John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum

Release: Friday, May 17, 2019

→ Theater

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

300: Rise of an Empire

106190_gal

Release: Friday, March 7, 2014

[Theater]

Two things you must be comfortable with in order to properly enjoy the latest Frank Miller graphic novel adaptation: a whole lot of crimson red and a whole lot of Eva Green. If you’re at least cool with the second, then there’s hope for you still as you stand in line waiting to buy a ticket to 300: Rise of an Empire.

It goes without saying that you’ve seen the original, so if consistency is what you seek in your 2014 experience, you’ll be left mostly satisfied. Rise of an Empire shares in the original’s gleeful bloodletting and it rejoices in the opportunity to strip 21st Century male models down to their undies and to empower them with gigantic swords and shields made from some material appropriately manly. . .like, cast iron. Or something. They all then get into a consistent (and pretty manly) fight that ends up constituting half of the runtime. While all of this is going on your I.Q. is taking a pretty consistent beating in the process. On these fronts, the new film delivers.

Rather than taking the risk of telling a story completely removed and distinct from that of the film that preceded it, Rise of an Empire benefits from simply increasing the size of the stage. This strategy is not exactly ground-breaking, but it’s a tactic that helps the sequel provide the fun it ought to. Clearly, with the extensive amount of time spent on slow-motion dramatizations of killing blows and the like, there was barely material enough to warrant a second, full-length feature film. Not to mention, at least half of this one is spent doing battle rather than using time to explain things — with hindsight this was another good decision.

We rely on Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) in the opening scene to fill us in on certain details that will not only give the upcoming story context but also help make a few things clearer about what happened years prior to the events of 300. Following the murder of King Darius I of Persia by General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), a true evil was born when Darius’ son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), filled with a rage only emo kids can identify with, dunked himself in a bath of what appeared to be liquefied gold and transformed himself into a powerful and terrifying god-king. The narration continues: in the ensuing years, Xerxes made it his top priority to tear Greece apart with brute force, using vengeance as his guiding spirit, and confidence that no one can challenge his authority as his motivation to continue.

Now Greece’s last fighting chance lies within Themistokles and his decision-making. He believes their best chance of surviving a massive attack from the Persians would be to unite as one, and he turns to Sparta and to Gorgo for support. Unfortunately he has just missed Leonidas as he has led 300 of his men out of the area, and Gorgo is reluctant to side with the Greeks. Themistokles, ever determined to mount a defensive against the incoming Persians, does manage to gather a fleet of ships and leads the charge out into the Aegean Sea, where they are to confront a massive Navy commanded by the vengeful and bloodthirsty Artemisia (Green).

While tipping its hat to the original, the saga branches out and onto open waters in a particularly brutal and extended action sequence. Themistokles and several thousand Greek craftsmen-turned-warriors put their lives on the line in a gloriously bloody and cartoonishly stylized battle that rivals anything seen in 300. Every so often there are a few more nuggets of information that connect the original to this “sequel,” though the majority of what happens beyond the halfway mark can be categorized as glorified stunt work and crimson red CGI.

The threat of Artemisia is almost without question the strength of this overstylized bloodbath. And why shouldn’t it be? Green clearly relishes the opportunity to play evil. A good portion of the film proves she can be convincingly psychotic; sometimes her lines are excruciatingly cliché, but never does she come across disingenuous or disinterested in what kind of role she’s playing here. The same cannot be said for Stapleton’s Themistokles, and while he’s been given rather large shoes to fill by essentially becoming this year’s Leonidas, this is an actor who can’t win affections nearly as quickly. He’s no meat-headed brute, but he’s not exactly an inspiration, either. Unfortunately he’s at the center of the film’s attention and the lack of star power is to blame for a lot of the film’s lack of impact.

No one will ever consider the writing of 300 award-winning, but by comparison Rise of an Empire is even less memorable. There isn’t the same kind of martyrdom that made the blood spillage in 300 seem like such a noble sacrifice and ultimately worth the time spent watching such violence. Themistokles and his brave men are merely shadowing the fates of Gerard Butler and his outnumbered ranks and its a fact you simply cannot get over as the story trends to the more and more predictable with each stabbing of the spear to a chest. As well, Xerxes comes across as more and more laughable with each scene he appears in. He’s supposed to be the top dog, yet he hides behind the black veil of Artemisia as she goes on a murdering spree unmatched by many a full-grown Greek warrior. He also has some of the worst dialogue in the entire movie and the scenes in which he continues to plot his terror are completely wasted moments.

