John Wick Review – Rampaging Reeves


Director: David Leitch, Chad Stahelski

Writer: Derek Kolstad

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe


Release date: October 30th, 2014

Distributors: Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment, Entertainment One, Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 101 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The hyper-violent action.

Worst part: The ethical issues.

What do the Matrix trilogy, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Dangerous Liaisons, and The Lake House have in common? Yes, they’re all destructive in various ways. They’re also led by one of modern Hollywood’s most polarising and ripe-for-parody performers. Actor/director/producer Keanu Reeves was one of the 1990s’ biggest names. His star power – raking in millions for some of the decade’s biggest actioners, dramedies, and horror-thrillers – seemed destined for eternal prowess. However, after 2008 mega-flop The Day the Earth Stood Still, his leading-man status fizzled out. So, how does one make a successful Tinseltown comeback? By completing multiple projects simultaneously.

Keanu Reeves kicking ass!

Blood-drenched actioner John Wick is one piece of a career-saving puzzle. Fresh off renowned documentary Side by Side and Martial arts extravaganza Man of Tai-chi, Reeves returns to studio-driven schlock. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. Plenty of big stars (Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington) are riding this wave. Hoping to attract audiences and boost box-office numbers, Reeves has learned from these no-nonsense veteran stars. Similarly to Taken and Man on Fire, John Wick excels thanks to its lead character. Wick (Reeves), pulled through  his wife Helen(Bridget Moynahan)’s cancerous death, feels completely lost. Struggling to get out of bed, his empty existence brings out the worst. Shortly after the funeral, he receives a package containing a Beagle puppy. Being his wife’s last gift, Wick learns to cherish his new four-legged friend. Two nights later, Wick is attacked in his home by three Russian criminals. Led by Losef (Alfie Allen), the gang kills the dog before stealing his ’69 Mustang. Losef, son of notorious New York mobster Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), messed with the wrong guy! Reaching out to veteran hitman/mentor Marcus (Willem Dafoe), Wick reaches into his blood-soaked past to destroy Viggo’s syndicate.

Michael Nyqvist & Alfie Allen.

Seriously, what was the last interesting and re-watchable action flick? Shrouded in stupidity and budget-related shortcuts, the genre is typically defined by disasters like A Good Day to Die Hard and Taken 2. If the genre was city, hacks like Luc Besson and McG would be the mafia dons talking down to us average folk. John Wick, dispelling the Expendables franchise’s ‘winning’ formula, is a glorious and engaging return to form. In fact, it’s a return to form for its actors, Hollywood action, and the genre. Giddily so, it gives everyone something to do and the filmmakers a chance to prove themselves. Stunt coordinators turned storytellers David Leitch and Chad Stahelski have worked tirelessly for decades. Known for boosting Reeves’ physicality and Hugo Weaving’s prowess in the Matrix trilogy, our dynamic duo utilise everything at their disposal. Handed a simplistic screenplay and tiresome premise, Leitch and Stahelski come close to polishing a turd. Dealing with retribution and deep-seeded emotion, the premise explores several intriguing and well-intentioned concepts. However, the script merely skims over them before distracting itself with action and chaos. Forced into small slithers, its greater themes are hissed out through monologues. Despite the simple-yet-effective plot, the movie doesn’t notice its own disturbing undertones. Letting Wick off the leash, the movie wholeheartedly supports his psychopathic nature. In the 1980s action-hero era, this would be awesome. Today, with gun control a major issue, it’s wholly insensitive.

“John Wick isn’t the Boogeyman. He’s the man you send to kill the f*cking Boogeyman!” (Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), John Wick).

Adrianne Palicki.

