John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum

Release: Friday, May 17, 2019

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Written by: Derek Kolstad; Shay Hatten; Chris Collins; Marc Abrams

Directed by: Chad Stahelski

Actions have consequences, as we are quite explicitly shown (and told, too!) in the ultra-violent third installment of the brawn-over-brains John Wick franchise. Literally footsteps removed from the mayhem of 2017’s Chapter 2, John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum beats the audience silly down a two-hour gauntlet of unrelenting, bloody comeuppance that sees an entire city of potential assassins descending upon the one they call Baba Yaga. It’s open season on John Wick, part-time killer, full-time puppy lover.

Rules. Order. Something called ‘fealty.’ These are boundaries and amusingly old-school — almost Feudal — principles John Wick (Keanu Reeves) ignored when he murdered a man on the consecrated grounds of the Continental Hotel (as seen in Chapter 2). Exceptions aren’t made for acts of self-defense; John acted against the established order set by the vaguely defined society known as the High Table, and now as a consequence he’s been excommunicated by hotel manager Winston (Ian McShane), leaving him without the friendly services of the Hotel and with a $14 million bounty on his head.

Director/former stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski returns with a palpable confidence, albeit he’s still sticking to the rules he himself established with 2014’s surprise hit John Wick. His latest expands the jurisdiction of the High Table to an international stage, so if you’re thinking this was just a New York problem, think again. Rest assured though, he triples down on the things you’ve come here for: exquisitely choreographed, close-quarter combat with all kinds of brutal weaponry and creative kills — you’ll never look at hardcover books the same way again — a ridiculous body count, Laurence Fishburne as The King of the Homeless People, and Keanu “Monosyllabic” Reeves dressed to the frikkin’ nines. Like previous outings it does this all while sparing you of the hassle and inconvenience of sitting through talky scenes.

John Wick has always been a one-note franchise, but I now come full circle to admit awkwardly that it’s not a dumb one. I have increasingly enjoyed each successive installment, increasingly embraced the in-joke that the guy can’t really be killed (it’s the most obvious signpost ever, there can’t be a franchise bigger cash cow without John Wick). Now, getting shot point-blank, off a rooftop, smacking two staircases and a dumpster on your way to the ground 40 feet below and not dying is just plain silly, but John Wick on the whole is at least smart enough to recognize that the killing of a grieving man’s puppy is kind of the ultimate in earning audience sympathy in a timely manner. Clearly this is about more than just a dog now, but vengeance has been the driving force behind it all. This time the writing team raises the stakes notably by not only increasing the number tenfold, but also empowering Wick’s opposition with that same passion. In reinforcing its themes of consequence and retribution Chapter 3 installs some new key pieces like Asia Kate Dillon’s Adjudicator, sent by the High Table as a reckoning for all who have aided Wick along the way, and her own loyal minions in sushi chef-by-day, butcher-of-men-by-night Zero (a memorable Mark Decascos) and his knife-wielding buddies.

Indeed Wick is a man with an increasingly large cult “following” and a shrinking list of trusted sources, much less anything in the way of friends. He turns to his last few bargaining chips in other series newcomers like The Director (Anjelica Huston), who runs a school that John attended as a boy (really, it’s a front for something darker, natch), and Sofia (Halle Berry), a former ally and a ruthless killer in her own right who now runs the Moroccan branch of the Continental, along with her equally capable and fiercely loyal dogs. I swear, more crotches get mauled in this Casablanca-set scene than have been in the entire history of film up to this point. It’s a stunning, visceral and damn savage sequence that puts the hurt on everyone, even you in the cheap seats. (Ditto that to the movie as a whole, actually. Death by horse hoof, ouch.)

If the intense crowd interaction in the Thursday night screening I attended is any indication, Chapter 3 is poised to become the standard against which all future 2019 action reels are to be judged. The film dethroned Avengers: Endgame at the box office (after three weeks of domination). It’s being described as one of the greatest action franchises of all time. I wouldn’t go anywhere near that far; John Wick is presented in his most ruthless, most capable form yet — where is the threat, exactly? Given his immunity to death I suppose I should just settle like everyone else, being entertained up to my eyeballs with all the different ways the hapless attempt to be the one to take out the Boogeyman. Still, that leaves me with the question that if those efforts require this degree of violence, what happens next? Will we be treading water in the forthcoming Chapter 4 (slated for a 2021 release)? Probably not. It’ll be more like treading blood. Call it a consequence of modern audience expectation.

Someone’s overdue . . . for an ass-whooping.

