Iron Sky (2012)

Iron Sky (2012)

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

This post may contain spoilers. Read at your own discretion.

Overview

Space Nazis.

Now that I have your attention…

“Iron Sky” is an interesting piece of cinematic work, not because of its plot — though, to be fair, how attention-grabbing is the idea of Space Nazis?! — but, because of the process of its creation. The 2012 brainchild of Australian, Finnish, and German collaboration started off as a light-hearted something maintained regularly through internet correspondence. As the finer edges of the story were sharpened, Finnish director Timo Vuorensola went about to search for funds in order to adapt it to film. A total of 7.5 million euros was needed to carry the project to completion, and roughly 85% of it was secured through traditional film investment channels. That’s when Vuorensola turned to the internet with an unusual idea.

Those united in support of the would-be film’s plot had already formed an online community, and by this time, it had an enormous following. A remaining 900,000 euros were needed to complete the funding. In the end, it was met through investment opportunities, film pre-orders, and selling merchandise — all before the actual film was made.

Wait. Did I say “unusual”? I meant, “insane”.

As a result, “Project: Iron Sky” went down in crowd-funding history as the first film to attain a global reach. Many more projects would aspire to follow its footsteps. Unfortunately, its heroism would end there.

Brief Storyline

Set in 2018, the film opens in space; an American space shuttle lands on the dark side of the moon. One of the two astronauts aboard is James Washington, a male model (played by Ted Danson, I mean, Christopher Kirby) deliberately sent as part of a race-related publicity stunt to pad up the re-election campaign of the President of the United States of America (played by Sarah Palin, I mean, Stephanie Paul). Shortly after Washington sets foot on the lunar terrain, the mission goes awry, and he is captured by two soldiers, who are later revealed to be one of many exiled Nazis occupying part of Earth’s natural satellite since being disgraced after the Second World War.

Meanwhile, a teacher and Earthologist Renate Richter (played by Lady Gaga, I mean, Julia Dietze) takes academic command of a classroom of school-aged children. Moments after a German lesson introduction, she purposefully switches to English, and continues peppering them with questions pertaining to a very distorted history. The young students, disciplined and obedient in upbringing, are completely oblivious to any other version, and soak up every bit.

School continues in a large swastika-shaped moon base, which Washington is hauled inside. He meets the Führer Wolfgang Kortzfleisch (played by Udo Kier), Nazi commander Klaus Adler (played by Götz Otto), and Doktor Richter (played by Albert Einstein, I mean, Tilo Prückner). The three, upon eyeing him, do not conceal their supremacist sentiments. But Doktor Richter, however, finds himself especially fascinated by the item carried by their new captive, which appears to be his smartphone. Washington introduces the device as a “computer”, a claim that meets ridicule, due to its size. After all, they still harbour the belief that anything named as such would take up an entire room. Doubts are diminished when the Doktor tests the gadget on his secret military pièce de résistance: a spaceship called Götterdämmerung, designed and constructed for the eventual return to and reinstitution of the Nazi regime on Earth.

Washington’s “computer” enables Götterdämmerung to work, but due to the limited battery life, stalls halfway. This incident convinces them of its power, and Adler volunteers to go to Earth to retrieve more phones like Washington’s. He brings Washington back, as a guide, and finds special interest in Washington’s claim that he has contact with the President of the United States. Shortly before the return journey, Doktor Richter, in an effort to grant Washington the gift of “cleanliness”, turns his dark skin white. Washington is understandably upset at this cosmetic change.

Upon landing on Earth, Adler discovers Renate &#8212 who is also his fiancée — stowed away aboard the spaceship. Romantically linked in the interest of producing a “superior race”, the two share a passionate greeting. When the group reach city proper, a failed attempt to assimilate with the locals leads Adler to kidnap Vivian Wagner (played by Peta Sergeant). Wagner, the Personal Aide of the President herself, turns out to be the very key that leads them to the White House. She does so, unwittingly, parading Adler’s and Renate’s uniforms about the President’s office as a last-ditch proposal for a campaign concept. Renate chimes in with a speech that idealises a type of New World Order.

The President does not detect the link between the presentation and that of history, so she gleefully — and stupidly — agrees to this direction. Renate is happy to be in good graces with Earth folk, but their being in the White House is part and parcel of the far more nefarious intentions of the man she thinks she loves.

