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Juliette Lewis is the Coolest

Juliette Lewis is the Coolest
Juliette Lewis is the Coolest
Paste is at SXSW this week, and we just completed two days of interviews in our Paste Interactive Studio & Lounge, where Paste‘s founding editor-in-chief Josh Jackson and movies editor Michael Dunaway talked to filmmakers, actors, musicians and comedians. One of our favorite conversations was with Juliette Lewis, who was in Austin, Texas, for a pair of films she’s in—Hellion and Kelly and Cal. The full interview will appear in an episode of the soon-to-be-launched Paste podcast.
Josh Jackson: Everybody welcome back to the Paste 2014 interview lounge with Blue Sound. Thank you for joining us live in the audience here. Thank you for joining us through your iPod or computer at home through the podcast. We’re here with the very powerful, microphone-wielding Juliette Lewis.
Juliette Lewis: Woooo! Hi. I can hear people behind their computers like “Yeah!”
Michael Dunaway: The applause is overloading the inter webs as we speak. So Juliette is here at SXSW with two films that we really enjoyed, Hellion and Kelly and Cal.
Jackson: Music is a huge part of what we do at Paste, as is, of course, movies, so it’s great to have you here to talk about both.
Lewis: Yeah, because for the longest time I was a closeted songwriter. I was in the closet, for real, because music is so personal. It’s guttural. Even if it’s a song about sexual frustration, it’s just a fun rah-rah-rah song, it’s still all me. So I kept it really close to my chest and guarded for a long time and I ended up coming out. It was actually at my 30th birthday party—I had my first band and played. Yeah, it was funny. And then my first official gig was a gay night in Silver Lake, a little groovy party in Los Angeles. It was sweltering heat, and I remember it well.
Jackson: And there is a little bit of a stigma when actors and actresses decide to do music, and you overcame that straight out of the gate.
Lewis: Here’s the thing: I am so dialed in. This business is so cuckoo and not that friendly, although superficially it could appear to be. “You’re plain! You’re fat! She’s weird! She’s ugly. Blah, blah, blah. Whatever.” I’m so used to naysayers. So for example, when I came out and did Cape Fear, everyone’s like—where did Scorsese find this girl, this ingénue? She must just be just like this girl. I was nothing like that girl. Then Natural Born Killer was all over. It’s like, “Can you play a killer? It’s not possible.” So I had to brainwash him that I could strangle you with my bare hands. Which I didn’t say to him. But, no I mean he made me do like pull-ups.
Jackson: Wait, this is at the casting hour?
Lewis: He’d make me come in weekly and he’d put up a bar where I had to do chin ups. He’s like—if you can do 14 chin-ups, you can have the part. I don’t know. I never made it to 14, but I think he honored my spirit.
Dunaway: He saw that you were willing to actually…
Lewis: I was willing to go the distance! But so my point is now people are like, of course she’s Mallory. She lives in primal energies. Whatever. So it just goes on and on. So I’m used to people doubting you. And so with the music, all the things that are your weirdness, your pain, your weakness—it’s now my banner; it’s like my strength. So for instance, I used to get panic attacks in crowds because when you lose your anonymity at 19 and you’re an introvert, it might fuck up your head, which it did, and so I used to not go in crowded places. And then my rock band became this, this thing to face all my fears. But that was the least of my fears—judgment—I don’t give a shit. Here’s my whole point was like, I’m going to find the 40 people in any room and I’m going to take you with me. And we’re going to go on this journey together. And it started multiplying. And I also knew because music is so personal—there are a lot of shitty bands that are successful, and there are a lot of brilliant bands that not enough people know of. So I know music is just that personal relationship with your audience. And it also wasn’t gonna—there’s no future in it if it’s just for that curiosity factor. My first tour I did was the Warped tour, and I was likening myself to the bearded lady at the circus, because not only was I an actor touring, doing rock ’n’ roll, but I was also a female front person making really muscular male dominated rock music.
Jackson: And on that tour, there weren’t many women.
Lewis: There were 60 bands and three had females in them. So I worked for that, and I worked over every crowd. Now I’m slightly cocky about my live show. What I’m saying is that you may not like the music, but you’ll never be bored at one of my shows.
Jackson: Which is rare in music today. And it’s been five years now since Terra Incognito, but you did music for this movie. What are you doing musically right now?
Lewis: Yeah, I went through this whole soul-searching thing and had the Licks and my main partner in that, we split up. And then I did my solo endeavor and what that meant was getting all—I wanted to break the structure of what the Licks were—it was pretty much guitar-driven rock music and high energy and big choruses. And so I wanted to do more meandering songs—songs that break the verse-chorus-bridge structure and so it’s a weird record. It’s an acquired taste. But for me, I grew as a songwriter. So that was the last thing I did. And then I’m not done yet with cinema. So I was like, “Let me return to this pool and see what I can find, what I can contribute to it.” And it causes a little bit of split personality. It drives me crazy. I did August: Osage County—which was huge for me. It’s a Tracy Letts play. Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor—a beautiful cast. I did that a year and a half ago. And then, so this movie is the first time I’m actually writing music for a movie. So I’m cross-mating the two together. Now, it’s not my music. I’m writing in character, through my character—what she played in her high-school years. Which is all that ’90s kind of riot-grrrl style music that was so incredible at that time. So it’s sort of a niche sound, and I wrote this song. I had to use the lyrics that the screenwriter wrote, and also I wanted to write a decent sounding song. So the director, she gave me a Sleater Kinney song and PJ Harvey To Bring Me My Love. And I called up my first guitar player, Clint Walsh, and he beautifully translated it into this like bluesy, sludgy, seductive rift. And then we wrote the triply song that’s in there, that’s in the scene.