Recommendation: So here we are with a third installment that is most interested in just how much John Wick can physically withstand. It’s essentially a videogame replete even with a “Boss Level” showdown, and it’s unequivocally the most violent episode yet. And yet we take it because the devastating dance between Wick and his hungry would-be killers is the gift that just keeps on giving — at least for fans who are as loyal to the character as his pups have been.

Rated: hard R

Running Time: 130 mins.

Quoted: “After this, we are less than even.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

John Wick: Chapter 2

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Release: Friday, February 10, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Derek Kolstad

Directed by: Chad Stehelski

If you are on the fence as to whether you should see what happens to John Wick in a sequel, you should first ask yourself how much of a geek you are for the really technical stuff, like fight choreography. If you aren’t enthused about spending $12 to watch a glorified stunt reel, then there’s really no need to see John Wick: Chapter 2.

Despite appearances, Keanu Reeves isn’t the star here. It isn’t his new pup either. It’s a man by the name of J.J. Perry, controller of chaos and chief architect of silliness whose dedication to providing moviegoers with ridiculously high-octane action sequences is on full display. Perry is billed as stunt coordinator, but it is his passion that gives John Wick purpose; his technical expertise that cleverly disguises Chapter 2 as a brilliant display of martial arts that merely masquerades as a movie.

John Jonathan finds himself dragged out of retirement and clocking back in for another murderous shift when he gets a house call from one Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). In an effort to expand the story to an international stage, Wick must travel to Rome where he takes to the shadowy subterranean stretches of the Catacombs in order to eliminate his target — D’Antonio’s sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), who is about to take a seat at the High Table, a council of high-level assassins.

Along the way he manages to make more enemies than friends and yet successfully thwarts an onslaught of bullets and daggers at the expense of an increasingly anesthetized audience. Not even The Hulk is this invincible. Or Neo. Or God. It’s the mythos surrounding the character that I really have a problem with. There’s absolutely no tension because John Wick is unassailable. He exists beyond rules, but it’s awkward because the guy is, at least in theory, mortal like the rest of us. There is something “badass” about him, sure, but that’s mostly his choice of wardrobe.

Where Chapter 2 really goes wrong is in its attempts to homogenize John Wick’s killer instinct. In spite of his ability to survive absolutely everything and to leave his assailants with less than nothing, we learn he is actually a part of something larger, that the rogue qualities that defined him in the original were a function of him merely being better at surviving. Chapter 2 tells us Wick isn’t really special. He just gets luckier than the average assassin.

The action may be mindless but it isn’t artless. Quite the opposite in fact. Perry’s knack for simulating natural movement in high-stakes, fast-paced, close-combat settings is pretty incredible. And if it’s not the art of the ass-kick,* then surely it’s the settings in which they take place that lend the film value — some of the most atmospheric and dynamic environments you’ve seen since The Matrix (a totally intentional reference once you find out who the other famous face is here).

Of course, we’re not done yet. Not even close. John Wick: Chapter 3 actually could be an interesting proposition given the events of the finale here. I’m hoping that someone will realize the potential that’s lurking beneath the surface. Something other than the potential to make a lot of money on the back of some impeccably rehearsed dance routines involving guns, knives and fists.

* John Wick gives new meaning to the idea that cigarettes are hazardous to your health, while Heath Ledger’s Joker could learn a thing or two about how to properly wield a pencil

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3-0Recommendation: Absolute mayhem continues in John Wick: Chapter 2. If you were a fan of the first you’ll probably like what comes next even more. For those who weren’t so convinced, well . . . 

Rated: R

Running Time: 122 mins.

Quoted: “You stabbed the devil in the back. To him this isn’t vengeance. This is justice.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Neon Demon

'The Neon Demon' movie poster

Release: Friday, June 24, 2016 

[Theater]

Written by: Nicolas Winding Refn; Mary Laws; Polly Stenham

Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn

Elephant in the room: there are more lines of dialogue in Nicolas Winding Refn’s new film than there were in his last. That wasn’t enough to stop The Neon Demon from scoring Refn his second-straight booing at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is still delicate as fine china when it comes to plot but this is Refn as I like him: at least somewhat accessible. Booing him this time seems more like a ritualistic exercise than a just reaction.

Cautionary tale about a teen who puts her high school career on hold to take modeling gigs in Los Angeles epitomizes the Refn-ian vision: lots of bright, pretty colors colliding and compensating for the stark lack of light elsewhere on screen (i.e. each time there’s an alley, a corner or anything capable of throwing shadows); a heightened sexuality that frequently veers into the perverse before fully tipping over into depravation. Most characters stare more than they speak, their inactivity designed to draw attention to form, not function. A psychosexual soundtrack courtesy of regular collaborator Cliff Martinez.