All the same, the decrease in quality should have been anticipated. Standards need not be very high. If blood and chaos is what one wants, blood and chaos is what one gets, although the word ‘chaos’ can apply to the product in general. Whereas Snyder’s direction gave purpose to the deaths of so many (including that of Gerard Butler’s most identifiable role), Noam Murro’s direction is numbingly violent and consists MANly of repetition and cliché Hollywood effects. It’s good to have some fun with history, but this one tries just a little bit too hard.

300-more-fucked-individuals

2-5Recommendation: Though it comes in an obvious second to its predecessor, 300: Rise of an Empire sports some bloody good fun via action sequences and epic set pieces. Visually, it’s stunning and there isn’t a great deal to complain about if you are requiring a film that asks absolutely nothing of its audience. . . well, you know, apart from remembering how important it is to work out on a daily basis.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “It begins as a whisper. . .a promise. . .the lightest of breezes dances above the death cries of 300 men. That breeze became a wind, a wind that my brothers have sacrificed. A wind of freedom. . .a wind of justice. . .a wind of vengeance.”

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 Act of Killing

17711-series-header

Release: Friday, July 19, 2013 (limited)

[Netflix]

Abundant are the films that, post-viewing, make you grateful for the experience, even though they took you far outside your comfort zone. There are even those that you really wish you could un-see; those that haunt your mind like a recurring nightmare. And then there’s Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, a torturous two hours you should receive an award for enduring.

Before I take my ceremonial bow, the first person to receive a big pat on the back (or hug, I’m not sure which is more appropriate at this point) should be the Danish-based director who skillfully pieces together one of the most horrifying and revealing documentaries that will perhaps ever be crafted. It’s a little difficult, in this present moment at least, to fathom a film going to the places and lengths that this monstrosity does.

A camera crew takes to the dirty streets of Medan, Indonesia where they locate a number of death squad leaders responsible for the mass slaughter of millions of fellow countrymen between 1965 and 1966. The objective? To prompt these men to talk extensively and candidly about the events that took place during the military overthrow of the Indonesian government, while also allowing them to perform re-enactments of precisely what, who and how they killed.

The staged killings would become part of a film Anwar Congo and his ‘gangster’ friends (notables include Herman Koto and Adi Zulkadry) are making in an effort to publicly boast about how they were able to eliminate so-called communists, intellectuals, ethnic Chinese and any other individuals they deemed ‘undesirable’ and threats to the stability of their nation. (The concept of stability is somewhat ironic, considering a military coup d’état became necessary in restoring the perceived balance of power in this perpetually troubled nation.) A paramilitary organization known as Pemuda Pancasila evolved out of the death squads led by Congo and Zulkadry, and has been in place ever since. In the documentary, we are forced to confront this most intimidating of groups as they continue to harass Indonesians mere feet away from the camera crew. Frightening as this organization is, its really not the focus of Oppenheimer’s/Congo’s project.

Really this film has dual purposes. On the one hand, this is an opportunity for these truly vile men to express their nostalgia for the good ole days, when they raped, tortured and murdered those who they thought deserved it. On the other, Oppenheimer is giving these individuals all the tools they need to show their true colors. One might argue that they already have done that by performing the acts that they did in the ’60s, but one would only be 50% accurate in that assumption. What is said and revealed in this documentary surpass the murders themselves.

Watch the scenes in which the fat, disgusting blob of a human being named Herman Koto. . . you know what? There’s almost no point talking about this anymore. It is just crushing my heart. I literally have no words to describe the vast majority of the content, and at the risk of me sounding like I’m writing this film off, this review in itself was next-to-impossible to write, and is causing depression of the highest degree, so I no longer have desire to analyze this as a piece of creative expression. Mainly, because it’s not. This may very well be looked at as terrifyingly effective propaganda for the opposition. I have spent days trying to pin down my feelings on it. Such a task seems now fruitless, and I don’t feel comfortable diverting any more attention to this abomination. There is genius in the construction but the subject matter is too off-putting. It’s almost offensive considering the power that The Act of Killing may add to the anti-communist sentiment found in southeastern Asia.

fucked-up-shit-kids

0-5Recommendation: Don’t do this to yourselves. This is the cruelest thing you’ll ever watch; not to mention, it’s paced like a snail and the subject matter makes it feel even longer. The fact that a documentary was made on these people has scary implications — Oppenheimer just took a can of gasoline to a raging fire. Who knows what’s going to happen next in Indonesia. What a fool. And what a fool this reviewer is for thinking this was going to be anything other than ugly. Where’s my damn prize?