Dunaway: All you’ve gotta do is write a song as good as Sleater and PJ Harvey. That’s all.
Lewis: Well, let me go on record and say it is not. But you can be inspired by your heroes.
Jackson: But that’s really an interesting intersection between music and what you do as an actress, because you’re getting in the head of your character—which songwriters do when they’re writing a third person song. They’re getting in the head of their character. But you’ve now made a career of doing that on both ends of the spectrum.
Dunaway: And you also do it in Mark Ruffalo’s amazing film Sympathy for Delicious which I never pass up a chance to plug. Everyone on the podcast should go rent.
Lewis: Yeah, I want to do that more and more. All my musician friends—we all want to have our songs in film and television. It’s a great medium. It also gives you a chance, like I said, to write in different styles and stretch yourself. So in Kelly & Cal, the character, she was a bass player and they unearth a first cassette of hers. So we wrote that first song and then there’s the last song that closes out the movie was just inspired by how much feeling I had toward the film. The film, the girl goes through and she says there’s an existential crisis, and I felt like I had just passed through such a thing in my own life. I think I’m still kind of—now I say I’m on the other side of an existential crisis, so hopefully smooth weather up ahead.
Dunaway: An existential calm, maybe?
Lewis: It’s never gonna happen. I finally, I was laying in bed the other night and I said, “Juliette, you like suffering. Just enjoy it. You love suffering. You never like anything easy.” Because you’re like, “Why can’t life be easier!”
Dunaway: Sounds like a song to me. Sounds like you need to get writing.
Lewis: Well, I wrote a song that will be on my new EP! “I Know Trouble.” This one song is called “I know Trouble” and I wrote it with Cage The Elephant. I sort of kidnapped that and got the drummer, Brad Schultz, who is the cofounder of Cage, produced it. And we recorded it in Nashville, where I got this hat. You all at home who can’t see.
Dunaway: That’s great.
Lewis: I don’t drink Pabst, but it’s a new trucker hat. I’m wearing it.
Jackson: It’s a great hat.
Lewis: Thanks.
Dunaway: When is that EP dropping?
Lewis: In the next couple of months, but you’ve gotta understand, I miss it so much. When I don’t play live—because I’ll go through these real stages of melancholia, I mean ever since I was a kid, so I try to embrace it. But and then I go, “Oh my God, oh right, because you’re not singing. You’re not playing with people. You have to do that.” So this year, I decided not to do a full length because I’ve been gone for awhile. It’s a new sound. We were inspired a lot by The Kinks, The Zombies, the kind of early garage-y ’60s psychedelic music and the sounds in that. It’s just groovy. It’s cool. And Brad was instrumental in producing the sound, so that will come out in the next couple of months, I’ll put it all on social media and let people know about it. But I do have a few shows I’m opening for Page, just on the West Coast in April.
Dunaway: I pray you open the album saying, “Don’t call it a comeback.” Give LL a little shout-out. All right, so we could sit here and talk music all day long but we really need to talk about a little bit of movie stuff. Let’s briefly hit Kelly & Cal and then we’re going to bring in another special guest onstage to talk about Hellion. A little unannounced surprise for those of you here. So Kelly & Cal I really enjoyed. It’s a movie that when I heard the set up and heard the premise of, I was like, “Well okay, we’ll see. I love Juliette’s work.” I think you’re one of the most naturalistic actors around. You never see the strings. You never see you acting, so I’ll see pretty much anything that you’ve got a big part in. But I saw the film and it was so well executed. It didn’t fall into the many pitfalls it could have fallen into.
Lewis: Yeah, because for you all at home, I love saying that. We’re all together in this. But the story, it could have clichés about it, but it’s, but that’s life. Do you know what I mean? The clichéd older guy getting with a younger girl. Whatever. But what drives that story, that’s what’s behind it. So this one—she’s a new mother and she’s riddled with like, insomnia, but also with kind of not knowing where she’s going and how did she get here? And I related to that feeling, because the things that drove you when you were 25 don’t drive you when you’re 40. It starts changing, and you kind of miss it. You’re like, “But wait, remember that punk, that rebel spirit?” It’s a good thing to have. It changes. And she’s trying to navigate poorly this new stage in her life. She creates this unlikely friendship with a boy across the street, and it was a challenging thing on many levels. One—the most important thing was finding the kid. And so, I needed an of-age actor, first of all. And it’s played incredibly by Jonny Weston. He was 24 at the time, and he’s playing 17. Cal dominates these scenes. He has an angsty punk-rock spirit, and that’s really real and beautiful. And I was in love with Cal on the page, and then it was quite easy to be in love as Kelly and with John playing it. We had an incredible chemistry, and that was from the second we were in the room across from each other. So I needed a young actor that, because the director looked and guys and he sent in their great tapes, but what is it when they’re sitting across from me? I need them to really dominate the energy and not to give myself “Agh, ahhh!” Not many can. No I’m just kidding. Totally kidding, guys. Sorry I have low self-esteem that matches his cockiness, too.
Dunaway: It’s just the microphone! It’s giving you power.
Lewis: It is! Alright, but this was the first time I was in every single scene. We shot 16-hour days. And then, I went on to another labor of love. I mean, these independent films are so beautiful because it reminds you: This is why we make movies. We make them for the experience. We make them because we’re crazy. We want to create fantasy and real life so people can transcend and learn or just escape. So you’re doing it for all of the right reasons, and it was a really special experience. We shot in New York. We had wild Saturday nights and then worked real hard the rest of the week. My wild Saturday nights now are just dancing.
Dunaway: In your living room, or out in the world?
Lewis: No, out in the world!
Dunaway: Well, speaking of wild experiences, I think now it’s about time to bring to the stage the great and wonderful Kat Candler.