Yeah, so . . . about that staring obsession. Unlike in Only God Forgives it actually serves a purpose here. The pulpiest bits of the story concern the danger young Jesse (Elle Fanning, who celebrated her 17th birthday during filming) finds herself in when she becomes the object of a make-up artist named Ruby (Jena Malone)’s affections. Jesse’s natural beauty starts posing a major threat to other models, specifically Sarah (model-turned-actress Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote), women terrified that their time in the spotlight is quickly coming to an end with the arrival of such an angelic, naive presence. Long, lustful stares carry a tension that’s more palpable than it is logical: are we really supposed to believe one of these women is better looking than the other?

Passing glances evolve into death stares as Jesse catches the eye of Alessandro Nivola’s brutally cold fashionista. If haughtiness is an indication of expertise, this guy has had all the experience. Refn, self-described as a pornographer, remains steadfastly committed to the physique: cameras ogle over Jesse’s long legs and Rapunzelian hair constantly. As we transform from viewers to voyeurs, we become haunted by this combination of wanting to stop watching but being physically unable to do so. There’s just something so watchable about The Neon Demon, an obsession to know more that gave me flashbacks of the 2011 haunting beauty that was Drive.

Refn may still be a few challenging movies shy of earning comparisons to contemporary provocateurs like Gaspar Noé and Lars Von Trier (a fellow Dane), but here he is, persisting anyway. Once again the world as he sees it is a brutal, cruel construct, a jagged jumble of broken hearts and heinous acts carried out in the name of self preservation. Malone’s necrophiliac tendencies demonstrate the depths to which these women will sink to obtain whatever it is they perceive Jesse having over them. (What that was was never clear to me but then again, it’s been awhile since I last thumbed through an issue of Vogue.)

The Neon Demon doesn’t break much, if any, new ground in its exploration of the vacuum of happiness that is the fashion industry. It’s neither a history lesson nor a revelation. Perhaps the movie is best when we consider the specifics of the clichés, like how Keanu Reeves takes a stock character and turns him into something we come to fear or the metaphorical beauty of Jesse’s fall from grace landing her at the bottom of an empty pool. Or how uncertain we are that her fellow models are even human. Given the potency of this hallucinogenic trip, it’s safe to say that in 2016 Refn is found reaching for his 2011 highs rather than stooping to his 2013 lows. Thank the neon demons for that.

Recommendation: The Neon Demon represents Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s most female-driven film so far. Some have dismissed this as a sexist, sadistic bit of pretense but that’s overly harsh. It may not be the most original film, nor one where we get all the answers to life’s problems but on the basis of its twisted, mesmeric visuals, The Neon Demon is further proof that Refn is a director to keep an eye on going forward. A great leap forward for the young Elle Fanning, as well. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “She’s a diamond among a sea of glass.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Decades Blogathon – A Scanner Darkly (2006)

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We are somehow at Day #7 in Decades ’16. Man, how time flies! Once again, this second edition is being co-hosted by myself and the one and only Mark from Three Rows Back, where we’ve been asking bloggers to share their thoughts on films that were released in any year ending in a ‘6.’ We’ve been posting a review per day, while re-blogging the other’s posts accordingly. This has once again been a brilliant event, and today’s entry from Mark of Marked Movies fame is further proof. He takes a look at Richard Linklater’s curious animated feature A Scanner Darkly. Take it away Mark! 


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In 2001, director Richard Linklater delivered a little-seen, gem of a film called Waking Life. Many didn’t pay notice to it which is one of many a film viewer’s biggest mistakes. Granted, the philosophical material may not have been everyone’s idea of entertainment but this film pioneered a filmmaking technique that, simply, shouldn’t have been overlooked. Linklater approached Waking Life with an animation method called “rotoscoping”. Basically it was animation added over live actors and it’s a process that can be painstaking to deliver. The results were hugely effective for the material and, five years later, he decided to use the technique again on his adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s paranoid science fiction novel, A Scanner Darkly. Once again, the results are very impressive.

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In the near future, Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) an undercover cop, is given the assignment to bring down a vast network of drug distribution, dealing in “Substance D” – which is highly addictive and mind altering. He fully immerses himself in the lifestyle, to the point were he has become an addict himself and even his superiors don’t know his cover story. As a result, they order him to spy on himself. Being under the influence regularly, it causes him to lose his grip on reality where nothing is clear anymore.

