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Thursday, September 29, 2011

STEVEN SEAGAL'S BORN TO RAISE HELL




Trust is not one of my more spectacular attributes.
                                                  ---Steven Seagal


Another good Steven Seagal movie. He is making consistently good movies now, which has not been his pattern. In the years I've been watching Seagal films I've found him an artist. The unevenness of his earlier films were evidence, for me, of an artist trying this, trying that. And sometimes what works for the artist doesn't work for the audience. I feel like his most recent films have a consistent quality about them since Kill Switch, one of the worst movies I've ever sat all the way through. It seems like that one must have purged something for him, because everything since has been among his best. This new one, Born To Raise Hell, 2010, is perhaps the most mistitled movie I can think of. It's like the decision for a title was made by a committee. It's eye-catching, but any attempt to tie it to the movie after seeing the story says it might apply to one of the minor characters or the character Seagal's character was looking to kill.  



Seagal is a SWAT team commander, an American cop stationed in Bucharest, Romania, where making a film costs about half the cost in California. I like that he uses Romanian actors, crew, the works. The actors speak in English. It is a full-length movie version of his present tv show, Lawman, where he patrols with hometown cops and teaches them martial arts principles, especially to pay attention to what they're doing. Until.... A few weeks ago I heard on the news about his tv show somewhere in Arizona, that he with tv crew and a tank, yes a tank, raided a place where a Mexican guy was raising fighting cocks and killed 50 of the birds. Turns out the fighting cocks were show chickens. He raised chickens to compete in chicken shows. The cops killed all the chickens, raided the man's house with a tank and a SWAT team, and a tv crew. Big law suit to follow.



It was funny after hearing that news to see this film where Seagal is a missionary of American police state methods in Eastern Europe. To raid a house they carried the battering ram used by American SWAT teams to break down the door. From the looks of the doors they broke down, a swift Seagal kick could have opened it easily, and no one ever checked to see if a door might be unlocked. I have to admit I felt a bit uncomfortable at times seeing Steven Seagal a missionary for police state. I prefer to think that he sees what he's doing is training cops to be more conscious about what they're doing. I've an idea his influence is to ruthlessness as well. Seagal wrote the screenplay and produced the film. I appreciated that in this one he wasn't saving his daughter or his wife or his girlfriend or a pretty girl or a little girl from evil doers.



He went back to Out For Justice this time for the story around a revenge killing at the end. Revenge is another of his oriental themes. Of course, there was the obligatory views of tits and ass, and the nightclub with techno music and babes gyrating in bikinis with flashing lights crawling over their squirming bodies. One  of the aspects of a Steven Seagal movie I particularly like is his story telling. It's not that the stories are original, beautifully done or outstanding. For an action movie, at least it has a story. He doesn't do all the twirling kicks like vanDamme, Norris or the other anglo martial artists in action films. Seagal uses a particular form of martial art that takes the least movement, the least effort. He hits a guy in the chin with a stiff arm and the heel of his hand, why hurt your knuckles, and the guy is out. He takes hold of a hand, twists it in a certain way and he absolutely controls his opponent. A hard kick in the belly, between the legs, the face and the opponent is out.



I hear complaint that Seagal doesn't really do martial arts anymore. My jaw drops open, because I watch his films to see his martial arts choreography. He choreographs his own martial arts ballets with moves that work and the least movement necessary. His opponents are people good at martial arts. The actors and stunt men hired for the roles have to be fast enough to keep up with his speed. Seagal in his own life is trainer for undefeated Anderson Silva, one of them that fight in a more or less cage where anything goes. Martial artists, like musicians, get better as they grow older. Seagal as artist and martial artist came across to me this time as apparent maturity has set in with Seagal. Not getting old, but maturity as an artist; writer, actor, martial artist. It feels to me like he's more relaxed in his art forms from all the years of practice. I call this one of his better films, and it is a new direction in his film making, even though it amounts to a pilot for his tv series Lawman filmed in Bucharest. Seagal is Charles Bronson, the next generation.  



The parts of Bucharest seen in his films make something like a travel video of what looks to be a beautiful city. I just now scrolled up to see the image of Bucharest in the picture, saw the title again and broke out laughing at what a ludicrous title it is. For one thing, the title suggests a rebel. Turns out he's a supercop. Born To Raise Hell just doesn't ring as a title for a story about a supercop. He'd have done better to name it Supercop 3, or maybe 4. I've heard something about a 3rd Supercop movie. I have to give it to Michelle Yeoh for Supercop 2. She beat Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal all to hell and back as Supercop. I don't mean to throw off on Seagal's film, because I liked it enough to see it a second time same day.



The title continues to make me laugh. It's called marketing. Product packaging. A title that sells. He might have had another title and somebody with an eye to getting a return on investment wanted something more cliche-like. Something predictable to catch the eye of a Steven Seagal fan. I'd have seen it whatever the title. In fact, I'd be more disposed not to see a movie with that title. For a Steven Seagal film, it seems silly. Born To Raise Hell is a tattoo on the arm of a 1950s Harley rider with Borned To Lose tattooed on the other arm. 



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