Rated: NR

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “‘War crimes’ are defined by the winners. I’m a winner.”

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

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

Lone Survivor

lone_survivor_xlrg

Release: Christmas Day 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Before we dive into an analysis of this film, let’s first get one thing straight: this is no Saving Private Ryan. The critic who made that comparison probably made it in the (understandably) dizzying buzz after experiencing an early screening of Peter Berg’s war film and felt compelled to give it the highest of accolades to kick off the onslaught of promotional efforts that was to come. In so doing, he was pretty successful in spreading the fire. There has been almost no end to people calling this a modern Spielbergian masterpiece.

Here are a few things the two films have in common: blood. Bullets. Blood. Excessive swearing. Blood. Gut-wrenching deaths. Blood. Blue skies. Blood. Americans and their red blood. But there the commonalities run out.

Lone Survivor is a grisly look at the botched Operation Red Wings, a mission undertaken by four Navy SEALS in an effort to track down and eliminate a high-priority member of the Taliban in the hostile hillsides of Afghanistan. Over the course of roughly 72 hours, the fates of Navy Lieutenant and team leader Michael P. Murphy (here portrayed by Taylor Kitsch), Petty Officers Second Class Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster), and Hospital Corpsman Second Class Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) would be decided by a combination of poor communication and even worse luck. As the film’s title blatantly informs the masses, only one would be living to tell the tale of these extraordinary days. That man was Marcus Luttrell.

Director Peter Berg (Battleship, Hancock) bases his film off of the written accounts penned by Luttrell in 2007. He apparently benefited from the technical support of former Navy SEALS, including Luttrell, to stage a good chunk of the action sequences. The director set a precedent by becoming the first civilian to become embedded with a Navy SEALs team in Iraq for a month while he wrote the script. As a result, Lone Survivor is more than likely technical perfection. But taken as a filmgoing experience, there is simply something missing from the equation that would have earmarked his film for not only inspirational but educational purposes. For reasons that are about to be explained, and though it’s far more graphic, Saving Private Ryan still seems like the go-to option for classroom use.

This really isn’t intended to be a compare-and-contrast review; it’s coming across that way because the claim that this is “the most extraordinary war film since Saving Private Ryan” is an overly sensationalized marketing strategy for Berg’s picture — one that needs to be put into perspective.

The first thing that should be noted in the differences column is that Lone Survivor severely lacks character development and enough chemistry between these Navy SEALS to make the circumstances truly horrific. In the line of fire they call each other brothers but that word is in the script, not in their hearts. We enter the field with machines, not distinct human personalities that we easily can attach life stories to. However, Berg believes its possible to empathize with the performances since this is based on a real occurrence. Based on his direction, the patriotism on display should be more than sufficient to make an audience care. In actual fact, it’s just barely enough. There’s no denying the emotional impact of the film, yet the question still lingers. If we got to know these soldiers as more than just the rough, gruff American heroes that they most certainly are, the aftermath would be even more devastating.

Berg also can hardly be described as the master of subtlety. Lone Survivor ultimately feels like a blunt instrument with which he may bludgeon us over the head, and the lack of character development makes the proceedings even more numbing. During the protracted (read: violent) sequences of confrontation with members of al Qaeda, bullets and bodies fly at random, and often times it’s not the fact that 180 cajillion bullets pierce through flesh that’s painful to watch so much as the environment is unforgiving. Several times over watch in agony as the four guys tumble down the mountainside, smacking into trees, rocks, animals — you name it.

During any one of these excruciating slow-motion edits it wouldn’t be completely surprising to see Berg pop out of a bush, break the fourth wall and ask those in the audience who are still dubious about our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, “Well what do you think of our soldiers now?!” We get it — war is hell, and the sacrifices these people make are enormous. If that’s the main take away from the film it’s hardly an original one. We can get the same effect by watching the news. More often than not live footage of what’s occurring is more affecting than a movie can ever hope to be.

A third, and lesser flaw revolves around the casting of Mark Wahlberg. The marquee name is just large enough to ensure the others get shoved to the background and that as many tickets to this event are sold. Marky-Mark’s a likable enough actor, but where Spielberg’s epically sprawling film can get away with so many big names (Hanks, Sizemore, Damon, etc.) Lone Survivor‘s disinterest in developing characters or even a great deal of camaraderie between the guys makes Wahlberg’s presence seem awkward and misjudged. Contrast him to Hirsch, Foster and Kitsch — still relatively known actors but at least these three are relegated to the tragic roles that they play.