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Before this film went into production, it had gained interest from a couple of notable players in the film industry. Director Terry Gilliam was interested in the early 90’s and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman had actually drafted a screenplay that was eventually unused once he became more sought after following the success of Being John Malkovich. One can only wonder at what might have become of an adaptation had they been involved but that doesn’t lessen the fact that Linklater does a sterling job here. For a start, his decision to implement the “interpolated rotoscoping” animation again is a stroke of genius. On Waking Life it complimented the existential dream-like story and it’s used similarly on this film. It’s a technique that could be in danger of overuse but when the story and characters themselves are operating from an occasional surreal point of view, rotoscoping is perfectly fitting. It serves as a metaphor for the characters’ drug induced alternate realities and allows us to identify with their paranoia and the struggle with their personal identity. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it might take away from the actors’ performances but it doesn’t. In some ways it enhances them. Reeves is an actor that has came in for some criticism throughout his career but he’s really rather good here and the support, from Harrelson and especially Downey Jr, is excellent. Who better to be included in a film of substance abuse than a couple of actors who have dabbled with both herbal and chemical remedies in their time?

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The script is also very faithful to Philip K. Dick’s own source material. You can tell Linklater has invested a lot of his time in adapting, what is essentially, some of Dick’s own paranoid thoughts – he was heavily involved in the abuse of amphetamines and psychedelics at the time of writing it – and explores the usual themes involved in his novels; the sociological and political aspects of human society under the control of an authoritarian government. If your a fan of Dick’s musings then you’ll find them all here. Some may find fault with in the film’s slightly lethargic pace but the visuals and thought provoking content are so captivating that the pace can be forgiven. Sometimes Philip K. Dick’s stories are not afforded the proper treatment in movies; there are stinkers like Nicolas Cage’s Next and Ben Affleck’s Paycheck but this ranks very highly alongside the successful adaptations like Total Recall and Blade Runner.

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Linklater’s attention and commitment to Philip K Dick’s challenging material pays off and he produces a thought-provoking head-trip of a film that delivers both intellectually and visually.

4 star rating


Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Keanu

'Keanu' movie poster

Release: Friday, April 29, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Jordan Peele; Alex Rubens

Directed by: Peter Atencio

The Cat in the Hat. Garfield. Sylvester. Mewtwo. Mr. Bigglesworth. Shere Khan. These are but a few of the world’s most famous felines. You can go ahead and add Keanu to this prestigious list, because he’s the best thing about a full-length movie that’s kinda-sorta-but-not-really-at-all about him.

The mischievous duo behind Comedy Central’s Key and Peele find themselves comfortably making the transition to the big screen, but unfortunately they’ve missed an opportunity to make a memorable entrance in this painfully hit-and-miss comedy that sees two schlubs turning thug under some seriously contrived circumstances. I suppose, yeah, you could say they were under duress, but . . .

The (mis)adventure begins when a kitten shows up on Rell (Peele)’s doorstep. He has traveled from afar, barely escaping with the fur on his back from a violent confrontation at a drug processing facility deep in the city. Rell, reeling after a bad break-up, takes an immediate liking to the cat and believes it will help him feel better. He names his new friend Keanu. Meanwhile, his uptight cousin Clarence (Key) is seeing his wife off for a weekend getaway with a mutual friend played by the always untrustworthy Rob Huebel.

Unbeknownst to them, the cat actually belongs to a powerful thug named Cheddar (Method Man) to whom the notorious Allentown boys — the ones involved in the aforementioned firefight and who are also played by Key and Peele — are indebted as they track down the precious fur-ball. The Allentown boys are bloodthirsty goons straight out of a Rob Zombie nightmare and will stop at nothing until they get what they’re after. These freaks are the shameless beneficiaries of Abby O’Sullivan’s fantastic costuming and make-up.

Rell takes Clarence to see the new Liam Neeson movie to try and get Clarence out of his house and to spend some “bro time,” as was suggested by his wife. They get back only to find Rell’s place has been ransacked and Keanu’s missing. Rell’s next-door neighbor/weed guy Hulka (Will Forte, sporting some awesome dreads) of course didn’t see nothin’. The hunt for Keanu eventually leads the cousins into Cheddar’s lair, a blown-out night club poignantly christened HPV, where they also find the cat, now repping a gold chain and black doo-rag. Rell, barely able to hide his outrage over the kitten-napping, snaps and declares he and Clarence are the Allentown boys and that they’d be willing to do one favor for Cheddar in exchange for ownership of the cat.