Lewis: Kat Candler! My director from Hellions!
Jackson: So Hellions was one of my favorite films from Sundance this year, and you’re here at SXSW as well and more people get to see this movie with Juliette Lewis and Aaron Paul and a couple of kids who just did phenomenal jobs in that movie.
Kat Candler: Yeah, I was so proud of those kids.
Jackson: So Juliette, in this one, you play the concerned sister-in-law of Aaron Paul, and your sister is deceased and these kids are in kind of a tough situation. But it’s this weird combination of the concern and being there for these children but also being alone as the antagonist in the film.
Lewis: You’re hitting the nail on the head. It’s such a trip because she’s such a good soul, but we have that confrontation scene with me and Aaron, and I’m like, “Oh, she’s fucking him over. It’s all for the right reasons, but then I love the complexity.” And Kat helped with all of this. A: She wrote the film. Also the layers, there’s a little selfish streak, and there’s a selfish streak in all of us—our own agenda. But there’s also what’s best for the kids, so I hope that all those colors came off.
Jackson: They did. And the audience goes back and forth, you know, as events sort of unfold in this movie—not knowing what to pull for. And Kat, that’s a feat in itself to pull off, to be honest.
Candler: Thank you. Yeah. With any kind of story that you’re writing—and I love, love, love the writing process—it’s about, I know I talked about this, it’s about, going in. South West Texas, referring to my town, and that’s not a world that I know, and I was going down there spending long kind of weekends exploring and investigating and knowing people and interviewing people and just trying to get the honesty and the authenticity of these characters and this world. Down to the just, it’s such a complicated dynamic between these two adults, again just to do right by this kid and trying to protect and take care of this kid ultimately, when they’re all sort of messing up in beautiful messed-up ways left and right.
Jackson: And how you see that there’s no bad guy either. There’s no pure sort of villain. And that’s what I love about this movie—this complex situation that you’re brought into. And you immediately feel for this character, including the sort of antagonist that you play.
Lewis: Well, I’m glad. It was fun for me, because it’s followed Kelly & Cal in that I’m doing my new kick. This is what I’ve been saying. I’m on a minimalism streak. You know, meaning, these aren’t extreme characters. They’re relatively normal people. That’s what I love. I love the layers and nuances. But they’re grounded. So you’re always reaching into your own bag of experience and things about yourself and finding those elements that create a character. And Kat was instrumental in that. She’s grounded, she’s grounded. And my big thing is always in my head that I say to myself is, “Do less, do less.” So it’s this whole trip on how to do nothing but there’s an energy there. You’re still moving people. It’s a real wild thing.
Candler: To your point of villainous characters, I hope that there are no—villian is not to be human. They need to have, you know some sort of hurt, even if it’s small or whatnot, but yeah, characters for me that I love and just kind of die for are the ones that are just making beautiful mistakes, and they’re fallible. Because I think that’s what’s interesting and at the heart of who we are and why we do what we do. We’re human.
Jackson: That is a great description of those characters. There are a lot of beautiful mistakes in that movie.
Lewis: I just wanted to say one thing about Kat that was so interesting. She’s the writer as much as the director. I mean, is the writer and director. And—this was your second film, right?
Candler: It’s actually my third. But I will say—the first two I kind of feel like were like my film school, because I didn’t go to film school. So this is the one I’m like, I want as many people to see this as possible because I really am proud of all of the work of everybody that was on the film. Regardless if it was on the soundtrack or the PA. All of our hearts were in this like 150 percent, and I couldn’t be more proud.
Lewis: Now I have to finish. So it’s her third film. But my point is what I’m looking for in a filmmaker is I don’t want someone—It’s like. I worked with another writer/director, and you’re more of a writer. Because filmmaking is a visual medium, so I want to know that you’re technically proficient. I want to know that you have a vision. And so what she did that blew my mind was how she describes the environment, because it was so much a part of the script. When you read it, you visualize where they are, and you can feel the dust, the mud, the desolation, and it’s, that’s a character in the movie. And that was the first thing, she pulls out this book and was like, “here’s this.” This is what it’s going to be, and I loved that we got to shoot in that part of town.
Jackson: It shocked me to hear that it was not familiar territory to you.
Candler: No, I had never been down to Southeast Texas before. So we had shot the short film in 2011, and someone said I think the expansion of this world is in Texas. And so I said, “let’s go!” So we went down and started taking these long trips and yeah, it’s that’s the logic of what we do as filmmakers and writers, is to being able to explore and discover.
Lewis: We have to say Aaron Paul, I mean! Rules this movie. He’s going to get out of bitch on this one! He’s this tortured beautiful soul, and he’s an epic actor. And so I was really happy to see him do this part.
Jackson: And a great role. There’s some, there’s this likable—I mean, evenBreaking Bad at his worst, there’s this likable quality about him that you can’t ever go. Even when he’s making his beautiful mistakes, like he does in the series and then in this movie, there’s something about that guy. You just want to give him a hug. And in this movie, he needs one.
Candler: Yeah, it’s great because you guys had Mary Elizabeth Winstead here right before us, and I had seen Smashed, and that’s what drove me to Aaron. I walked out of the theater thinking, “oh my God, the performance director was incredible with the actors.” And I was like, “oh my God, this kid Aaron Paul.” I had only seen two episodes of Breaking Bad at that point, because the box top episode is sort of the defining either you can stomach this or you can’t. And so I saw Smashedand I thought, “he’s so special.” There’s something wonderful about this guy, and that’s what, that’s when I went after him.

