sean Bean subplot in my book. Killer Elite's story is more streamlined than Ronin's, but it's got the same 'mercenaries on a mission in a morally ambiguous universe' vibe and the same bloated sense of self-importance.

But it's also got Statham, and that goes a long way. The guy just can't help being cool on screen, no matter what he's doing (which in this case is mostly killing guys, planning to kill guys, or flashing back to shagging his hot new girlfriend back in Australia.) And it's also got Owen, who's in Sin City mode here: all barely suppressed rage and with a ridiculous moustache to boot. Those two alone make the film worth watching, although Dominic Purcell turns in a great supporting turn as one of Statham's crew, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje pops in too as their, for lack of a better word, dispatcher.

The script is wonky in spots (I dare you not to cringe when one of the Feather Men explains where their name comes from. I double-dog-dare you) and given that the film (or rather, the book that provides its source material) ludicrously claims to be based on a true story, it's kind of amazing that it works at all, but it does work. It's a perfectly respectable actiony-thrillery-conspiracy thing.

Just don't expect anything more than that.

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 10, 2011, 3:34 p.m. CST

    And by the way, first.

    by AsimovLives

  • Sept. 10, 2011, 4:58 p.m. CST

    The Raid...

    by ames prather

    ...is sounding better and better. ??Pseudo?? Out.

  • Sept. 10, 2011, 5:07 p.m. CST

    One of the 'feathermen' is a neighbour of mine

    by IWasInJuniorHighDickhead

    Daryl Hallett, the 'Rowntree salesman' in the book. SAS, very formidable individual. Wonder what he'd have to say about people calling him ludicrous. The film is very probably ludicrous, seeing as it has very little in common with the book. Have you read the book? Elements are disputed but there's more truth in there than artistic license.

  • Sept. 10, 2011, 5:38 p.m. CST

    I am the quintessence

    by Anthony Torchia

    Really and I ain't gonna see this flick

  • Sept. 10, 2011, 5:51 p.m. CST

    Nothing about DeNiro's performance?

    by bass

    Is he just punching another clock or did he show up to work?

  • Sept. 10, 2011, 5:53 p.m. CST

    RONIN = "horribly overrated"???

    by Frat Boy

    Are you fucking kidding me? Love that movie! Still holds up incredibly well from the very first time I saw it.

  • Sept. 10, 2011, 6:36 p.m. CST

    Thing about Ronin is....

    by Longtime Lurker

    Not enough Sean Bean, IMO. At least that's what I thought when I saw it. Been a while though.

  • Sept. 10, 2011, 6:58 p.m. CST

    I wanna see the Raid now!!!!

    by samuraiyao

    Damn you Toronto!!!!

  • Sept. 10, 2011, 7:01 p.m. CST

    Utterly pointless Sean Bean subplot?

    by jrb

    Nonsense. The character existed so that we'd see how cool, smart and truly professional DeNiro's character was when he exposes Bean as a fraud. I ambushed you with a cup of coffee!

  • Sept. 10, 2011, 8:31 p.m. CST

    Ronin kicked ass. Can't wait for Killer Elite.

    by JuanSanchez

  • Best line in a review...EVER! That line made me laugh so hard but also made me want to see THE RAID even moreso NOW! As for KILLER ELITE, still seems kinda iffy to me so I will wait.

  • Sept. 10, 2011, 9:26 p.m. CST

    Ronin

    by PedroM

    still holds up and Sean Bean plot is not pointless, as someone above pointed it out. As for Owen 'stache, its from his Hemingway portrayal for HBO's "Hemingway and Gellhorn". Respect the stache!

  • Kind of random complaint, frankly. Unless you consider all subplots to be unnecessary, you're not making much sense on that one.

  • Sept. 10, 2011, 10:11 p.m. CST

    Great reviews

    by HELLSFOXES

    Ronin is indeed overrated.. a case of the whole being considerably less then the sum of its parts.

  • or rescuing the princess. <p> Hollyweird, come up with something new. Think you can manage that, ya dumb shits?

  • Sept. 10, 2011, 10:24 p.m. CST

    RIP Cliff Robertson

    by batzilla

    Uncle Ben has passed on.

  • Sept. 10, 2011, 10:36 p.m. CST

    Ola ... ?

    by DrMorbius

    Hola ...

  • Sept. 11, 2011, 12:17 a.m. CST

    Off topic, but Madonna has directed before

    by RoloTomasi_TO

    W.E. is not her directorial debut, it's her sophomore effort. She made a film called FILTH AND WISDOM a couple of years ago that was widely panned, but it did get released.

