JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM (2019)

May 16, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Worlds are colliding! No, no … not in the way of “The Avengers” movies, but it’s kind of hard not to smile when Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne share a scene (or two) in a mini-reunion of THE MATRIX. Mr. Reeves and director Chad Stahelski are back for a third time, and somehow they manage to raise the bar yet again on the fight sequences. And let’s face it, the fighting and action are why so many are drawn to this franchise. This latest entry runs 2 hours and 10 minutes, and almost every bit is a frantic chase scene or violent fight … or both.

The film picks up mere moments after JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 ended. If you recall, John had killed a member of the High Table inside the Continental Hotel, an unforgivable break in the treasured rules. Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of the hotel, has given his friend a one hour head start prior to issuing the “excommunicado”. It’s that order (and the $14 million bounty) that sends every assassin on the planet on Wick’s trail.

No need to wait for the good stuff … the film’s first two fight sequences are extraordinary feats of stunt coordination, and consume the first 15-20 minutes. Here is what John Wick (and we viewers) are in for: Guns (many kinds), lots of knives, a hatchet, swords, a book, enough broken glass to fill a recycle center, horses, motorcycles, cars, every martial art known to man, highly trained dogs, a public library, a museum/collectibles display, a stable, and a ballet theatre complete with dancers. There is even a current NBA player, 7’3” Boban Marjonovic, who battles John Wick and ultimately learns books can be used for something other than reading.

John Wick’s background is revealed, and his general level of tiredness reaches exhaustion, which actually adds an element to a character who is quite efficient with his conversation. There are a few people who are called on to help Wick, in particular we have Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King, Anjelica Huston as the Ballet Director, and Halle Berry as Sophia, a former assassin who now runs the Continental Hotel in Morocco. See, even an underworld crime syndicate promotes from within. The segment with Sophia is one of the most fun, and it’s not because of Ms. Berry. Rather her beautiful and highly-trained dogs are scene stealers who are devastating in their commitment to carry out orders.

Other characters of interest include Asia Kate Dillon (“Billions”) as the Adjudicator, one who enjoys doling out punishment; Mark Dacascos (Wo Fat in “Hawaii 5-0) as Zero, the ultimate Wick fanboy who wants nothing more than to be the one who kills him; Jerome Flynn (“Game of Thrones”) as Berrada, the senior official who doesn’t negotiate fairly; Said Taghmaoui as The Elder from the High Table, who listens to Wick’s proposal. Other supporting roles are filled admirably by Robin Lord Taylor, Jason Mantzoukas and Susan Blommaert.  Of course, some of the most fun occurs again at The Continental Hotel as Reeves’ Wick interacts with Lance Reddick and Ian McShane.

From the department of “Give ‘em what they want”, the film has a very similar look, feel and tone to the first two, but director Stahelski (a standout stunt coordinator) and writers Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Mark Abrams keep it fresh with new characters, new props and some terrific set design. The early model computers are contrasted with the high tech gadgetry of the Continental, and with a body count likely higher than the first two films combined, this entry can best be described as brutally entertaining … is that even a thing?  The violence is vivid and excessive and non-stop, and if that’s not your style, you should at least know that the title is taken from the Latin “Si vis pacem, para bellum” – If you want peace, prepare for war.

watch the trailer:

 


JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2012)

March 2, 2013

jack Greetings again from the darkness. As a kid, I always enjoyed “Jack and Beanstalk” as a bedtime story. However, I never quite understood why Jack was a hero for stealing from the giant. Was I the only kid who felt a bit sorry for the giant? Along comes director Bryan Singer and frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie and the backstory clarifies things for me. The humans and giants had a long ago battle that ended when King Eric banished the giants to a land between heaven and earth. King Eric is either referred to as “The Great” or “The Evil” depending on whether you are a human or a giant.

The prologue offers up simultaneous bedtime beanstalk stories for young Jack, living with his widowed dad, and the young Princess Isabelle, who lives in the castle. Flash forward 10 years and Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is living with his grumpy uncle (his dad died), and Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) is a young lady being forced to marry the King’s (Ian McShane) trusted adviser Roderick, played as a scoundrel by Stanley Tucci. Isabelle is a bit too adventurous for the King and jack3the next thing we know, she has escaped from the castle and stumbled into Jack’s humble abode. Of course, this happens on the same day that Jack traded the horse for the magic beans. The beanstalk appears and the real fun begins.

Ewen McGregor leads the King’s army and is in charge of the rescue party that must climb the beanstalk. Of course, Jack gets to go because of his inside information, and Roderick goes because he is in the midst of an ill-fated power play … a requirement in Fairy Tales! The best CGI in the film occurs in the land of the giants. Their first appearance is very impressive and we get to sit back and enjoy the special effects wizardry. This is action-adventure at a very satisfactory level and the creepy giants add a new level to what we have seen on screen. The battle scenes are a great deal of fun and provide some visuals that are quite intense.

jack2 Which leads to the main point here … who is the movie made for? It’s entirely too frightening for young kids who might enjoy the bedtime story, but I’m sure most teens are way too cool to see a movie about a kids’ book. This is terrific entertainment that many ages would enjoy, but my guess is very few will venture to the theatre for it. Support work is also provided by Ewen Bremner, Eddie Marsan, and Bill Nighy (who voices the two-headed giant). There will be comparisons to The Princess Bride, but that’s a bit unfair. While they both have princesses and farm boys, Rob Reiner’s film is a classic.