Day Z: A video game exploration of the best and worst of human nature

Day Z: A video game exploration of the best and worst of human nature

There’s a question inherent in the design of DayZ. Every player wakes up on the shore of a deserted, partially ruined and overtly hostile Eastern European island, with nothing but a flashlight in their pocket and the shirt on their back. On this island are weapons, food, plenty of water and a few dozen other players, all with the same opportunities and needs as you. The question, then, is simple: What’s going to kill you first?
It could just be simple hunger, each step you take incrementally ticking down a hidden number towards starvation, at which point your vision blurs and you’re incapacitated by sharp pangs in your stomach. Thirst, too, is an ever present reminder as your character lets you know that it’s been a while since you last saw water, and things aren’t looking too good. The zombies, of course, are a threat, although it’s less about attrition there and more about having the bad luck to have one of them cut you, making you bleed and making your already weak state significantly worse.
Sitting at the top of the pile of threats that DayZ presents to you, however, are the other people. The ones who know what they’re doing, sweeping across the Chernarus countryside with efficiency and a keen eye, quickly amassing and stockpiling supplies, clothes and weaponry. Some will kill you just to be on the safe side, a crackle from half a mile away and a dull thwack into the grass around you the only marker that someone is taking pot shots at you, until one of them hits home and the screen goes black. Then it’s nothing but a deadpan ‘You are dead.’ sitting in the middle of the screen.
Worse are those players who use you as sport, entertainment to break up the monotony of the apocalypse. They’ll handcuff you, rifle through your belongings taking the choice items, before either setting you free or deciding to have a little fun. Then it’s force-fed disinfectant, or blindfolds before sending you out into zombie-infested territory. Or they might just shoot you, just the once, and let you run around, faint and bleeding.
DayZ should be unpleasant. It should be held up as a monument to the darker side of the human psyche, a grand social experiment that went wrong, and instead of reflecting how we would band together in our shared need for survival, it instead just mirrored back a monster, a series of predators and prey, each struggling to become the former while inevitably, at some point, pushed into the latter.
“It’s not about giving the players the ability to do cool stuff like force feed someone disinfectant or tie someone up,” Dean Hall, the creator of the original Day Z mod, and now the Project Lead on the standalone game, is emphatic in the face of this psychopathy. “We give players these options because every now and then you’ll run across someone who won’t do these things, and that gives you a really positive experience. The crux of it is to give players free will to choose what they will do in a given situation. And when you’re dealing with other human beings, that really makes the player think about the impact of the choices they make.”
What is compelling about DayZ is the contrasts it creates. If you’ve heard about the game at all, you’ve probably heard what amount to horror stories, retellings of terrifying kidnappings, or just being held up on the side of the road and being utterly powerless in the face of superior weaponry, and a superior will. But these moments are blips among a relatively tranquil experience. Most of the time, you’re wandering alone or with friends, through wilderness or abandoned towns.
As a result, silence and a quietness of experience become emblematic of DayZ. It’s not boring because of those blips; if you let your guard down you will end up in a bad way. So you are riddled with tension, each element, from the hunger to the thirst, the players to the zombies, all working together to force you to stay aware.
“It’s about adding one of many little tensions onto the player when they’re making decisions.” Hall continues. “So they’re hungry, thirsty, and they need to get food and water, but to do that they need to go into a built up area where there are zombies.” And players, because that’s where the good stuff is; the tinned food, the weapons, the nice equipment.
I’ve been at both ends of a rifle, and both ends of a stick-up. I don’t think it’s trite to say that most players, when they start DayZ, imagine themselves as a sort of Clint Eastwood of the wasteland, aspirations of being the Pale Rider running into town, saving lives and shooting bad guys. What’s interesting to me is how quickly that hope falls by the side of the road, cast away among a pile of empty cans of tuna, and ruined jeans. Necessity makes an honest man a knave, and quickly, too.
So you ask yourself that question, what’s going to kill you, when you start DayZ. It’s filled with curiosity, and a sense of adventure; without the normal consequences, death can suddenly take on a certain morbid entertainment value when you know you’ll just wash up on the shore of Chernarus once again, looking to cheat the reaper for a little while longer. It’s what takes the wind out of the sails of the argument that DayZ is abhorrent, nothing but a murder simulator for sadists and the perverted. Yes, the things you can do, in the context of reality, are terrible, but when interpreted through the lens of a virtual space, you’re provided with an opportunity to experience the things you’d never want to in reality. It’s a form of escapism, to be trapped and robbed.
“I’ve heard the game being called a ‘murder simulator’ in the past,” Hall admits. “And I think there’s an element of truth to that. I feel like videogames have often taken the easy road, and they’re all about fun. There’s a phrase used for a lot of rogue-like games that ‘it’s fun to lose’, and I think that’s kind of what DayZ’s about.” It’s at this point I’d interject. In DayZ it isn’t so much fun in the losing, but the /how/ of it. What happened before, how you got there, how far you made it. Putting a cap on a series of experiences, to provide a clean end to the narrative.
“DayZ was always about providing choice to the player, so that the player’s decisions actually mattered; you weren’t going on rails. So the way I’d redeem it to people is that really this is about exploring the good and the bad of people, and that you can’t have the good without the bad, and that is really what DayZ is; it’s about exploring that. It’s really an experiment in terms of emotion in a videogame. Giving someone something of value, and then seeing how they react when that’s taken away.”