And so the rest of the film is just allowed to happen . . . somehow. It’s a parody of the Gangster Experience that flits between cringe-worthy and chuckle-inducing, its many farcical developments amounting to a parlay of good fortune that simply endures too long. And it’s so not about the cat, either. Keanu’s closer to a meowing macguffin than a functional character in a plot designed to bait animal rights activists into protesting the comedic duo’s next event. (Fear not: no animals were harmed during the making of this film.)

It’s not as if Key and Peele was the most reliable source of saucy satire but when it was good, it could really strike a nerve. In the feature film setting, however, their inconsistency is magnified tenfold and there are some very bare patches as the writers milk the faux-gangster premise for all its worth. The scene at Anna Faris‘ house drags on for what feels like an eternity as we’re forced to watch Rell (now operating under his thug alias ‘Tectonic’) and Clarence (a.k.a. ‘Shark Tank’) bluff their way through the drug deal they agreed to.

There are moments where their deadpan charm pierces like the sun through the thick clouds of uninspired writing — Key and Peele themselves aren’t the problem with their movie. In fact it’s their camaraderie that is able to pull us through Keanu‘s least compelling moments, and why I enjoyed it more than I probably should have.

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Recommendation: Keanu mirrors the hit-and-miss nature of Key and Peele. Although there is a caveat to that: devoted fans are likely to not take as much issue as those who are less familiar with their schtick. That said, the premise as a whole still feels like a wasted opportunity to do something memorable with an animal that’s not only this photogenic but well-trained. This cat has a bright acting future ahead of him. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

Quoted: “We’re in the market for a gangster pet.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: The Matrix (1999)

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This entry is probably going to throw some people off, as I am indeed including it during my search for the love affairs that have impacted me most in my very limited movie-watching career. I’ll admit this one isn’t a very obvious choice. Sure, it’s a technologically-driven action/fantasy epic but to overlook the far more fundamental driving force is to essentially ignore that which makes the Wachowski’s best film(s) a truly complete legacy. I absolutely cannot get enough of this, or its sequels. (Yes, I am a supporter to the bitter end!)

Today’s food for thought: The Matrix.

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Following the white rabbit since: March 31, 1999

[DVD]

When Trinity finally admitted her true feelings for Neo and went in for the kiss just as the Sentinels were tearing apart the Nebuchadnezzar, the hairs on my arms stood straight up. Not really, but they might as well have. It was a moment of great peace and calm, one of an elite few that confessed the true depth of the Wachowski’s vision of a future where our world would be overtaken by artificial intelligence, thereby laying waste to the vast majority of human life. This wasn’t just a kiss.

Everyone remembers The Matrix for the bullet-dodging and the gothic dress code. Perhaps as the saga sprawled out into Reloaded and concluded with a bang in Revolutions there were fewer iconic scenes to latch on to, and more common were ones of convoluted theory and the development of additional, arguably less interesting characters and subplots. I can’t sit here and say that my love for the trilogy was (or is) equally distributed; the original finds security in my top ten favorite films of all time — a potent concoction of visionary direction, commitment from a cast that will never be this cool again, and incredible martial arts/fight sequences that countless films since have gone to great lengths to try and duplicate. (Oh, hi John Wick.)

What’s less talked about, and this I can’t help but blame on the film’s tremendous visual appeal and high-brow concept, is the powerful love story anchoring Neo to a world he once was dangerously oblivious to. But in The Matrix you won’t find another case of meet-cute; it’s more like meet. . .badass. In an underground dance club bathed in only the purest of dystopian light a jet-black-haired woman named Trinity informed him of his importance. Despite appearances the introduction was anything but secretive, for there existed another world entirely — the last human city on Earth — whose fate hinged upon whether or not Thomas Anderson would trust this mysterious woman.

Worlds collided. The computer hacker’s forced to confront a reality (well, I guess he could have taken the blue pill) that would make the hardiest of men sick to their stomach. Humankind being harvested as an energy source for the continuation of Machinekind. The Matrix, of course, had little time for sappy romance; that stuff was saved for Reloaded in a spectacularly choreographed celebratory scene in the aforementioned subterranean city of Zion.

Neo and Trinity form a bond late in the first film, a unity of lips that would quite possibly seal the fate for both man and machine alike. Part of the adrenaline rush of The Matrix is watching Neo gain his powers, slowly coming into an acceptance that he is The One, a title that has since been parodied over and again. (Keanu, take those as compliments.) But if The One can stop bullets under his own strength, what could he accomplish with Trinity at his back? Hers was not the same kind of belief Morpheus stubbornly clung to for most of the film before having it temporarily, if not convincingly, wrenched from his soul. With Trinity there was never any doubt, though Carrie Anne Moss’ enviable performance brilliantly subverted a passion that would much later become quite apparent.

