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!


 

47 Ronin Review – A Beheaded Beast


Director: Carl Rinsch

Writers: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi

 


Release date: January 16th , 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Countries: USA, Japan

Running time: 118 minutes


 

1½/5

Best part: Reeves and Sanada.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Inexplicably, the Western world looks down upon the East. In our ever-so-racist culture, we destroy cultural and social links due to prejudice, anxiety, and judgement. Despite multiculturalism’s benefits, we continually place people and communities into stereotypes. Thankfully, Hollywood is avoiding this dated societal practice. Thanks to China’s influence on the box office, big-budget extravaganzas are now aiming for international audiences. In fusing two contrasting cultures, Asian actors and characters are receiving significant attention. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s latest cultural mash-up, 47 Ronin, is an exorbitant waste of time and money. Sadly, the cast and crew are being named and shamed for their efforts.

Keanu Reeves.

Despite the final product’s overall quality, it’s difficult to blame everyone at once. Admittedly, there are flashes of brilliance in this otherwise disastrous action flick. Some cast and crew members aimed to develop an ethnically friendly and entertaining cinematic endeavour. Unfortunately, this $175 million catastrophe is the result of an untested director and hack writers. Despite Universal Studio’s commendable intentions, the company’s reach exceeds its grasp. The studio’s predictable actions and typical ideologies prove costly here. With 47 Ronin a critical and commercial bomb, executives, writers, and directors could face the chopping block. Outlining 47 Ronins wasted potential, the movie is loosely based on Japan’s most influential historical tale. Clinging onto a haunting and enlightening tale, 47 Ronin immerses us into the Bushido code (way of the warrior). There’s a reason why I didn’t mention the Samurai elements earlier. Sadly, the movie is bafflingly disinterested in this enigmatic and respectable ancient culture. 47 Ronin hurriedly immerses us into 18th Century feudal Japan. After the exposition heavy and confusing prologue, the movie introduces its only white character. Escaping from a dangerous mystical society, half-cast child Kai is rescued by the honourable and domineering Lord Asano (Min Tanaka). Asano’s Samurai protectors treat adult Kai (Keanu Reeves) with distain. Teaching himself to follow the Samurai code, Kai becomes a distinguishable and skilled warrior. Reeves, overlooking the debilitating racial divide, delivers an enjoyable performance in his underwritten role. Delivering purposeful mannerisms, he allows his Japanese co-stars – Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, and Rinko Kikuchi, in particular – to propel this disenfranchising fantasy epic.

Hiroyuki Sanada.

Thanks to its obvious and repetitive opening scenes, the movie swiftly descends into chaos. The awkward prologue, defined by poor animation, describes the narrative’s all-important intricacies. In fact, the overt narration specifically states: “To know the story of the 47 Ronin is to know the story of old Japan”. Featuring the movie’s only worthwhile line, the narration throws the besotted audience into this conquering story. Despite the intriguing premise and inspired concepts, the execution is beyond atrocious. In typical modern-fantasy-epic fashion, Kai falls for Asano’s remorseful and sullen daughter Mika (Kou Shibasaki). With forbidden love frowned upon by Japanese customs, Kai banishes himself into the woods. Damaged by this cliched peasant-and-princess-love-story sub-plot, the narrative abruptly transitions into a vengeance, discipline, and honour fuelled epic. After Asano is tricked, by sadistic witch Mizuki (Kikuchi), into attacking despicable master of ceremonies Lord Kira (Asano), Kai and Asano’s 47 brave protectors are banished from Shogun Tokugawa Tsunayoshi(Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa)’s territory. With the Samurai warriors disbanded, Oishi (Sanada) finds Kai and convenes with his fellow ronin. From this point on, the movie delves into potentially graphic and enigmatic material. Fortunately, the narrative shifts out of its cloying and heavy-handed first third. Its many underdeveloped plot-strands and characters are sparingly introduced, set up, and shifted around. Despite the interesting premise, the movie’s absurd twists and turns distort this preposterous action flick. Thanks to its wavering pace and jarring tonal shifts, the first third stalls the entire narrative. With multiple character arcs and plot-strands alluding to specific revelations, Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini’s conventional and unintentionally laughable screenplay delivers overblown dialogue, tiresome cliches, and a broad presentation of ancient Japanese culture. After its tedious first act, the movie transitions into a conventional and exasperating fantasy-adventure flick.

“I will search for you through 1000 worlds and 1000 lifetimes!” (Kai (Keanu Reeves), 47 Ronin).

Rinko Kikuchi.

Thanks to botched production and post-production schedules, this sprawling concoction of cliches, bizarre directorial ticks, and half-constructed studio decisions becomes almost unwatchable. Despite the following two third’s eclectic pacing and fun set-pieces, 47 Ronin never examines intriguing or thought-provoking aspects. Throughout its 2-hour run-time, the quest-based narrative follows a one-dimensional formula. Despite this tale’s heart-breaking messages, the movie’s emotionless and ignorantly offensive aura damages its beguiling action-adventure concept. Beyond the insignificant screenwriting tropes and directorial ticks, the movie’s ethical and moral conundrums lodge themselves into the consciousness. Each year, Japanese entertainment mediums deliver iterations of this inspiring story. Known as Chushingura, this practice, unlike 47 Ronin, examines and celebrates this spiritually commendable tale. Despite the story’s culturally specific roots, the movie, inexplicably, ignores Japanese culture’s most intriguing and informative elements. This Americanised and sugarcoated version of Japan’s most influential tale insults the Samurai code, Japanese history, and world cinema. Lacking any Japanese dialogue, this fusion of Japanese and Hollywood moviemaking tropes becomes a soulless creation. Honestly, hasn’t Japan suffered enough this decade? Constructing his first feature, commercial director Carl Rinsch (YouTube video The Giftpoorly grapples with vital moviemaking mechanics. Handling its incoherent production design and wavering structure, Rinsch’s disjointed and derivative style dampens the premise. His messy visual style borrows from contrasting influences and genres. The movie transitions from Chanbara flick, to exhausting sword-and-sandal romp, to inorganic fantasy adventure. Featuring bright, joyful, and alluring visuals, 47 Ronin insufficiently fuses Throne of Blood, 300, Clash of the Titans, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Snow White and the Huntsman. Following mentor Ridley Scott’s methodology, Rinsch’s sprawling and eye-catching compositions elevate certain sequences. Clashing colours, impressive creature and set designs, and sumptuous locations provide pleasurable distractions for this otherwise underwhelming blockbuster. 

Delving into potentially entertaining material, 47 Ronin could, and should, have been an entertainingly gritty action-adventure flick. However, this derivative, messy, and uninspired fantasy epic wears Hollywood’s most aggressive and perplexing impulses. Like After Earth and The Lone Ranger, 47 Ronin presents a unique idea ruined by poisonous execution. Making a bad blockbuster is simple. However, this movie, despite the quick and hefty profit, isn’t even worth the admission cost.

Verdict: A silly, uninspired, and preposterous action flick.