Samsung Galaxy S5: pre-orders open with £42 contract at Carphone Warehouse

Samsung Galaxy S5: pre-orders open with £42 contract at Carphone Warehouse
The eagerly-anticipated Samsung Galaxy S5
The eagerly-anticipated Samsung Galaxy S5 
The new Samsung Galaxy S5 will cost either £579.95 sim-free or £42 per month on a Vodafone 4G contract with no upfront cost from Carphone Warehouse.
The retailer said that pre-registration figures for the new flagship had quickly eclipsed those recorded for last year’s Samsung Galaxy S4.
A spokesman said, “The S5 looks set to become a record breaking handset for Samsung at a key time in the mobile calendar as several major manufacturers launch handsets within weeks of one another. Our early pre-registration figures for this handset were off the charts and we’re expecting web traffic this evening to be high as Samsung’s loyal fans log on to place their orders at midnight.”
Pre-ordered handsets will be delivered from 11 April and are available in ‘Shimmer White’ and ‘Charcoal Black’. ‘Electric Blue’ models will be delivered by 22 April and ‘Copper Gold’ by 20 May.
Samsung had previously announced its latest flagship's pre-order date, but not prices.
The S5 was announced with much fanfare at Mobile World Congress last month in Barcelona, and features several notable departures from its S4 predecessor.
Its 16MP camera allows users to adjust the focus of their photographs after they've been taken, and the home button fingerprint scanner is expected to be instrumental in changing how we pay for online shopping via PayPal.
  • Samsung Galaxy S5 hands on review

Stolen Twitter passwords 'worth more than credit card details

Stolen Twitter passwords 'worth more than credit card details
Hacker using laptop. Lots of digits on the computer screen
Online criminals now prize Twitter account details more highly than stolen credit card details Photo: Alamy
Stolen Twitter accounts can now be worth more to hackers than credit card details, according to a piece of research which shows that the law of supply and demand affects the cyber crime industry in the same way it does legitimate business.
Credit card details - once the "currency of the black market" - were worth between $20 and $40 when fresh, quickly dropping to as low as $2 when "stale". But recent data breaches have caused a glut of data to flood onto the market, slashing the cost of stolen card details, writes security expert Michael Callahan of Juniper Networks.
Access to social media accounts such as Twitter can be worth far more, varying from $16 to more than $325, because of the hints they can provide on how to hack into other aspects of a victim's online identity.
"Social media and other credentials include usernames and passwords, which can often be used as an entry point to launch attacks on that person’s accounts on a number of other sites," he said.
"Given the number of people that tend to use the same username and passwords, hacking one account can often yield other valuable information such as online banking or e-commerce accounts. By stealing Joe Smith’s account information on one site, the criminal might gain access to his information on ten sites.
"An individual’s stolen account information can be used to spear-phish the accounts of friends, family and co-workers for additional financial gain."
A new report from the company warns that in the coming years we will see more activity in darknets, malware and the ability of criminals to stage cyber attacks increasing faster than the capability of law enforcement agencies to stop them.
Callahan said it was vital for people to use different passwords for each site, so that if one account is compromised it will not allow the hackers access to their whole digital lives, and to be wary of clicking unusual links in emails from strangers.