One of the greatest things about this romance is that the word itself doesn’t aptly describe the emotions that propel both Neo and Trinity. They are an indisputable romantic couple, again in reference to The Matrix: Reloaded and in the final devastating chapter — the most romantic thing Neo probably ever did for Trinity was remove a bullet from her abdomen with his bare hand — but the love angle is downplayed to fit the desperate times and the enormously high stakes surrounding the discovery of The One. If you are looking at The Matrix and The Matrix alone, this is tough love. I’m not sure if there’s a better way to illustrate this than when Trinity pulls rank after Neo says it’s not a good idea for her to follow him back into the matrix to save a captured Morpheus. She’s every bit Neo’s intellectual and physical equal, even if she couldn’t quite bring it upon herself to take on Agent Smith even at the most opportune of times.

“What is he doing?” “He’s beginning to believe.” The moment was anything but an epiphany. The kiss was anything but a simple act.

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5-0Recommendation: We’ve all seen this one by now, so recommending this one seems, again, unnecessary. The Matrix represents one of the most uncompromising and unique visions of the future we have ever been handed on a silver screen. Hard to believe this film debuted 16 years ago this March. There are too many interesting things going on in this film to count, but of the many things I could talk about, I find the relationship between Neo and Trinity one of the most fascinating and also one of the most rewarding. Fans of the film(s), would you agree?

Rated: R

Running Time: 136 mins.

TBTrivia: The filming of the helicopter scene where they rescue Morpheus nearly caused the film to be shutdown because they flew the helicopter through restricted Sydney airspace. Laws in the state of New South Wales in Australia were changed to allow the film to proceed.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.coroflot.com; http://www.imdb.com 

John Wick

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Release: Friday, October 24, 2014

[Theater]

Written by: Derek Kolstad

Directed by: Chad Stehelski; David Leitch

John Wick is yet another Keanu Reeves vehicle that operates much like an actual one would sans the steering wheel: basic things like moving straight ahead are possible but trying something fancy like taking a left-hand turn renders the driving clumsy and crashing into your mailbox more than just a possibility.

The metaphor’s more appropriate than I originally intended, for the man’s focus has seemingly shifted away from scantily-clad gothic chicks to slick and shiny muscle cars. No longer is there a need to dodge bullets when you can just hop into your Shelby GT-500 and drive away into the sunset and escape them in a more traditional manner.

This bullet-riddled, blood-stained adrenaline rush is less of a shot of adrenaline than it is a rush(-ed opportunity) to make Keanu appealing to a new generation. It’s pretty cool he’s being repurposed as a new kind of mainstream hero as this Equalizer-esque enigma who sticks to the shadows. And that he is making an apparent “return,” though it’s not all that clear where exactly it is that he went to. Have we forgotten Keanu, or something? That he is “back” is a slight misnomer as the sea of tired genre tropes rises to swallow his spirit yet again.

John Wick is long on killing and short on chilling. It’s “kick ass now and worry about the logistics (and physics) of it later. Or never.” While some may prefer it this way, the bludgeoning of bodies makes for a rather dull and predictable protagonist. When there’s this much space being cleared for its marquee name, the lack of thought elsewhere becomes an issue quickly. A revenge plot dipped into a pool of malice, brooding spite and admittedly gorgeous cinematography, the film’s ambitions can be sniffed out from the opening shot. John Wick is very, very basic and its vignettes too easy to predict.

At the risk of contradicting myself, I’ll dare to say simplicity is a part of its appeal as well. Narrative clutter you will not find in these 140 minutes.

Co-directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski (the latter performed stunts in the über-spoof comedy Kung Pow: Enter the Fist!) strip the number of players down to the bare necessities. Top-billed are essentially Wick, his dog (he at least should be, he does some damn fine acting) and a bunch of aggressive foreign enemies duking it out amidst a heavily-stylized urban jungle of decay and disillusion. There’s an almost romantic quality to the beauty in each frame though the jury’s still out on whether this is necessarily the best-looking martial arts film of the year. The choreography of the brutal martial arts sequences should contribute mightily to the likelihood of this receiving some sort of recognition, although The Raid 2: Berendal probably would like to have final say on that.

As a final grievance, while Keanu’s blandness suits the dejectedness of this character it’s the character that ultimately feels out of sync with his environs. He moves in and out of this place, as well as the second-rate story, with too much ease and nonchalance. He’s Robert McCall, only he might enjoy life a little more. John Wick’s a character packaged as a Neo look-alike — a neo-Neo, if you will — but there is one glaring difference between the Keanu the Wachowski’s basically invented before the turn of the millennium and the one we get in 2014. And that’s novelty.

