Merantau is 100% ass-kicking thanks to writer/director/editor Gareth Edwards and Silat (an Indonesian form of martial arts) specialist Iko Uwais. The plot is simple – save the girl and fight like hell – and despite some questionable performances (the bad guys clearly got cast because of their fighting abilities…) the film succeeds thanks in no small part to Uwais’s amazing physical abilities and the fluid and coherent way the action was conceived by Edwards. The bittersweet ending was a nice touch, and there are more than a few wince-out-loud moments during the frequent, bone-crunching, blood-spewing fights, that were mainly shot in long, unbroken takes.I’ve always liked Mel Gibson as both an actor and filmmaker (Apocalypto and Braveheart are masterpieces), and while he’s very good in The Beaver, the film suffers from never really knowing what it truly wanted to be. Director Jodie Foster has certainly made an interesting picture about mental illness but because of the tonally confused script, the movie never balances out in a truly satisfying way, despite many great individual scenes and moments. All of the performances are sharp, with Gibson perfectly cast as the puppet-wielding crazy-man, Anton Yelchin as his disapproving son, and Jessica Lawrence as Yelchin’s messed-up love interest.
It’s no surprise that Ed Norton and Robert De Niro are great actors, and as usual, they deliver the goods in Stone, a brooding and semi-successful psychological thriller with religious overtones and questionable morals. Milla Jovovich is pretty good as Norton’s slutty girlfriend who seduces De Niro into letting her man out of prison early, but the film never truly convinces when it comes to the various relationships between the characters. An interesting sound design was employed by director John Curran, but he should have worked out his script a bit more before shooting.
Mark Duplass gets a lot of laughs in the small, earnest, and very funny indie comedy True Adolescents, a minor work that isn’t really about anything tangible or plot-centric, but rather, a slice of slackerdom that shines a light on a character who needs to grow up extremely quick. I’d call it a coming-of-age story in more ways than one, and the greatest strength of Craig Johnson’s debut feature is how he blends three very different yet similar characters into a small story of understanding and misunderstanding. The rough and tumble vibe of the flick works well when you think about the type of people you’re observing.