Review: THE RAID 2

Review: THE RAID 2

Review: THE RAID 2

The raid 2 final fight

The super-bloody and brutal violence is extensive, glorious, and exhilarating. Sadly, the length and complex story drag the movie down.
The vast bulk of American action films these days seem to be fantasy films that are rated PG-13. Sure, a lot of these friendly mainstream, teen-ready thrillers can be pretty exhilarating, but you have to admit that there is a definite lack of grit to many of them. When a superhero rams his fist into someone’s face, for instance, or a dwarf swipes a sword across someone’s chest (the single most common kill move in all films and TV shows featuring swords), it’s always diluted by a camera angle, a lack of blood, and a strange cleanliness. There is, however, a seething, gleeful gorehound inside all of us that secretly longs for more. It’s one thing to see someone die in battle; It’s quite another to watch arterial spray decorate our ultra-violent hero’s face and neck with a delightfully primal shade of crimson.
So it’s no wonder that films like Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption become enormous cult hits in America. Most of their American counterparts simply aren’t providing the balls-to-the-wall, fist-through-the-head violence that so many young males (and maybe a few females) crave, even when the premise is repeated with a bigger budget and a more complex setting (see Dredd). I’m happy to report that The Raid 2 provides every last bit of broken bones, crushed heads, compound fractures, bleeding wounds, and off-the-wall, near-cartoon levels of extreme gore that your heart can possibly desire. Seriously, The Raid 2 is one of the most violent films I’ve seen in a long while. Well, there was that Evil Deadremake. Its amazingly creative violence, paired with its low-fi, foreign origins (the film is Indonesian), give The Raid 2 an honest-to-goodness grindhouse feeling. This is the kind of film that would play better at a drive-in movie theater, or consumed surreptitiously en masse at a pizza-fueled sleepover after your parents have gone to bed.
The Raid 2 Hammer Girl
But is the gore and violence enough to sustain it? Sadly, I don’t think so. Ultimately, this film collapses under its own weight, offering far too much for the average constitution to handle. The Raid 2 runs way, way too long at a bloated 150 minutes, allowing for extraneous plot threads to enter, stretch their arms, sit around for a while, and leave at a leisurely pace. The film is peppered with pusillanimous and bizarre ancillary characters, a too-long setup, and too much delay before the amazing climax. By the time the final fight begins, most exploitation movies would have been over for 35 minutes.
To catch up: The first The Raid was a closed-box thriller wherein a group of cops fought their way upward through a tower of bad guys to slay a crime master sitting at the top. The premise sounded like a video game at the time, but by all accounts its simplicity worked in its favor. Rama (Iko Uwias) was the central survivor from that film, and, at the outset of the sequel, is tapped to engage in a years-long undercover operation to take down yet another crime lord. He spends several years in prison as part of his cover, and befriends the crime boss’ son, mostly dramatized through an extended, face-smashing mud-pit brawl. Once on the outside, Rama finds that the crime boss’ connections are more extensive and more wicked than he could have imagined. After a visit to an illegal porn ring, strip searches, car chases, hooker parties, corrupt cops, a pair of video-game escapees who kill people with baseballs and hammers (and you’re gonna love those two), and a completely useless subplot about an aged assassin trying to make good with his kid (this plot never directly effect’s Rama’s plotline), we finally get to the final fight, wherein Rama has to fight his way through an entire building of toughs.
The Raid 2 mud fight
But by then, you’ve been crushed into your seat by the extensive exposition and complex plot that seems more and more haphazardly unbound as the film progresses. This is a ludicrously inefficient way to stage an action movie. Action movies need to be tight, taut, lithe. The Raid 2 is loose, unorganized, and top-heavy. What’s more, it’s unbelievably downbeat, smeared with epic emotional pretension and brooding, teary tragedy that betrays any fun you might have. It’s hard to be thrilled when your movie is such a downer.
But if you can shake off the darkness, and wait through the bulk of the film, you’ll find a level of glorious action overkill that we’ve been deprived of. For many, the action will be enough. I would have appreciated The Raid 2 more if it had actually worked as a whole movie.

THE RAID 2 Invades New York: Interviews With Iko Uwais And Julie Estelle

Shortly before the New York City red carpet premiere of The Raid 2 {orig. title:The Raid 2: Berandal}, I caught up with Iko Uwais, reprising his role as everybody's favourite Indonesian undercover cop, and Julie Estelle, who told me all the secrets of the bone-smashing, spine-ripping Hammer Girl.  Be warned: Spoilers abound!

Iko Uwais
The Lady Miz Diva:  This is your third film with director Gareth Evans.  Do you guys have a shorthand now as to communicating what he wants you to do? 

Iko Uwais:  Yes!

How has that made the process of filming easier? 

IU:  Knowing Gareth for quite a while and knowing our personalities and how we work together, both of us have developed an easy connection in terms of work, in terms of choreography, in terms of what he wants and what I can give and what he knows that I can provide him with - different types of choreography - and that's what makes the process easier. 

Every sequel is meant to be bigger, better and somewhat different to the film before it.  What were the challenges in making this film?

IU:  It was more challenging because it was more emotional.  And the emotions in the choreography were more complex.  And the choreography had to be more aggressive and more violent.  

I'm not a martial artist, but between this film and the first RAID film, it looked like the fighting was a bit different, incorporating a broader style.  Did I see that correctly? 

  Yes.  What you have seen is correct, because in Indonesia, the pencak silat itself could be used as part of the art, not just the martial art, but part of the art. Traditionally, when they would show off part of the art from this pencak silat, it would come with some kind of traditional music like the drum and the tambourine and all the traditional music that connects to the pencak silat itself.  So the movement that you are seeing would be more artful movement.  So that's the art part. 

From that basic form that looks sort of like a dancing form of art; it's a slow movement, but it's to show the elasticity of the body that moves from the soft to the full force in the pencak silat.  That's how we combine the martial and the art. 

You mentioned the added emotional content in this film.  Was it a challenge for you to stretch dramatic muscles in this way?

 Exactly, yes.  There were a lot of challenges; not only the fighting, there were other challenges, as well.  In order to follow the drama scenes and the fighting scenes, I had to connect to the previous story.  The drama scenes would have emotions from top to down - high, medium and lower - I had to know how much emotion to show. But at the same time, that emotion would also be used during the fighting, because there might be a time where I have to fight full force with anger, and I have to show that connection with the emotions and the fight. 

It shows in the last scene in the last fight, where I had to kill my friend and that was full of very high, intense emotions, and at the same time it was very tiring because of the fight, so that's the whole thing that I had to show in the last scene.  