This is a wonderful story with terrific visuals, interesting characters, unique humor (pig in a blanket), and wild battle scenes … there is even a quite clever ending that made me laugh. Director Bryan Singer has received a lifetime pass from me thanks to his classic The Usual Suspects, but he definitely injected some spice into a traditional tale, and it deserves a look.

What’s that smell?  Ahhh … it’s the blood of an Englishman

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoyed the bedtime story as a kid OR you want to see the best movie giants yet

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are scared of giants OR you have a magic bean phobia

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ng9rjC8MOgU

 


SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)

June 3, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. After suffering through the miserable Mirror Mirror earlier this year, my fairy tale palate needed cleansing. The original Brothers Grimm tale was actually pretty dark and first time director Rupert Sanders has some success going heavy into ominous with his version. The movie has some flaws, but is actually quite fun to look at.

Early on, we get a taste of Charlize Theron as the wicked stepmother/evil queen. Her calm voice and unforgiving stare prove quite chilling and one of the best parts of the movie. The magic mirror (on the wall) shows signs of life and we understand quickly that this Queen’s power will not be used for the greater good. The palace itself is quite a site and Snow White’s escape provide us a behind-the-walls pass, including the medieval sewer system.

My favorite parts of the movie are the foreboding Black Forest and its polar opposite fairyland. The art decoration for both is excellent and fairyland even offers a nod to the Disney cartoon version. Both sets offer some stunning visuals … the forest ogre, the dwarfs and the white buck with a matrix rack. Ahh, the dwarfs. Can’t have Snow White without them. This group (originally eight) have the superimposed heads of actors we all recognize: Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Johnny Harris, and Brian Gleeson. This camera trick allows us to connect pretty quickly with the group.

 Kristen Stewart brings her successful Twilight run to fairy tale land. She isn’t given much to do other than fight and gaze. Her Joan of Arc look serves the film’s purpose, but does any guy really think she is “fairer” than Charlize? Chris Hemsworth (Thor) plays the titular Huntsman and serves the cause admirably, as does Sam Claflin as Snow’s lusty, trusty childhood friend. Sam Spruell plays the Queen’s henchman brother, but is most memorable for one of the worst haircuts in Hollywood history … straight out of Dumb & Dumber.

The battle scenes are well done, the soundtrack is not overbearing as one would expect, but there seems to be something missing here. The film is fun to look at it, but just doesn’t deliver on any type of emotional level. Perhaps the material is just too familiar after all these years of hoping the first bite of an apple doesn’t render us unconscious.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer the darker, sinister version that the Brothers Grimm intended OR you are just trying to wash away the memories of Julia Roberts cackling as the wicked Queen earlier this year

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting something in line with the classic animated Disney version

watch the trailer:


PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES

May 21, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I will make no apology for being a fan of the “Pirates” series. This is the fourth film and the best since the first. Though I liked them enough, I felt the second and third depended too much on special effects and the need to overwhelm, whereas this one concentrates more on the colorful characters. This latest entry is also directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago) rather than Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three.

 Of course, what really matters is that Johnny Depp is back as Captain Jack Sparrow. And in fine form, I might add. He comes across more clever, witty and less buffoonish  than in the previous two. His character is much better as a worthy adversary than a clown prince. In this one, he alternates between matching wits and swords with no less than three characters. First, Geoffrey Rush is back as Barbossa. Only this time, he seems to have gone legit with the King’s navy. Next we have Sparrow’s long-lost love from Seville played by Penelope Cruz. They also match wits and swords (and facial hair). Lastly, we have the legendary pirate Blackbeard, played with full force by Ian McShane. Were it not a Disney movie, McShane could have made his Blackbeard one of the most frightening characters ever seen on screen. Even with the limitations, he performs exceedingly well.

 The “plot” of the film involves the search for Ponce de Leon’s ship and the much desired Fountain of Youth. The race is on between Sparrow, Blackbeard, the Spainiards and Barbossa who is acting on behalf of King George (a wonderful Richard Griffiths). As always, it’s not always easy to tell which characters are partners and which are adversaries. That’s half the fun! An interesting twist is that in order to have the desired results from the infamous fountain, one must drink from a specific chalice and include a single mermaid tear. Of course, everlasting youth shouldn’t be too easy to achieve. The mermaid sequences are fascinating, though we really only get to know one of them – Syrena played with soulful eyes by Astrid Berges-Frisbey.

Thankfully, two long time characters are absent from this film – Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. Both were dead-weight that caused major drag in the two most recent Pirates films. Cruz and McShane are infinitely more interesting and entertaining and play off of Captain Jack much better.  I did enjoy seeing Keith Richards reprise his role as Sparrow’s father.  Their scene together produces the best line in the film.

 Speaking of Depp’s Jack Sparrow, I would make the argument that this character has entered the rarefied air of film comedy icon. I would put him at or near the level of the all-time best recurring comic characters: Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers, NOT Steve Martin), Austin Powers (Mike Myers) and the Little Tramp (Charlie Chaplin). Of course, there are loads of others that have made a name for themselves but are a step below: Ernest (Jim Varney), Fletch (Chevy Chase), Wayne and Garth (Wayne’s World), Riggs and Murtaugh (Lethal Weapon), etc. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

As I have stated many times, comedy is such a personal taste that it’s always difficult to review. What sets the Pirate’s films apart (especially one and four) are the characters combined with action and witty banter. No, it’s not for everyone, but if you like this style, it’s difficult to beat.  YO-HO, YO-HO …

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have been hoping this franchise would go back to featuring Depp’s Sparrow OR you somehow missed the first three but are in the mood for a rollicking good time

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you didn’t like the first one OR seeing Keith Richards causes nightmares