Fetishising guns, grenades, and guts, John Wick almost becomes ethically repugnant. Like most action flicks, overt masculinity, raw power, and lethal skills define its characters. Taking away Wick’s wife, muscle car, and dog in quick succession, the plot charts its leads’ journey from existential angst to full-blooded justice/vengeance/psychotic breakdown. Similarly to Dolph Lundgren/Steven Seagal/Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicles, budget and style clash throughout. Despite the strong action and hyper-kinetic style, this actioner works best within humble locations and small spaces. Taking the fight to nightclubs, hotels, houses, and car parks, John Wick utilizes everything within its world. As experienced badasses, Leith and Stahelski understand filmmaking’s complexities. Released in the Post-Raid era, John Wick – creating an immense body count – casts a huge shadow over Hollywood. Whipping Reeves and co. around one another, the choreography and cinematography illuminate its fantasy aura. Taking on Besson, John Woo, and the Wachowski siblings, their direction kicks the plot into overdrive. Wick, shooting almost every victim in the head at point-blank range, cements his status as: “the man you send to kill the f*cking boogeyman”. Throughout this hyper-kinetic bloodbath, Reeves establishes his simple-yet-effective merits. Speaking through gritted teeth and a peculiar accent, the 50-year-old A-lister crafts a charismatic glow. The supporting cast, including esteemed character-actors Nyqvist, Allen, Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Dean Winters, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and Lance Reddick, does valuable work.

Pulling Reeves back into the spotlight, John Wick is one of 2014’s biggest surprises. Leith and Stahelski, boosting their and Reeves’ careers, elevate its silly premise with zany flourishes and ballsy action. Despite the ethical conundrums, the movie crafts wholeheartedly divide reality and fantasy. Released in the post-Summer/pre-Oscar season void, this action-thriller should satisfy most audiences. Hopefully, Reeves can now forget the horrific 47 Ronin.

Verdict: An enjoyably manic actioner.

Trailer Trash – John Wick


Keanu Reeves in John Wick.

Known for playing idiotic teenagers and clueless action heroes, Keanu Reeves has certainly had a unique and fascinating career. Headlining hit actioners including Point Break, the Matrix trilogy, and Speed, the Canadian actor, director, and musician is at home in the genre. Lately, however, his interests have switched to directing kung-fu flicks like Man of Thai Chi and documentaries like Side by Side. So, having been six years since his last guns-and muscles action  role (as a grizzled cop in Street Kings), why has he returned? Well, despite the hefty financial gain, it appears his latest explosion-fest, John Wick, may actually be much better than what the title suggests. Even Wick’s signature line winks at Reeves’ latest career one-eighty: “People keep asking if I’m back. Yeah, I’m thinking, I’m back.”

Reeves plays the titular character in this potentially enthralling action-thriller. Going by the poster, we can discern that his character – an unshaven, ultra-slick badass – is gunning for blood. Peeling back a significant part of the movie’s wafer-thin plot, the trailer lets our characters off their leashes. After his puppy/gift from his dying wife is killed by intruders, Wick comes out of mercenary retirement to recover his weapons and eviscerate those responsible. Fuelled by tough-guy posturing, revving engines, neon-soaked nightclubs, and gunplay, the trailer has enough chutzpah to boost even the most cynical critic’s expectations. With a cast rounded out by John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, Lance Reddick, Michael Nyqvist, and Adrianne Palicki, this movie might become one of this/next year’s biggest surprises. In addition, moving away from the Raid series’ relentless aura, the action and violence seem – by Hollywood standards – refreshingly watchable.

We’ll find out when John Wick premieres in the US on October 24th. Watch the trailer below and let us know what you think!


 

Red Dawn Review – Hemsworth’s Hindrance


Director: Dan Bradley

Writers: Carl Ellsworth, Jeremy Passmore 

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki


Release date: September 27th, 2012

Distributor: FilmDistrict

Country: USA

Running time: 93 minutes


 

1½/5

Best part: Chris Hemsworth.

Worst part: Cinema’s worst product placement.

Following the end of the Cold War, many Americans became enthralled by the exploitative yet paranoia inducing thrills of the 1984 cult classic Red Dawn. Many kids dreamed of one day facing a global threat with their buddies in their very own backyard. This imaginative idea has been brought to life yet again, in the form of a fresh faced remake quickly forced into hibernation by distribution company Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Red Dawn however doesn’t even belong on anyone’s list of guilty pleasures, sadly becoming yet another typical and unnecessary  Hollywood remake.

Chris Hemsworth.