In reality, during the time when I was fighting, my stamina was down; I had blood and cuts all over my body due to continuous fighting and also because of the emotions I had to show during that scene.

I'm curious how you read Rama as a character? In the first film, he's the only one who asks questions and is suspicious of the plan.  In this film, he still can't trust anyone and knows he's heading into trouble.  Why do you think Rama didn't just grab his wife and son and move to Brooklyn? 

  So, there's a connection from the first story where I had a brother who wanted to stay {with the crime mob} and did not want to move with me as a family, but he loved his job and wanted to do whatever he wanted to do at the time.  He was interested only in that.  In this film, the brother is killed and as a human being and as part of the police force, Rama wants to take revenge.  It's difficult because Rama wants to find out who killed his brother and have payback against the people who did that.

As the fight choreographer {along with Yayan Ruhian}, which is your favourite of the fights here and why?

  The kitchen fight is my favourite.  I really trust Cecep Arif Rahman, who plays The Assassin.  He is one of the masters from West Java in pencak silat.  Panglipur is the name of his school.  I already knew him a long time ago before we joined to do this project and before Merantau, also.  There was no schedule or plan to work with Cecep because he is a teacher, so there was no plan to involve him and get together for him to do that, so this was the first time.  But since I have travelled with Cecep for exhibitions and to show pencak silat around the world, I developed the trust and a good relationship with Cecep, so from then on, we were talking about some possibilities.  We already had good chemistry. 

At the screening I attended, there were critics who left the room during some of the more intense or bloody scenes.  Have people ever told you these films are too violent? 


What is your response?

  Just don't try it at home {Laughs

Too much blood.  Too much cuts.... For the sake of choreography, when we plan, we have a final goal of eliminations.  If we don't kill the people that we have planned, it will be worse in terms of the story.  The story will be without an end.  So the choreography and the story has to be together. 

Fight choreography, if it has no rhythm, if it's just one beat, one beat, one beat - it's boring.  I really love when one punch is like three beats, like a drum - pum-pum-pum - like music.  We have to follow the story, and also we want to make it a little bit unusual, so it's rhythmic, but it's not a boring rhythm. There is some kind of intensity when you have one punch and then you have three or four blows behind it.  So in the choreography, when a person has to die, it has to be a different rhythm for the different scenes of death.

In THE RAID 2, cast members like Julie Estelle and Arifin Putra had no prior martial arts experience.  What was it like to work with people who are not martial artists?

 It's difficult in the character and the style.  It is not easy to work with someone without the knowledge of basic martial arts and how to fight.  It's difficult, but Arifin's motivation was always high, so that makes it easier to work with him.  He's not whining, he's not complaining.  He had the motivation to finish the project and to finish the film.

The first RAID film had so much global acclaim, what was the reception like in Indonesia and how have things changed there since?

  Actually, the acceptance of the movie in the US and countries outside of Indonesia has helped the reception from the audience back home.  They are very excited because they know the movie is accepted in the US and when we come back - the actors and the crew - they get more excited because of that.  So it was very well received.

I understand there's a third film already in the works?  How far can you see Rama's story going?

  I may be involved in the third project, but Gareth is the one who has the story and who writes the story, so there could be something. 

Julie Estelle

The Lady Miz Diva:  This is not your first film, but it's your first martial arts movie.  Would you tell us how you came to play Hammer Girl? 

Julie Estelle: 
 Actually, first I met Gareth at a festival in Pusan back in 2008.  He had his movie, Merantau, and I had my movie, Macabre.  And I guess after seeing my performance in that movie, he was interested in me to play the role of Hammer Girl.  So then we talked about it; we did a few days of casting, which was like 3 days of training, and at the end he would shoot the choreography and see how I'd do.  Because since I have no background, he needed to know how fast I could learn the choreography and see my improvement.  

So we did that, but then the film got postponed because he was supposed to make this movie before The Raid 1.  So I got proposed for this movie before and then he was like, "I'm sorry, for now we can't do this movie because of budget, but we'll contact you again if The Raid 1 works well, we'll make the other one."  So, two years later he contacted me again and asked if I was still interested in the part.  So we did another casting; that was five days - I did four days of training with Iko and Yayan, and then on the fifth day, he took the video.  Two or three months later, he called me and told me I got the part.  I was super happy! {Laughs}

We must talk about the training to make yourself fit enough for those strenuous fight scenes.  I also understand Gareth is a director who does many takes.  What was your regime like?

Basically, they have a team of trainers.  There's Iko and Yayan, but there's this one trainer that actually plays Baseball Bat Man, Very Tri Yulisman; he was always with me.  He was focusing on my training.  The first month, I did training for my stamina; so it was more like push-ups, sit-ups, and we had four-storey buildings and we had to run down, do thirty push-ups, run back up, thirty sit-ups, and we had to do that four or five times, and that was only the beginning.  And after that, we'd get into the kicks and how you fall, because you have to fall safely.  We got into choreography after two months. 

For the subway train, I had seven fighters that I had to work with.  In action, it's really important for us to trust each other between fighters.  Sometimes you make mistakes and you get hit, so you really have to trust in order for you {to complete the scene}.  My character is so cold-blooded and I'm an assassin and I shouldn't care about the people I kill and it has to show; but if I'm not used to training with these people, I will be concerned and that would show, right?  So we have to trust each other and that's why we do so much training and we do it over and over.  For the subway choreography, to get that scene perfectly done, it took six months.  That was the total of all my training and knowing the choreography and getting it perfect.

