It was a strange debut on Tuesday night for one of the most anticipated movies of the Sundance Film Festival, “The Raid 2.” First of all, for some odd reason, Sundance scheduled a last-minute “secret screening” at the same time as “The Raid 2.” And you just know that it’s hard to resist the temptation of the unknown. It’s like a film-watching version of “Let’s Make a Deal” – “Do you want to trade ‘The Raid 2’ for what’s behind door number two?”
Anyway, the secret screening wound up being the first half of Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac,” which left a surprising amount of empty seats at Eccles theater for “The Raid 2.” Honestly, I’ve never seen so many empty seats for a premiere in that auditorium – especially for a film with as much buzz as “The Raid 2.” Further complicating the proceedings was that halfway through the film, there was a medical emergency that required the houselights to be turned on and the film to be stopped. (It turns out someone was suffering from altitude sickness, he’s apparently okay.)
Despite all that, “The Raid 2” played really well to the people who were in attendance, which is covered ahead – along with an offerings from Jason Schwartzman in “Listen Up Philip” and Anne Hathaway in “Song One.”
“The Raid 2”
Gareth Evans’ “The Raid” (later re-titled “The Raid: Redemption”) was a surprise action hit coming out of the festival circuit a couple of years ago. One of the few criticisms of the first film was that there wasn’t enough character development and the sole purpose of the film was to deliver non-stop action. In this sequel, Rama (Iko Uwais) is back, this time spending two years in prison in an effort to go undercover – DiCaprio in “The Departed” style -- to infiltrate a new gang.
The running time of “The Raid 2” is almost an hour longer than the first, and an effort is made to add more character development this time around. But, who are we kidding? We see a movie like this for the fight scenes. As I was watching, all I kept thinking to myself was, stop talking; just keep fighting. And the fights do deliver – providing some of the best choreographed hand-to-hand action sequences that I’ve ever seen, which resulted in audience applause on at least four occasions. Though, the story itself … eh, what does it matter? Stop talking; just keep fighting.
“Listen Up Philip”
The first 20 minutes of this movie are amongst my favorite 20 minutes of the festival. Jason Schwartzman plays an insufferable prick named Philip who is just fascinating to watch from a distance. I was hoping the whole movie would just be a day in the life of Philip, walking around New York City being an ass to people. Unfortunately, after such a snappy start, the film slows … down as Philip, a published writer, contemplates his next career move while neglecting his live-in girlfriend, played by Elizabeth Moss. Even though Philip’s name is in the title, the film switches points of view between four different characters – and the film suffers when the focus isn’t on Philip. It’s actually a little maddening that director Alex Ross Perry didn’t realize what a great character he had in Philip and focus the movie more on him than he does. As is, we're left with something okay that just feels like it should have been more.
What a nice movie. I know that sounds blasé and isn't very descriptive, but that's the word I kept repeating to myself while watching. Honestly, nothing much happens in this movie, but there's something soothing about the way it's presented. Again: nice.
Even though director Kate Barker-Froyland's feature length debut is titled "Song One," this isn't "Anne Hathaway sings herself through another movie." (Though, she does sing a couple lines of an America song.) Hathaway plays Franny, an anthropologist who has to return to New York City after learning that her musician brother is in a coma after a car accident.
Hathaway is extremely understated as Franny in a way we haven't seen her in quite some time. It's never planned this way -- Hathaway had been involved in this project for a few years -- but it does serve as a nice balance to her rather bombastic 2012.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.