Sure enough, Renate’s and Adler’s relationship disintegrates during this excursion. Washington’s return to Earth also compounds into a series of unfortunate cirumstances. His forced aryanisation puts him at odds with the life to which he has been accustomed, prior to going to space. Months later, Renate finds him wandering the streets, disheveled and homeless. They engage in a heated argument about the events that transpired from 1945, and a close encounter with particularly violent skinheads in the streets causes Renate to acknowledge her views as incorrect, and discover a growing affection for Washington.

By now, the world has gotten wind of an impending invasion, and the United Nations spends much of its time furiously discussing defense methods. When a particular Helium-3 is mentioned, their collective voices escalate, and so does the transparency of their self-interest. Time ticks steadily, and Adler trucks on with his megalomaniacal plan to deploy the Götterdämmerung. Washington and Renate are determined to stop Adler, and the latter struggles with her long-held bigotry, as her prolonged exposure to the realities of Earth debunk it piece by piece.

Verdict

A large part of the enjoyment in seeing a project reach fruition is how well it does, and I’d like to think all those involved found comfort in any confidence or security they have drawn from the work. Not many would agree with its success, though. While the film has potential, a significant part of “Iron Sky” reads like a bad porno (pardon the idiom). To be completely fair to the cast and crew, the rights of the film managed to evade the grubby hands of Hollywood producers. But, perhaps what was precisely needed were seasoned senses to better tie together an amazing but plot-heavy package.

Art-direction-wise, it is fantastic, and likely one of its saving graces. Finnish concept artist Jussi Lehtiniemi and supervising art director Astrid Poeschke deserve to have years of creative opportunities ahead of them. The visual effects, on the other hand, are offset with awkward acting and choppy writing.

The writers of “Iron Sky” are not short of a funny bone. Its black comedy is another brilliant plus, and the mediocre script still manages to reflect intelligent equal-opportunity political satire. There is no use in being offended with the humour. Frank but good-natured jabs are made at romance, racial stereotypes, popular culture, various people throughout history, current public figures, types of political governance, current events, and the United States. (Oh, the America jokes…) References to the hopefully always fictitious USS George W. Bush vessel, and a stray Crocodile Dundee quote had much of the globally aware audience doubled over in laughter.

“Iron Sky” is worth the time taken to watch it, but don’t expect an Academy Award potential. If anything, have a sense of humour, and revel in the good idea that it still is. Let’s hope the prequel and sequel are vast improvements.

The Raid: Redemption (2011)

The Raid: Redemption (2011)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

This post may contain spoilers. Read at your own discretion.

Overview

Called “Serbuan Maut” in Indonesian, Gareth Huw Evans’ second directorial masterpiece warrants exaltations from martial arts film fans. The Welsh director gathered some cast members from his 2009 film, “Merantau”, and created an action flick, which made its global debut in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Received positively, it also made its rounds in the most recent Indonesia International Fantastic Film Festival (iNAFFF) to hoardes of proud citizens.

“The Raid: Redemption” is pitched to appear as an action film of the “survival horror” kind. Its fighting scenes showcase the techniques of pencak silat, an indigenous martial art originating from Indonesia. The 101-minute experience is pocked with meticulously choreographed, graphic combat sequences that potentially raise the bar for the entire genre.

Storyline

The film opens a little past four, where Rama (played by Iko Uwais) is performing Fajr, or the Muslim dawn prayer. In the background, an audible ticking is heard, uniting the juxtaposing scenes of him exercising with the serenity that envelopes his person as he kneels on his prayer rug, surrendering to spiritual dialogue. Time seems to revert to default speed, as he tucks a gun into his holster in a determined, purposeful motion. The noise awakes Rama’s heavily pregnant wife from sleep, and she lightly chides him for not waking her. He insists on her resting, for the sake of herself, and their unborn child. A brief tender moment is shared before he leaves.

The scene shifts to a dark home. An elderly man sits, wearing a pensive expression, sunlight barely lighting up the harder to reach corners of the abode. Rama approaches him, and affirms the intention to bring home one more individual, implying a rescue mission is at hand. It is later revealed that the individual is Andi, his estranged brother (played by Donny Alamsyah), and the earlier vow is made by a son and worried father.