I wanted to know so much more about Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man.  Was there more to them that we didn't see? 

  There is actually a backstory.  Gareth and I talked about it and I always wanted to know why did Hammer Girl become so cold-blooded and what's her background story?  So we made one for her.  Basically, she's one part of a brother and sister team with Baseball Bat Man.  So the story is, when we were children, she was probably nine, he was eleven, and every night our father would spin a coin - did you see those scenes where I spin the coin?  He spins the coin and if it was tails, he would hit me, and if it was heads, he would hit my brother with a baseball bat.  

So we got abused by our dad since we were really young and one night the coin turned to my turn to get hit and he wanted to help me out, and it became chaotic and we snapped and killed our own father.  But before the cops came, Bejo's people found us, took us in and trained us to become assassins.  That's why we're always together and there's that connection between Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl, and there's that kind of youthfulness where he always asks for the ball.  It's like playing for them, cos they never got a chance to grow up.  They only knew killing and becoming assassins, that's why there's also that scene where they tell us to go kill and I forget my hammers and I run back and get my hammers.  All those small details.

She's such a stunning character.  Has there been any discussion of her appearing in the next film despite the unlikely circumstance?

 In The Raid 3?  You know what, I have been talking about that to Gareth, but the answer was no. {Laughs} Actually, I am working on another movie with him, I can't tell you exactly what it is.  We are doing another movie called The Night Comes For Us with Timo Tjahjanto, but there is this other movie where it's going to be a bigger part for my character.  It's going to be based on silat, as well.  So that's where I think he really wants to explore my character and not just make me another character in The Raid 3.

Why is there such excitement when there is a female character being violent and athletic and assertive? People respond very strongly to people like Sigourney Weaver and the ladies from KILL BILL.

  I would think it's because being a woman, you put so much more effort into doing the scene.  I don't know.  Maybe not for those who have backgrounds in martial arts, but for me, personally, I feel like maybe guys like seeing girls in martial arts; they think it's sexy.  I guess it is.  It's pretty sexy to see a girl that can fight and can do it right and make it look rough and believable.

Hammer Girl is so unforgettable.  Were you worried that people might typecast you? 

 Typecast, no, I'm not afraid of that.  I'm gonna do another movie with Gareth, but it's going to be completely different.  The Night Comes For Us is not based on silat, so it's going to be another action movie, but it's going to be different.  In Indonesia, this is my first action movie, so people haven't seen it yet, but they are so anxious to see it because I'm known for being this drama actress, this nicey-nicey girl.  All of sudden they're seeing all these trailers with me holding hammers and everything and they're like, 'Oh, what is she becoming?' 

While I was watching the film with other critics, some of them left or turned away during the more graphic scenes.  Since you have that "nicey-nicey" reputation, were you worried the violence might be too over the top?  What would you say to people who might be offended or upset by how violent the film is?

  For me, a film is just a film, you know?  It's a movie; it's supposed to entertain you.  Some people will like it, some people don't like it.  If you like it, go see it.  If you can't handle blood, then just don't go see it.  But I know this movie is very entertaining for people that like martial arts and blood, so I don't see any problem in that, actually.  I love this character and I am not afraid of having criticism about that because, I mean, this character is just lovable.  It's that twisted - she's like very rough, harsh and cold-blooded, but in a way, I just love the character cos I think it's so cool, because where do you find an assassin that just kills with hammers and looks so cool killing with hammers?  It's an honour for me to be a part of this project and I'm so happy that I got this character. 

LMD:  When I was watching her fight, it occurred to me that if the OLDBOY remake had any imagination, this is what their hammer scene would have looked like. 

 Actually, Gareth has been asked if Oldboy was his inspiration and he said, "Not at all."  Actually, the reason I use hammers as my weapon is because the silat that I was doing is based on Silat Harimau, which is "tiger."  It uses the claw and the ball of the fist.  They go up with the fist and then they go down with the claw.  That's why he used the hammers; because it was the closest to that, so that's why the hammers were an extension of my hands doing all the fights.  So that had nothing to do with the other movie.

Now having been trained so extensively for the film, you have this whole new language as an actor, doing action films.  Tell us what doing THE RAID 2 brought to you as an actor? 

 It brought me a lot.  Well, obviously from training, physically, I got much more fit - I had to.  I have to be starting all my training again in April for The Night Comes For Us.  It's nonstop training.  But I learned that these people are just amazing.  I mean Gareth is an amazing person to work with.  He is such a perfectionist.  I totally respect his work cos he just does everything by himself; he writes the script, he directs it, he edits it, and so everything is just him.  I feel so lucky to get to know all these people and all the choreographers, the chance to get to work with them in the environment of this set.  They were very supportive and I guess that's what gave me all the energy to do all these stunts, because I had no stuntman, I did all my stunts myself.  So, yeah it brought a lot to me.

How do you hope that the audience will respond to THE RAID 2?

  It's very simple, I hope they like it.  It's different than the first one; you have much more drama in the second one.  There are so much more characters to it; there is Baseball Bat Man, there's Hammer Girl, there's The Assassin - different characters.  And I really hope they can enjoy it and just have fun with it and don't take it too seriously.  It's a movie; it's supposed to be entertaining.  You're supposed to have fun.