This is not a terrible film, but it’s not going to end up being the definitive story about what happened during Operation Red Wings — although that may not be possible. There was so much chaos on this mission, as evidenced by Berg’s storytelling here. Truth be told, it’s probably impossible conceiving a film that truly renders the nightmare experienced by this lone survivor. Though Luttrell was on set, often providing advice to Berg on how to best depict what he saw over these few days, the others sadly weren’t able to offer their input. It’s realistic, sure. But a classic film it most certainly is not.

Film Title: Lone Survivor

2-5Recommendation: Though patriotism bleeds through the film reel, there’s not enough here to show why this disastrous mission really mattered. For those who haven’t heard about this mission (or anyone still undecided about seeing this film), the best route to take would be to track down Luttrell’s written account (of the same name) where, presumably, no detail should be spared. There’s detail aplenty in Berg’s film, too, but much of that pertains to the gruesome way in which some of our beloved soldiers have fallen. That’s not noble; it’s just sickening.

Rated: R

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “You can die for your country, but I’m gonna live for mine.”

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 

In The Land Of Blood And Honey

12962

Release: Friday, December 23, 2011

[Redbox]

If nothing else, In The Land Of Blood And Honey is a long slideshow of violent periods in European history. While it focuses on the Bosnian conflict of the early 1990s, specifically the chaotic Siege of Sarajevo (1992), it barely rises to be anything more than a bloody documentary on the discussion. Scenes are spliced together with the quickness of a bullet from its shell, a tactic that simultaneously accents the lack of sensitivity in all of this, and loses the audience just as effectively.

I cannot afford to let Jolie off the hook too easily, she has starred in enough movies at this point to know what separates attention-feeding from attention-dismissing. Through the endless scenes of rampant violence it slowly becomes more and more of a chore to watch this film. There are only sprinklings of acting throughout, and its hardly dialogue-driven. Not that it had to be. It’s purpose here is expository, not the development of even its most central characters. Indeed, the movie’s pivotal scene is at the very beginning: the main characters Danijel (Goran Kostic) and Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) having a romantic night out at a club when a bomb detonates, destroying the entire scene in an instant. From there, its virtually all blood and no honey.

I was every now and again reminded of the film Blood Diamond, a statement on the inherent problems with diamonds from war-ravaged African countries. Those reminders only had the shock caused by graphic scenes of torture in common. Plots and everything else, obviously, were different. I just remember feeling the same, disconcerted and completely hopeless in my seat as I watched woman after woman getting raped and humiliated by the Serbs. I owe my discomfort to Jolie. The most poignant aspect of the film is that there often is not enough commentary on non-soldiers and non-prisoners of wars. Where the cameras go here, it is safe to say, is an emotional low that many journeys have yet to visit.

When you get away from all that, however, you have a problem. Scenes in which Bosniak and Serbian attacks weren’t being accurately dissected were boring and not engaging enough to recover from said attacks. There’s a fragmented relationship between Muslim Ajla and Serbian Danijel but it truly never develops; in fact it was practically stunted from the get-go. Every now and then there would be a redeeming moment, enough for you to come to grips with the seriousness of Jolie’s purpose, and for you to appreciate (for lack of a better word) the realities of living during wartime.

Reiterating, I will rate Blood and Honey‘s violence scale thus. During another random sweep of apartment blocks in Sarajevo, some Serbian ruffians explode through Ajla and her sister’s unit, and in an unexplained instance, punish the sister by dropping her infant child from the second-story window.

That may be all you need to know about Jolie’s debut into filmmaking. The choice should be yours to decide if it is going to continue. My vote is yes, but I advise her to keep her vision together a bit more next time. It all fell apart for me as the weight of the untold horrors grew heavier, to the point where I was convinced the director fully intended for us to not forget one second of the suffering.

That’s why there was such little payoff , and such little triumph, for both Danijel and the audience come time to roll credits.

in-the-land-2

1-5Recommendation: I would NOT do what I just did: pick it up on a whim from your local Wal-Mart with the intent being its your nighttime enjoyment. This is a heavy movie, with very real damage to be potentially done to anyone who isn’t prepared. A vast majority of the time, a movie’s purpose is to provide entertainment. Not sure if we receive that In The Land Of Blood And Honey; it may just be an outlier.

Rated: R

Running Time: 126 mins.

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