Rainfall greets the Jakarta morning, as a black armoured truck sweeps through the wet streets of the city. Inside is a SWAT team of twenty men, sitting calmly and preparing their weapons. Sergeant Jaka (played by Joe Taslim) watches over the group, and briefs them on what they’re up against: a famous and nefarious gang of criminals residing in one of the most desolate and decrepit pits of the capital. Tension fills the air, and Jaka does not even sympathise with the visible nervousness of a slightly less experienced cop. When the team arrives on the site, Lieutenant Wahyu (played by Pierre Gruno) greets Jaka, and they agree to put the “kid” in the very back of the line.

A very careful group entry is achieved through a relatively smooth combative hack through the front security. The team establish a plan to smoke out the building through the sides of the structure. However, unbeknownst to their knowledge and strategy, they are to face a band of highly-skilled individuals hell-bent in preserving their illegal lifestyle, and discover the dark root of their extremely dangerous assignment.

Verdict

“The Raid: Redemption” is definitely not a wholesome film. The fight scenes themselves do not shield viewers from the explicit realities of a brutal end, like blood, the sound of breaking bones, and death-knell cries. However, beneath all the adrenaline lies a web of a creative process, containing a cornucopia of well-crafted choreography, dark but careful filming, and clever twists in the writing. The original soundtrack also deserves recognition, because it is twenty-six numbers of aural goodness. My personal favourite, “Hole Drop”, contains amazing dubstep samplings that drop about a minute and a half in. The ones responsible for the music are Joseph Trapanese and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park fame.

This 2011 film is more than just complicated punches and flying kicks. In fact, “The Raid: Redemption” appears to toy around with the theme of futility. Ironic, considering the film’s title.

The casualty level of the raid is high, and it also becomes a re-examination of one’s loyalty. In the middle of the operation, Wahyu is found to have arranged the assignment out of his own previous altercation with the top leader, Tama (played by Ray Sahetapy), putting the lives of the team in great danger. As expected, Wahyu’s remaining men would get wind of this, and turn against him. On the individual level, Rama manages to find his brother amongst the bloodshed, but shortly after their reunion, he would lose him again. It would not be through a shower of bullets, however, but due to Andi’s refusal to abandon his questionable lifestyle. The team leave the building indefinitely with their arrests — one, being their own Lieutenant. Whether the raid is more effective than expected, or bore fruit at all, is left unanswered.

If I had any misgivings at all about “The Raid: Redemption”, it would be during the language cross-over. It seemed as though the translator took great liberties in inserting profanity into various parts of the English script, when there wasn’t really any. Now, I do not have sensitive ears nor harbour any moral opposition to colourful language, but I was mildly annoyed with the loss in translation. Since when did all anger need to be justified with a barrage of expletives? Granted, the film has a few instances of cursing — which the translator duly noted — but those scenes aside, any strong dialogue between characters are obscenity-free. Those who plan to watch this film, but do not have a strong command of the Indonesian language, please note that the dialogue is not as crass as the sub-titles make them to be.

The fighting, however, is.

Inception (2010)

Inception (2010)

Rating: ★★★★½ 

This post may contain spoilers. Read at your own discretion.

Overview

It took me the entire two hours or so of the film’s running time and a couple of weeks to realise I have no idea how the hell Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” works. Much to my relief, this lack of understanding is not an isolated case. Instead of analysing the film and coming up with theories behind the story, I’ll stick to what I’m able to ruminate to some relative depth.

I remember seeing the teaser trailer long before the hype behind the film reached deafening proportions, and being excited then. At that time, I had less than absolutely no idea what it was about. Facts that I picked up prior to watching the film is that it stars a few former 90’s teen heartthrobs and a handful of the names that brought the 2008 box office hit, “The Dark Knight”, to life. With collective talent as viscous as molasses, it is unsurprising that “Inception” was nothing short of mind-blowing.

Brief Storyline

The main character, Dominic Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) wakes up at a beach, the context of his arrival not provided at this point in time. While struggling to regain consciousness, guards scrutinise his body and find him armed. He is brought to the quarters of an elderly man, one who Dom later reveals is someone he intends to meet. The scene switches to the dream of his current client, Saito (played by the dashing Ken Watanabe), where Dom reveals the nature of his job as an extractor. An extractor is someone who infiltrates a sleeping person’s — or target’s — subconscious and takes information from them. In the words of Dom, he specialises in “subconscious security”.

