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.

Seven Psychopaths Review – Hollywood Hustle


Director: Martin McDonagh

Writer: Martin McDonagh

Stars: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson


Release date: October 12th, 2013

Distributors: Momentum Pictures, CBS Films

Countries: UK, USA

Running time: 110 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Sam Rockwell’s hilarious character.

Worst part: Underused female characters.

Ever since Pulp Fiction‘s effect on the cinematic universe in 1994, many directors have tried to capture that similar balance of violence, wit and references to classic elements of popular culture. Now among several complex and smartly written gangster/assassin comedies following Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, Seven Psychopaths sits atop this year’s gritty gangster/assassin character studies above Killing Them Softly, Lawless and Looper. The film is a vibrant and stylish comedic-drama, stretching the credibility of typical cinema tropes in the vein of Get Shorty or even Tropic Thunder.

Colin Farrell & Sam Rockwell.

Martin (Colin Farrell) is a struggling screenwriter living under the famous ‘Hollywood’ sign in middle class Los Angeles. Surrounded by quirky characters while finding inspiration for his latest screenplay, he becomes embroiled in a strange plan helmed by struggling actor Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken). Having stolen the beloved Shih Tzu of dangerous gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), the three bumbling friends must go into exile before the increasingly vicious Charlie can find them. The three friends run into many troubled characters such as Martin’s frustrated girlfriend, a rabbit carrying sociopath (soul singer Tom Waits) and a mysterious assassin known only as ‘The Joker of Diamonds’. Martin must also overcome writer’s block and discover a knock out idea for his next grand story, hopefully before all three end up on the wrong end of a gun.

Christopher Walken.

From the opening scene, involving a witty conversation between two slimy gangsters played by Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg, director Martin McDonagh quickly becomes the worthy successor to Tarantino. Following his surprise hit assassin-comedy In Bruges, McDonagh has provided a funny, self-reflexive and hyper-stylish crime flick. Similarly to Guy Richie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Seven Psychopaths reveals so many intricate and fun details in every captivating scene. The film finds the right balance of absurdity and intelligence. The intertwining cast of characters creates a rich narrative, effectively placing the screenplay’s effect on cinema in full view. With strange ideas continually incepted into his alcohol induced mind, Farrell’s character carefully lays everything out on the page. Seven Psychopaths creates a subtle and nuanced separation between Martin’s confusing situation and the ideas flowing through each characters’ minds. Their ideas form several stylish and blackly comedic sequences, including an increasingly elaborate shoot out, an Asian terrorist dressed as a priest and character actor Harry Dean Stanton as a creepy figure dressed in black. Despite the inclusion of multiple stories creating a cohesive whole, each short story sorely decreases the film’s sense of urgency.

Woody Harrelson & Zeljko Ivanek.

Woody Harrelson & Zeljko Ivanek.

The film greatly benefits from the inclusion of McDonagh’s derivative yet engaging style. Identifying every psychopath is a fun guessing game, grounding the film in a solid sense of fun straight after every shocking and outrageously clever act of violence. Borrowing similar stylistic techniques from Tarantino and Richie, McDonagh effectively captures the harsh realities of both a life of crime and the Hollywood system. Gangsters, assassins and serial killers soon end up on the wrong side of our three unlucky ‘heroes’. The film is a wink and nudge to its modern cinema audience, de-constructing and subverting significant clichés in one of Hollywood’s most overused film movements. Target demographics, violence, female characters and climactic final shoot-outs are all discussed in a condescending tone. It’s no coincidence that Farrell’s character is named after the director, as McDonagh displays a profound love for influential crime flicks such as Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and Natural Born Killers.

“You didn’t think I was what? Serious? You think I’m not serious just because I carry a rabbit?” (Zachariah (Tom Waits), Seven Psychopaths).

Tom Waits.

Tom Waits.

The A-list cast delivers the hilarious and snappy dialogue with a much needed sense of enthusiasm. Colin Farrell has always played the drunken Irish character type with a wave of charisma. He continues this here, providing many hilarious reactions as the innocent screenwriter surrounded by dog kidnappers, assassins, angry gangsters and suffering friends. Sam Rockwell, impressive throughout his career, goes off like a firecracker as the struggling actor with many questionable hobbies up his sleeve. A sarcastic yet scathingly honest character with a love for his friends, he portrays the average Joe with an obsessive love of girls, guns and blood-soaked mayhem. Christopher Walken provides his most enigmatic performance since Man on Fire as the repressed and passive-aggressive con man. Woody Harrelson provides yet another outrageous and deadly turn as the tough-as-nails gangster with an enduring love for his four-legged friend. While Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, Kevin Corrigan, Gabourey Sidibe and Zeljko Ivanek provide solid turns in thankless roles.

When is all said and done, Seven Psychopaths comes off like a homage to the world’s biggest entertainment hub. Taking the industry for a spin, this crime/gangster-comedy will rough you up, ask for your money, before showing you a good time. Have fun!

Verdict: A smart, hilarious and self-reflexive gangster-comedy.