The Raid/Dredd

***SPOILERS***

Watched these two back to back as I’d heard about their similarity. Yeah OK, they’re both about law enforcement officers being trapped in large buildings with an overwhelmingly large enemy force run by ruthless gangsters, but I actually thought that the differences were both greater and more interesting than the similarities.

First up: The Raid – (or The Raid: Redemption to give it its full, pointless UK title) is a stripped down, turbo charged monster of an action flick. Pencak Silat  genius Iko Uwais  plays Rama, new boy on the Jakarta SWAT team sent in to clean up a drug-overlord’s tenement block – a block populated almost entirely by sociopathic machete-wielding martial arts experts. Mayhem ensues. From there it’s a battle of attrition and ever decreasing ranges as the grunts on both sides die, guns run out of bullets, machetes/blades get broken or lost until it’s all fists, feet and elbows. The action choreography, courtesy of Uwais is absolutely spectacular – fast, flowing and brutal, whilst director Gareth Evans gives the battles the space they need, framing each shot carefully for maximum clarity to the carnage. No shaky-cam here. What there is, though is the sort of inventive camera work that reminds me of early Sam Raimi, where budget constraints forced the film-maker to be really creative in getting the shots they want.

In a lot of ways, The Raid is as much horror movie as action/martial arts epic. The relentlessness of the action, grimy setting and the tension generating sequences are far more horror tropes than action ones, and herein lies one of the failings of the film. Whilst there are brief pauses for exposition, it’s frenetic, breathless stuff and nearly a case of too much of a good thing. Also, the foley on UK and US releases doesn’t perfectly match the action. The consequent disconnect is a real shame. That said, Uwais is the most impressive cinematic martial artist I’ve seen since Tony Jaa, and the sheer level of inventiveness and commitment to purpose make this an extremely good borderline great action movie.

Dredd is almost subtle in comparison.

Karl Urban plays everybody’s favourite fascist lawman with the exactly right level of laconic, lending him a terse, black humoured edge. Dredd isn’t so much a character as a Platonic ideal ‘inflexible lawman’. Urban gives him an implacability and self belief that is as much force of nature as anything else – it doesn’t occur to Dredd that he might lose. Consequently the bulk of character development and audience identification falls on nervous rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Anderson is a powerful psychic with a borderline failing score in her final Judge assessment. The Chief Judge takes the pragmatic approach that her psionic ability is worth at least the 3% Anderson is failing by, asks Dredd to see what he can do. The Judges head out onto the streets of Mega City One, and long story short end up in the Peach Trees Megablock, run by vicious crime boss MaMa (Lena Heady in full on ‘terrifying psychopath’ mode). Mayhem, predictably enough, ensues. Much of this mayhem is incredibly beautiful, too thanks to the macguffin ‘Slo-Mo’ drug. Slo-Mo, which doubtless acts on Shatner’s Bassoon alters the user’s perception of time, rendering it a lovely, glassy slow-motion effect. Someone having their face shot off has never seemed so beautiful.

The dramatic meat of the story is Anderson’s transition from uncertain, lacking-in-confidence rookie to a woman who will, essentially, tell Dredd to stick it up his ass. She might initially seem too delicate for the environment and job she’s trained for, but this is a woman who mind-fucks a vicious multiple killer so much he pisses his pants in fear and mind-probes then executes a turncoat Judge without batting an eyelid, while remaining sympathetic and likeable. Anderson deserves her own movie.

There are also numerous Easter-egg references to the comic – from the obvious ‘Chopper’ graffiti to the relatively subtle – a poster for ‘Krysler’s Mark’ and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ‘Fergee Memorial Day Riots’ in a newsfeed. I haven’t read 2000AD since… before 2000AD, but Alex Garland has captured the spirit of the comic, added in even more grit and swearing and given us a corker of a sci-fi action movie.