  • Sept. 11, 2011, 9:46 a.m. CST

    other "Killer Elite" movie

    by loki51

    Have I missed prior comments about this movie compared to the Sam Peckinpah movie "The Killer Elite"? That one starred James Caan and Robert Duvall back in 1975. From what I can see the story lines are not the SAME but they do seem to be similar.

  • Sept. 11, 2011, 9:52 a.m. CST

    The parts of Ronin I consider overrated

    by Truxton Spangler

    *are* the car chases. I like the film, but those parts pale in comparison to the ones from, say, Bullitt.

  • Sept. 11, 2011, 11:55 a.m. CST

    Loki51 and truxton spanglers

    by vicmackey1268

    1) The original Killer Elite is nothing in any way like the new film. The original is about a guy getting screwed over by his partner, tracking him down, and getting involved with an international kidnapping and assassination plot..and despite that synopsis the film was BORING...dear lord I tried and tried to like it, but it was lame. 2) AGREE! Thank you! For their time and when I first saw the film I thought they were cool...and it should be said I applaud that they actually drive really fast on a real street and the real actors are driving...non of that "pulled by camera rig" shit. They're well filmed and do show the speed and intensity... But all time best car chases...no..I'd say the fight/chase airport scene in Casino Royale and a bunch of other films are much much better.

  • Sept. 11, 2011, 11:56 a.m. CST

    Ronins car chases overated?

    by Judge Dredds Dirty Undies

    you got to be shittin' me. They may not have that 'cool' factor that something like Bullet has but vehicular mayhem doesnt get any better than the chases in Ronin. As for the film itself, I always thought it was underrated! I recall at the time it was not particularly well received. Frankeheimer was nearing 70 at the time but he certainly could have taught some younger directors a thing or two about action sequences.

  • Sept. 11, 2011, 12:46 p.m. CST

    Killer Elite was very cool

    by torontoxic

    The script could have used some subtle changes to the shiek's lines but other than that I enjoyed it a lot. <P> btw Anton, TIFF has been a joke since everyone started saying TIFF. Once they moved it from the uptown and put that new head of it in charge it degenerated quickly into a farse. Its now this weird carnival style thing where you play festival. Come have your picture taken on a real red carpet etc. Its about 80% people playing festival, 15% people who got "insider passes" getting to feel important for a few days, and 5% people who actually want to see good movies.

  • Sept. 11, 2011, 1:56 p.m. CST

    Supermarch...you talking about old or new KE?

    by vicmackey1268

    I really don't know if I'm seeing it, just cuz money is always tight and I'm for sure seeing Drive, a part of me wants to check out Warrior now that I've heard nothing but good things about it, and I have my "scary" movie "dream house" for Halloween, TinkerTailorSoldierSpy, ides of March, etc I'm looking forward to...but if DeNiro doesn't half-ass it and Clive/Jason play off each other well I'd consider a matinee

  • Sept. 11, 2011, 7:09 p.m. CST

    Ya I'm talking about the new one

    by torontoxic

    Drive was also really good. Killer Elite is better than the trailers make it look. Its not like other action movies Jason Statham has done. Its a lot more procedural with some really cool locations. I'd compare it more to The Dogs of War than Ronin or anything with the same actors in it. It doesn't show it in the previews or hint at it even but its set in the 80's and they maintain that very well. DeNiro doesn't half ass it but he's not in it for a lot of the movie.

  • Sept. 11, 2011, 8:10 p.m. CST

    Ya I heard he only did a few days of shooting

    by vicmackey1268

    even though the trailer makes it look like he's going Liam Neeson on people. As for Drive...very jealous you saw it early, I'm excited for that one, even though I'm pretty sure they show a death in the previews from a main character but I won't say who for other people reading.

  • It was playing at the Toronto Film Festival. The director was high and happy. The line up was around the block even for those with tickets. I watched that one since it was announced and kept up on its progress the whole way along. Even with that much build up it still meets expectations. Its like the type of people followed in Pusher (1 2 and 3) but now you're in LA and not everyone is a horrible prick. And he substituted the heavy character development in the Pusher series for a more standardized narrative. All good moves.

  • Sept. 11, 2011, 9:33 p.m. CST

    awesome, I'm probably seeing it next tuesday

    by vicmackey1268

    the gf is studying for a med school test friday and next monday and we heard all the drunk asshole college student go out on the weekends and screw up the theater for everyone trying to enjoy the movies....so ya..next tuesday, can't wait.