Unfortunately Neo saw Zion first. The One will forever cast a great big shadow, unless something truly compelling is yet to come along still, of course. I thought this would be close, but no. No cigar. An at-times tongue-in-cheek throwback to Neo’s capabilities this may be, but it is frequently more generic and stilted than clever or nostalgic.

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2-5Recommendation: There are parts that work and a lot more that do not for “The Boogey Man” (those awkwardly inserted subtitles are hugely distracting, as another example.) As an original bit of film this fails but as an entertaining hour and a half at the movies you could do a lot worse. Fans of Keanu will more than likely be impressed with his commitment to the craft this time; there’s no denying he is more on his game here. Precisely why those expecting a story to match his intensity will be so exasperated.

Rated: R

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “Yeah, I’m thinkin’ I’m back. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

47 Ronin

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Release: Christmas Day 2013

[Theater]

Ryan Gosling recently got an entire movie dedicated to him just staring for the entire duration of the film, so Keanu Reeves shrewdly hopped into that line next and got one of his own. The result is this hodge-podge of stunning CGI and a fifteenth-rate script barely fit for a movie-of-the-week, a film called 47 Ronin, directed by Carl Rinsch.

It appears to be his first stab at directing. And stab he does. Right into the heart of any hopes of this being a kick-ass little martial arts flick. Though it’s quite stylish and features some highly advanced CGI to bring mythical beasts and phenomena to the big screen convincingly, the plot is doomed to remain a side show compared to the visuals.

The kicker is that the story is actually inspiring, which only compounds the frustration experienced in this amateur production. In feudal Japan, a large group of disgraced samurai (‘ronin’) descend upon a neighboring village in an attempt to avenge the death of their former master by killing the current Shogun master, the considerably more sinister Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), and whilst they know they will still be marching to their graves for their murderous acts, their actions are honorable, justified.

The story sounds compelling, but it is about as compelling to watch as paint is while it’s drying.

When’s the last time you’ve been psyched to inform your friend that you got to see a little crack form in the drying process? “Holy crap dude, I better get off the phone. I need to get back to this paint job. I need to apply at least another layer. This is kind of getting out of hand. Text me!”

If your name was Keanu Reeves, you’d be swift in hanging up so you could get right back to doing more of this:

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Considering this is intended to be a fictionalized account of a true story, our fearless director is actually given plenty of lee-way in terms of how much he wants to embellish the dramatic and fantastical elements — by definition, this is fiction. Also consider the first-time director’s godsend $170 million budget. So, Rinsch releases his inner Guillermo del Toro, thrusting gorgeous scenery and awesome visual effects into the center of attention and quite clearly the center of the entire thing’s financial (and directorial) considerations.

Reeves, as the most recognizable billed name, is about as bad in this lead role as he was amazing as Neo in The Matrix (and come on, don’t give me that B.S. saying you didn’t like him; you liked him alright, you were maybe just a bit envious). This character is troubled, but the acting couldn’t be more troubling. Flat and unconvincing, Kai is ultimately a lifeless protagonist. He tells us he’s suffered but he doesn’t look it. He’s clearly un-directed by a director who shouldn’t have been handed this material in the first place.

You should ditto that to the majority of the written dialogue of this film. 47 Ronin barely ensures that it covers all of the basic tenets of fabled Japanese stories. It shakily demonstrates this by showing at least 670 different slow-motion bows of respect; 669 different ass-kickingly great wardrobe changes; and 668 different close-ups of Kai just staring, non-reacting to some apparent drama ongoing. Character development is nonexistent and if  there is any to be noted, it is that of Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the latest to be cast into the many ronin, after a conflict between him and Kira boils over, bringing shame upon him.

Oishi and Kai never got along from the beginning. When Oishi is being attacked by some crazy bitch-ass mutant monster-animal in the opening scene, it is Kai’s heroics that allow him to live; yet for the sake of maintaining as many cliches as possible, Oishi is still a brazen, dismissive ass towards Kai, until the tables do indeed turn on him when he’s declared a ronin and the two rally to lead a large group of other samurai to kill the man responsible for Lord Asano (Min Tanaka)’s death.

The film simply has no lift at all. The opening scenes start with some interesting action sequences but nothing particularly memorable. After about a twenty minute slog through some insubstantial dialogue and Pinnochio-wooden performances a real concern begins to grow about whether or not this film is going to do anything. At all. Let another hour pass, and well. . .that paranoia earlier on was actually a warning sign telling you to exit the theater. Then and there. Quite simply, there’s nothing worthy of any further mention about this film. It is an utter failure.