Unfortunately only one of these movies is getting a sequel, both deserve one. Dredd is, I think, the better film, but as a jolt of pure, exhilarating martial arts violence The Raid is well worth your time.

The Red Knight

KT Davies

***Very Minor Spoilers***

Disclosure: My wife met the author at a gathering before Christmas and was gifted a signed copy of the book.

I’m not the hugest fan of fantasy. I’ve played table-top RPG’s for over 30 years, a hobby which led to me reading numerous genre faves. I came to the conclusion that fantasy is as laden with crap as most other genres, if not more so. This is rather disappointing. Part of the problem is that it’s often formulaic. Another Campbellian hero’s journey. Another farm-boy* becomes king/demigod/whatever of a world populated by the mythical beasts/creations of other people. Yawn. That’s not to say there isn’t some seriously good stuff out there, but the signal-to-noise ratio was so poor I gave up reading fantasy a while back. For every ‘Game of Thrones’ there’re twenty ‘Wheel of Time’s, or so at least it seems to me. My view is therefore, admittedly, not up-to-date. With that out the way, let me just say if other  modern fantasy is as good as this, I may well be giving it another shot.

‘The Red Knight’ kicks ass as hard as a bucking war-horse applying steel-shod hoof to carelessly exposed buttock.  The world is stock-seeming (note the ‘seeming’ there) low-to-mid fantasy – the supernatural forces that once ran rampant in the world are massively in decline with humanity in various flavours mediaeval as the dominant race. There are still traces of the Old World, ancient magics woven into the stones of castles, shape-shifters prowl the night, Fey artefacts in the hands of mortals. What Davies does extremely well is hint at the secrets of the world – the magic, politics and indeed characters** are oft half-glimpsed and tantalisingly unexplored.

It’s against this backdrop that we are introduced to protagonist Alyda Stenna, Captain of the elite First Company of the Royal Guards, the ‘Hammer of Antia’. Already in her prime, Stenna is a badass of epic proportions – tough, resourceful and ruthless, she cuts a swath across battlefields, whilst upholding her rigid code of honour. We also meet Garian Tain, a young spy, nimble of foot and mind, a killer with a conscience. It didn’t take long to realise the story truly is in the realms of fantasy – characters are given equal respect, depth and dimensionality regardless of gender or sexuality. For that reason alone the book is worthwhile, showing that even in the Boys Club of fantasy, it isn’t that difficult to have interesting women – just treat them like, y’know, people.***

Rather than go into detail about the story itself, all you need to know is there’s politics, betrayal, battles, sex, magic, elemental dragon beasties, ancient Fey sorcerers, gruelling torture, alcohol and drug abuse, romance. All the good stuff. I seriously hope there’s going to be a sequel soon not least because of a) where it ended being an obvious set-up and b) a couple of characters escape a savage beating with the Mallet of Righteous Über-violence.

The writing is assured so pages seemingly turn themselves whilst dialogue often has a really sly, cool wit to it.

Minor nit-picks: the first thirty pages are ever so slightly over-written before relaxing into a much less self-aware, more fluid style and there’s a little much ‘I’ve done my research’ about armour showing. But you know what, this is me reaching to criticise because the rest of it is so damned good.

Hugely recommended for those that like complex interesting characters, subverted tropes/clichés and more depth than usual to the ‘big people hitting one another with heavy implements’. Not that there isn’t plenty of that too…

*When my dictatorship takes over, farms are going to get hit hard. Farm-boys seem to be the biggest source of trouble for evil empires.

**I seriously want a story about the Black Duchess. KT, make it so…

***Before anyone gives me the ‘women in combat isn’t realistic’ bullshit allow me to introduce some ideas to your tiny brain. 1)  Population distribution curves – the average man may be bigger than the average woman but there are large areas of overlap. There are a number of women I know who could in all likelihood kick your head off or out lift you. 2) You’re quibbling about realism in a fantasy novel? Srsly? Back to your cave with you.