After a six year tour of duty in Iraq, Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) is an all around nice guy returning to his home in Spokane, Washington. He quickly attracts the attention of the locals, his feisty brother Matt (Josh Peck), his father Tom (Brett Cullen) and attractive childhood friend Toni (Adrianne Palicki). Barely can he settle back into his father’s couch when the threat of war comes back to haunt him, this time in the form of invading North Korean/Russian forces. Attaining a rag-tag group of high-schoolers of all divisions, the Eckerts must soon find a way out of their new situation with the help of Jed’s military training. Having lost their homes, lives and loved ones, the young renegade force known as the ‘Wolverines’ must stop this ominous foreign threat from spreading across the United States of America.

Isabel Lucas & Adrianne Palicki.

This jingoistic and forgettable remake of the hauntingly relevant original falters despite its somewhat promising start. Following a harrowing montage of news footage linking the 2008 Global Financial Crisis to the onset of nuclear war, Red Dawn’s fantastical account of an invasion of US democracy stretches any sense of credibility beyond a simplistic Call of Duty-like scenario. What made the original such a patriotic yet vital action flick was the link to Cold War paranoia surrounding its initial release. Upon this realisation, creating a North Korean (formerly Chinese) enemy worthy of the Soviet Union stretches plausibility. What is left is just a forgettable action flick bordering on xenophobia. This remake was finished in 2008, put on hold after MGM was hit by the recession. It’s easy to see why it was left to a release date four years later, becoming a film without a sense of place in our current political climate. The North Korean threat is a largely over-the-top band of thugs, little more than target practice for the Wolverines.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Director Dan Bradley has worked as stunt coordinator and/or second unit director on big budget action films such as The Bourne Ultimatum, Swordfish and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. His penchant for expansive action set-pieces pays off in the film’s many shoot-outs and chases, yet fails to create a sense of either atmosphere or brutality for this dull narrative. Despite the tight pacing and high level of explosions, Bradley’s work on Paul Greengrass’ Bourne films has led to many tense scenes ruined by shaking cameras and quick cuts. This ultra-modern remake fails to learn from the original’s noticeable flaws. This contrived and silly story creates an emotionally manipulative yet undercooked survival tale of US citizens fighting oppression. The story is set to one training and battle montage after another, creating a breezy yet unrefined documentation of this peculiar invasion. Trying unrelentingly to achieve impact, Red Dawn‘s inappropriate score its only one step away from being as emotionally manipulative as the world’s biggest onion. The characters are awkwardly placed into certain types. High school and military politics are depicted as comparable in this film, conveniently comprising the jocks, rebels, nerds and hotties as the pecking order of this unit. Pretty predictable stuff here.

“Marines don’t die, they go to hell and regroup.” (Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth), Red Dawn).

Hemsworth, Josh Peck & Josh Hutcherson.

Hemsworth, Josh Peck & Josh Hutcherson.

Australia’s 2010 Red Dawn-like action flick Tomorrow, When the War Began is a far greater re-iteration this implausible situation. Any chance at developing character or resonance falls flat with every cheesy one liner and underwhelming speech, creating an inexplicably cloying experience to endure. This earnest retelling provides a humourless and bland romp, with comedic moments falling flat and ridiculous product placement achieving only unintentional laughs. Despite becoming little more than uninteresting enemies for the North Korean troops, the underused cast is full of recognisable faces. The original’s fun vibe was created partly through its charismatic young cast including Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell and Jennifer Grey. The chemistry between the original cast is lost in the remake, as the new group fails to create a believable or likeable fighting force. Chris Hemsworth (achieving major success with Thor and The Avengers) is a charismatic screen presence as the hapless leader. Josh Peck however becomes a bumbling and irritating soldier playing by his own rules. Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) is easily replaceable, as is the rest of this underwhelming group of small soldiers.

Despite Bradley and the cast’s enthusiasm, their Red Dawn remake has been through hell and back itself. Given the resources on offer, this action-adventure could have been something for new generations  to cling onto. Unfortunately, it has arrived several years too late.

Verdict: Yet another in the line of lacklustre remakes.