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1-5Recommendation: A disappointment in nearly every way, 47 Ronin has somehow won over a decent percentage of Rotten Tomatoes visitors (60% audience) but I can’t help feeling this is largely going to end up a massive box office miss, a squandering of Keanu Reeves’ admittedly one-trick talent, and an opportunity to tell a really inspiring story.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 127 mins.

Quoted: “Rivers of blood and mountains of corpses will not stand in our way.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Speed (1994)

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So as we move further into September, I may as well come up with a name for this batch of TBT posts. Let’s go ahead and call this month something pretty cheesy, say something like: ‘Movies that Really Move.’ I’ve wrestled with a bunch of different names for these throwbacks, and so far that’s the one description which I feel suits this particular theme the best — films that feature car chases, races and fast paces. We started off with a look at Days of Thunder, an excellent film based around NASCAR racing and starring the world’s most endearing scientologist, Mr. Tom Cruise. This week, we jump forward another four years and examine one of the all-time best adrenaline flicks ever made. Part-car-chase movie and part-psychological-thriller, the throwback of today does indeed have a sequel, but we are all going to just ignore that fact since A) the quality of the sequel is enough to make me shudder just thinking about it, and B) we can only focus on one product at a time, fortunately. 

Today’s food for thought: Speed

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Release: June 10, 1994

[VHS]

A bus filled with random strangers must maintain at least 50 miles per hour as it tears through the greater Los Angeles area, otherwise an unseen terrorist hits the detonation button for the bomb he’s strapped to the underside of the vehicle. Keanu Reeves, an L.A.P.D. S.W.A.T. team member, comes to the aid of an interim bus driver (Sandra Bullock) as she attempts to steer the bus without slowing down and killing everyone on board.

Just before this film debuted all the way back in the mid-90s, I can only imagine the amount of sneering and chuckling the title must have garnered from its critics. I can’t say definitely what the atmosphere was like surrounding the release — I was 8 years old at the time. What the film then turned out to be — an instant classic, one which set the standard for many action-thriller films to come (even if said standard has rarely ever been reached or surpassed since) — was probably hardly what anyone expected at first. How can such a simplistic plot yield such an incredibly entertaining ride?

I may not be speaking for anyone else, but each time I watch this movie I feel as though I’m binging on adrenaline.

Directed by Jan de Bont, Speed is fast, intelligent and well-acted. It is arguably his best effort to date, and likely the best he might ever put out. His direction takes full advantage of the chaos one might expect to be present in a story that pits the good guys against a determined and well-prepared villain (played by none other than Dennis Hopper — we miss you, Dennis). On one level, there’s the terror that comes along with blasting down busy roads at 50-plus-miles an hour; on the next, the bomber can see everything that is going on, and part of the trick of his game is that if he sees anyone escaping the situation he’ll blow the bus by remote detonation. The third  level is a little more psychological. Even though the motivation for Howard Payne (Hopper)’s plan isn’t the most unique — as a former member of the L.A.P.D. himself, all Payne wanted was his retirement benefits. The more Jack Traven (Reeves) deals with the situation and with the man behind it, he realizes how intelligent his rival is, and that he knows the ins-and-outs of the city as well as anyone. Not to mention, he’s simply nuts. . . principally the reason he was let go from the force. Given all of this, the film possesses a rare level of excitement that a great many films seem to not bother investing the time into developing. (Are you listening, Getaway?)

SPEEDY CAPTIONS

In this edition of TBT let’s do things a little differently. Included below are five of the best still images from the classic film that came out almost 20 years ago. The idea here is for you, my adrenaline-junkie readers, to provide your most creative captions for these photos in twenty words or fewer. I will stand back and watch the chaos unfold — only chiming in in the comment section following YOUR GREAT CAPTIONS (let’s try to keep them PG-13). This should be a really fun and challenging way to go back and look at one of the most incredible action-thrillers ever made. Let the captioning begin….

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Caption A: _______________________

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Caption B: __________________

Caption C: _________________

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Caption D: ____________________

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Caption E: __________________

That does it for TBT this week. Thanks for reading and participating peeps! Hopefully it was as fun for you as it was for Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. And of course, me.

4-0Recommendation: Speed is quite simply a classic. My recommendation would be one simple suggestion: watch it again….because I don’t think it’s possible for someone to not have seen this film.

Rated: R

Running Time: 116 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.fanpop.com; http://www.imdb.com