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Films I Neglected To Review: Batter Up!
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Anita," "In the Blood" and "The Raid 2: Berandal".

The U.S. Senate has been the site of any number of embarrassing spectacles but even after more than 20 years, the Anita Hill matter--in which an unassuming University of Oklahoma professor found herself thrust into the national spotlight when her statements about sexual harassment that she made regarding one-time boss Clarence Thomas during the vetting process for his Supreme Court nomination were made public and landed her in front of an all-male and all-white Senate Judiciary Committee for nine hours of increasingly grotesque questioning--still ranks as one of its lowest points. The new documentary "Anita" takes viewers back to that time to chart Hill's story leading up to her testimony, which led to Republicans doing their very best to publicly humiliate her, Democrats such as Joe Biden and Edward Kennedy letting her down by failing to prevent the questioning from turning into an interrogation and Thomas cruising to confirmation by effectively playing the race card by describing the testimony about him as nothing more than "a high-tech lynching."

Oscar-winning documentarian Freida Mock does an effective job of taking viewers back to that heated period while also providing a cool-minded assessment analyzing how and why things turned out the way they did and Hill, now teaching at Rutgers, provides strong and solid commentary about her feelings about her brief and largely unwanted time in the public eye and how she has come to terms with it in subsequent years. Some may complain that "Anita" does not provide a balanced look at the story because it fails to give those accused of dragging her through the mud a forum to justify their actions but that is largely besides the point. In essence, "Anita" gives Anita Hill and her supporters a chance to fully get her story out while showing contemporary audiences both how far we have come since the fall of 1991 and how little things have changed during that time.

In "In the Blood," her first starring role since making her screen debut in Steven Soderbergh's underrated action thriller "Haywire," mixed martial arts sensation Gina Carano plays a woman with a troubled past who has straightened up her life and, as the story begins, is off to the Dominican Republic on a honeymoon trip with her new husband (Cam Gigadent) when he mysteriously disappears. With a father-in-law (Treat Williams) who suspects that her dark past is somehow responsible and a local cop (Luis Guzman) with no apparent interest in solving the case, she takes it upon herself to track down her husband while laying brutal beatdowns on anyone who gets in her way. Luckily for action fans, lots of people do just that and when Carano is kicking ass, the film is an agreeably bit of junky B-movie spectacle that finds director John Stockwell keeping things moving along in a slick and unfussy manner. However, when the fists aren't flying, it becomes terribly apparent that the various surprise twists and turns of the plot are anything but and that Carano, although possessed with plenty of charisma, is not exactly the strongest actress around. She is still eminently watchable, especially while pounding the world's luckiest bad guys into submission, but even her efforts are not enough to rescue this film from terminal mediocrity.

After watching "The Raid," the over-the-top Indonesian action extravaganza that became a cult sensation a couple of years ago, many observers might have assumed that writer-director Gareth Evans had completely exhausted the various forms of punishment that lead actor Iko Uwais could possibly endure and deliver within the confines of a single film. As the super-sized sequel "The Raid 2: Berandal" clearly demonstrates over its borderline crazy 150-minute running time, Evans had only begun to scratch the surface of scratching his star's surface. Picking up almost exactly where the first one left off, noble rookie cop Roma (Uwais), having barely escaped a botched raid on an apartment complex controlled by a ruthless drug dealer, is forced by his superiors to go on a long undercover assignment to infiltrate the ranks of a crime family and gets caught in the middle when the benign leader's hothead son instigates a war with a rival gang in an attempt to seize power for himself.

Although more narratively complex than the original, the storyline is once again secondary to a never-ending string of startling and extended action set-pieces that find Roma battling oddball enemies such as a hammer-wielding babe and a guy whose preferred method of killing involves both a baseball bat and the baseball while enduring enough physical trauma to kill a dozen normal men each time out. Many of the scenes are legitimately exciting--the climactic brawl throughout the once-pristine kitchen area of a hotel is an instant classic of the form while the centerpiece car chase is perhaps the first example of that tired cliche since the "Mad Max" movies that will have people wondering how the hell they pulled off the incredible stunts on display--but the pacing is so relentless that even the adrenaline junkies in the audience will come out of it feeling almost as exhausted as the on-screen characters. While it may well be too much of a good thing when all is said and done, "The Raid 2: Redemption" does give a genuine shot in the arm to an increasingly tiresome genre and demonstrates infinitely more ingenuity and excitement than most of the bloated behemoths of late and at only a tiny fraction of the cost.

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originally posted: 04/05/14 02:05:53
last updated: 04/05/14 02:27:55
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