What We Saw This Week: Friends With Kids & The Raid: Redemption

Here at Projector, we try to maintain a fair and balanced appreciation of film. If there’s one thing we like as much as a genuine romantic comedy with an intriguing twist, it’s a perfectly-executed kick to the throat. So we’re thankful that our downtown theater Liberty Hall delivers on both fronts with their current double-feature, now entering its second week.

Friends With Kids

Friends With Kids is the third film by star and screenwriter Jennifer Westfeldt, and marks her directorial debut. Like her previous efforts (Kissing Jessica Stein, Ira & Abby) the film presents an “alternative” romantic comedy, its premise built on an unconventional relationship model— longtime friends with no romantic history or intentions who nonetheless decide to raise a child together, out of wedlock and out of love.

Westfeldt once again casts her boyfriend and creative partner Jon Hamm in a supporting role, bringing along his Bridesmaids co-stars Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Chris O’Dowd, as well as buddy Adam Scott and um.. Megan Fox. And her cardboard acting skills. And her toe-thumbs. (Google at your own risk)

But for featuring so many members of the Apatow and Saturday Night Live crowd, FWK skews more towards the wasp-y banter of Whit Stillman and Noah Baumbach’s early films. Similarly, Friends With Kids focuses on a group of well-to-do young Manhattanites coming to terms with their adulthood. For Westfeldt and Scott’s characters, this translates to having a child, primarily as a means of reaching the swinging “divorcée” stage of their dating lives, while simultaneously foregoing the miserable fate they see in their friends’ strained and failing marriages .

But speaking of Whit Stillman, the director has a new film out, and playing next at Liberty Hall. Damsels in Distress, sees “it-girl” (we’re still using the term because the dream of the 90s is alive in blog-land) Greta Gerwig stepping boldly outside the boundaries of “mumble-core” films into plain-old indie territory, much like in Noah Baumbach’s Greenburg (see what we did there?). Perhaps Westfeldt should have considered Gerwig for the part of Adam Scott’s younger love interest rather than Fox…

But what ultimately makes Friends With Kids a worth-while experience is the way its story lovingly captures its New Yorker characters’ oversimplified and lofty goal to carve out a new model of family unit, and the very real (and often very funny) complications that unwind. Though Westfeldt represents one of the boldest female voices in comedy and film, it’s Scott, Hamm, and O’Dowd who steal the show and all the laughs with their sarcastic man-child brand of humor and neurosis that bears strong shades of  FWK‘s spiritual predecessor— Woody Allen’s New York.

– Review by Peter Lyrene

Parting-note & plug: Liberty Hall will be presenting a special one-time only brunch showing of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall on 35mm film, Sunday May 6th. To accompany the viewing experience, they’ll be serving biscuits and gravy, Bloody Marys, and limited edition hand-numbered posters by local artist Aaron Marable will be available for purchase.

The Raid: Redemption

I recently watched a TED Talk led by J.J. Abrams, who expounded upon the grand myth of storytelling and what really inspires him. Abrams talked about his grandfather and discussed two of his favorite movies: Jaws and Die Hard. His favorite scene in Jaws was the scene where Chief Martin Brody’s son mimics his father’s worn expressions, and he argued that Jaws is not about shark rampaging on a small beach town, but about this family man trying to keep things together. He also argued that Die Hard, an explosive extravaganza though it may be, is about a man going through a divorce. Such nods to the subtext are valid points and show what made these blockbusters so resonant in their human depth and relatability…

But here’s the thing— my favorite scene in Jaws is when the shark eats Quint, and my favorite part of Die Hard is when everything blows up. It’s not wrong for an action movie to try to have a little depth, but it is also equally not wrong, when skillfully done, for an action movie to deliver the goods and nothing but the goods. For every Die Hard there’s a Crank 2: High Voltage— movies that may skimp on the story but supply badassery in spades and defy logic to such a crazed degree that they are elevated to a pure symphonic cinema experience.

All of which is to say director Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption satisfies the need for on-screen carnage in a way that few movies have recently. Sure there is a story and a slight attempt at human depth. However these slim moments are shoehorned into a cacophony of violence and gravity-shucking ass-kicking. The unbeatable premise is about as simple as a movie can get, with nods to John Carpenter movies and 1980s Asian gangster flicks.

In Jakarta, an elite SWAT team squad is tasked with the suicidal mission of taking down a ruthless drug kingpin named Tama, who lords over the shanty kingdom of a 30-floor derelict building. The team must sweep and clear the building floor by floor, as quietly and surgically as possible to reach Tama, who surveils his castle with a bay of close-circuit security cameras, and when learning of his “visitors,” directs a brutal gang of subordinates and drug-leavened tenants to attack the SWAT team. And that, my friends is a movie.

Sure the piling on of dead bodies tends to accumulate a numbing effect; some tenants get shot, some coppers get shot. But this is not exactly a good guys versus bad guys situation—the squad is lead by a corrupt Sergeant named Wahyu, who has a personal motivation in orchestrating the raid. By some respects the assault resembles a real war, with members from both parties caught in a rumble-match for survival and supremacy they’d probably rather not be involved in. One detail that I found especially interesting was the apparent youth of Tama’s gang, many of whom looked like teenagers. (Teenagers expert in martial arts, sure). Meaning that, like many real-life warlords, Tama has poisoned the minds of his gang members by providing them with drugs, money, and housing in exchange for unfailing loyalty in the face of unrelenting assault. He even promises anyone who brings back a SWAT member permanent residence in his kingdom, raising the danger for our interlopers from gentle-maiming to a death-sentence.

While The Raid: Redemption is flashy, its also flashy in just the right way. Writer/Director Evans reverently adheres to martial arts and action movie tropes while preparing the elements just right, with a delicate eye for detail, space, and movement. What elevates Ewan’s film from a boilerplate ode to blood, guts, guns, and swordplay, is his supremely buoyant camera moves, set-ups, and rapid-fire editing. While there’s a lot to roll your eye’s at, given the absurdity and monotony of some of the fight sequences, the film succeeds on its aggressive no-bullshit purity. If The Raid: Redemption were a rock album, it’d be nothing but guitar solos.

– Review by Chance Dibben

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