But he doesn’t operate alone. Dom has a point man, Arthur (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a dream architect, Nash (played by Lukas Haas). Arthur is also responsible for researching the targets prior to infiltrating their dreams in order to ensure the success of the mission. Nash, as implied by his title, designs the dream’s space. Everyone involved in the mission should be asleep within close proximity to each other, and their biggest threat is the target’s knowledge that their subconscious is being burgled or waking up before the mission is complete. Pain can be experienced in dream state, but death in the dream will throw the target back to consciousness. In the name of abusing puns, it’s the job of their dreams.

Shortly after that mission, Nash gets taken away, and Dom’s team is left without an architect. But that’s not his only predicament. Dom is not without internal conflicts of his own, and his conflicts that are so haunting they have been elevated to become an intregal part of his identity. His dreams are consistently disturbed by the manifestation of his wife, Mal (played by the mesmerising Marion Cotillard), for reasons that Dom refuses to discuss. It is also revealed he is a fugitive of his passport country, preventing him from seeing his children. His secret remains unquestioned until he takes on a new mission, which will be his ticket home.

The mission, called “inception”, is one that is commonly known to dream specialists as impossible and dangerous. To “incept” is to infiltrate a target’s subconscious and plant an idea, with the intention of said idea coming to fruition when the target awakens. The particular idea in question is to enter the dream of Robert Fischer (played by Cillian Murphy), the son of Saito’s business rival, Maurice Fischer. Maurice has long been a threat to Saito’s investments. However, already being terminally ill and near death, the fate of his empire hangs on his last mortal actions and whatever stipulations lie in his last will and testament. Saito knows his problem will be eradicated by the destruction of the empire, and asks Dom to plant the idea of disintegrating Maurice’s life work into Robert’s mind.

Though accepted as impossible, Dom manages to convince a number of people to assist him. Dom recruits new members to carry out the operation: Eames, Yusuf, and Ariadne. Eames (played by Tom Hardy) acts as a forger who can enter dreams and change his appearance in order to resemble people familiar and intimate to the target. Yusuf (played by Dileep Rao) is a chemist who provides potent sleeping agents that assist in achieving dream states of varying degrees. Ariadne (played by Ellen Page) is a student who is recruited as the team’s new architect after gaining Dom’s approval by creating successful and mind-blowing dreamscapes for the mission.

Ariadne’s presence turns out to be crucial to the team, as she provides more than just designs for the mission. She also becomes the agent who unites Dom with the solution to his anguish.

Verdict

One word: mindfuck.

Prior to watching the film, I have been advised to approach “Inception” without harbouring any assumptions — advice worth taking. Being an adolescent in the 90’s, it is impressive to see former teen stars take on roles that they probably couldn’t imagine accepting when they were all sporting bowl cuts, plaid shirts, and a seemingly simpler type of angst. Namely Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Allow that name to sink in for a moment, because if he continues in this upward direction, his name will carry quite a lot of weight in the film industry.

Joseph makes the film for me. Rising above the push-over he plays in “500 Days of Summer”, he is clinically methodical, concocts explosions, and kicks lots of ass. He is one of the people involved in one of my two favourite scenes: the anti-gravity hotel corridor fight sequence. (My other favourite scene is where Dom manipulates Ariadne’s coffee shop dream. The shattered scenery in non-violent suspended animation is breath-taking.) Joseph has been noted for wanting to grow beyond the mould of his teenage career. From his re-emergence into mainstream film, he appears to be maintaining his word. Funnily enough, my interest in “Inception” is rooted in Leonardo DiCaprio’s involvement.

Leonardo is an actor who has become attractive to me recently. It is not just physical attraction, though I will happily admit as someone unfazed by him during his teenage heartthrob days, age seasoned him very well. I find the man talented, his resume plump with experience dating from as early as his childhood years. However, I have now grown to respect him because he still chooses roles that continue to foster his career as an actor. I also appreciate his activism. Unsurprisingly, his performance as Dominic Cobb does not disappoint.

Likewise, Marion Cotillard’s performance as Dom’s wife, Mal, is sufficiently beautiful as it is scary. Ken Watanabe shows poise with every fluid movement, although his character has to endure injuries during the inception mission. “Juno” sweetheart Ellen Page’s performance as the young cornerstone to the team swells beyond her petite stature. Of course, this is to name a few.

“Inception” is a film worth watching not just once. Perhaps additional rounds at the theatre are necessary for some to catch the details one may have missed on the first run — or because it’s worth paying for another powerful dose of a Nolanian masterpiece.