CVIndependent

Tue11122019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The gun opera that is the John Wick franchise keeps on rolling with gory gust—and some great dogs to boot—in John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum.

When we last saw Keanu Reeves as John Wick, he had gotten kicked out of his assassination group, losing all of the perks. His killing a fellow assassin within the walls of the Continental Hotel means no more room service or dog-sitting. He’s got a multimillion-dollar bounty on his head, and no place to kick his feet up.

John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum picks up right where the last one left off, with a battle-wary Wick running in the streets, putting distance between himself and the hotel, and trying to figure out his next big move. As for the level of action in this chapter, it makes the fun Chapter 2 look like a sleepy intermission.

I’ll just say this right up front: John Wick gets no time for rest here, and he seriously gets his ass kicked while kicking ass. Credit Reeves for playing this part perfectly, on a level where we can believe that this dude, who keeps getting stabbed and shot, can turn on his afterburners and keep shooting people in the face.

Wick basically runs from one action set piece to another, with returning director and former stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski making each something to behold. A gun battle inside a weapons museum counts as a franchise highlight, as does Wick’s gunfight atop a motorcycle.

Yes, dogs play a major role in the shenanigans, which makes this dog person very happy. Wick’s travels take him to fellow assassin Sofia (Halle Berry), looking for assistance. Sofia has two German shepherds who get into the action during a gun battle, and they add an interesting element of violence to the proceedings. Stahelski isn’t just a master of human stunts; he’s capable of getting bad-ass performances out of canines, too. Wick’s beautiful pit bull does have a place in the film, so those of you who have missed that pup will be pleased.

As for Berry, she may’ve been missing her calling all these years. She’s beyond awesome in this movie—a veritable action star who actually outshines Reeves during her major battle scene. I’m calling for a Sofia spinoff right now!

As good as Berry is, the best supporting player in the film is Mark Dacascos as Zero, a sushi-chef/assassin who goes up against Wick while dealing with feelings of hero worship for him. He’s the funniest thing in the entire franchise.

Another stop along the way has Reeves sharing screen time with Anjelica Huston as The Director, a stern Russian who talks dirty business while punishing ballerinas. Huston hasn’t been this much fun onscreen in years. Laurence Fishburne returns as the Bowery King, so the coolness of that Matrix connection continues.

Asia Kate Dillon is the film’s weak link as the Adjudicator, a representative of the High Table sent to set matters straight with the Continental, Wick and the Continental’s manager, Winston (an always growly Ian McShane). Dillon is dull, basically killing all the scenes in which the character shows up. There’s just something off in her line deliveries.

As for Parabellum’s place in the series, it’s the best in the franchise after the original. It’s got the largest scope, and Stahelski and Reeves continuously top themselves with each action feat and gun ballet. Stahelski is making a serious run at becoming one of cinema’s best action directors. You really feel every shot, every hit and every fall in this movie. The action scenes have a major clarity to them, with crisp and concise editing that makes it very easy to follow the mayhem. It’s insanely beautiful.

This chapter, like those before it, ends with a big cliffhanger, so it’s a safe bet the story will continue. Like the character himself, this money train won’t be bleeding out anytime soon.

John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A Hellboy movie without Guillermo del Toro proves to be a very unfortunate thing.

The new Hellboy—the third movie to be based upon the classic Dark Horse comic—isn’t a sequel; it’s a reboot … a cheap, sloppy reboot. David Harbour steps in for Ron Perlman to play the title role, while Neil Marshall (The Descent) haphazardly directs in place of Guillermo del Toro. While Harbour (Stranger Things) is OK, he does little to truly distinguish himself, basically doing some lightweight riffing on a character Perlman established. He’s a lot like Perlman … but he’s not as good as Perlman.

Gone is the richness and depth of Del Toro’s world, replaced by choppy CGI, unimpressive makeup and messy editing. The movie is just one lackluster action sequence after another, strung together by slow dialogue scenes that do nothing to make the film feel coherent.

The movie starts off goofy, with Hellboy in a wrestling match with his former partner-turned-vampire. That sounds stupid, and it is, as the narrative jumps from vampire-slaying to giant-hunting. Yes, Hellboy battles giants, who are represented with the aforementioned choppy CGI. Marshall apparently got the go-ahead to incorporate a lot of gore, and the movie indeed has a lot of blood—to the point where it has a numbing effect.

The main villain here is Nimue, also known as The Blood Queen and played, quite campily, by Milla Jovovich. One of the film’s many flashbacks shows Nimue in a showdown with King Arthur, resulting in her getting her arms and legs cut off. (As I write this, I realize that King Arthur cutting somebody into bits with his sword is very Monty Python and the Holy Grail, something that didn’t dawn on me while I was actually watching the movie. That would probably be because The Holy Grail was classic fun, and Hellboy is a miserable time.)

The film isn’t totally devoid of visual coolness. When Hellboy emerges from his hole with a fire crown and horns, wielding Excalibur, you get a sense of what might have been had Marshall found a consistent tone. But alas, the movie doesn’t know if it’s a horror movie, a comedy or a comic fantasy. As a result, it’s neither funny nor scary.

The film does offer something that I’ve never seen before: a psychic puke-ghost. Ian McShane has endured some embarrassing moments onscreen during his illustrious career, but this movie features what may be the most embarrassing of them all: a scene in which his character’s ghost is vomited out of somebody’s mouth. He has a grotesque body with a fairly normal head—flowing out of a person’s face. McShane is then forced to recite some earnest dialogue, all while appearing as a vomit ghost. It’s amazing, in an incredibly bad way, that puke ghosts made it into the movie. Some ideas need to die in the writer’s room.

The stated budget for this movie was $50 million—low by today’s blockbuster status, and lower than Del Toro’s Hellboy movies. Del Toro wanted to make a third movie, but he left the project due to creative differences. I’m thinking his exit probably had to do with producers being cheap. While Del Toro’s works were masterful pieces of art direction, this Hellboy looks like many other cheaply shot dark-fantasy films.

The final scene of the film seems to be setting the table for a sequel … a sequel that likely will never happen. This is a terribly shlocky restart to a franchise that most assuredly will stall again.

Hellboy is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The latest Keanu Reeves vehicle is a stunner. John Wick boasts a high body count—and offers cinematic proof that you shouldn’t mess with a man’s best friend.

In the film’s opening moments, we learn that the title character (played by Reeves) has lost his wife, and he’s taking it understandably hard. Shortly after her death, a little pet carrier arrives at his door with an adorable beagle inside: His wife has given him a gift of companionship from the beyond, and it’s a very sweet moment. The scenes of Wick and the dog bonding help make him a likable character.

While John Wick is putting some gas in his sweet Mustang, a young Russian man (Alfie Allen) asks if he can buy the car. Wick groans that it is not for sale. His unwillingness to part with the car results in tragedy, as the Russian mob comes to his house, beats him to within inches of death, kills the dog and takes the car.

They’ve messed with the wrong guy. Wick is a former hired assassin with a bunch of weaponry and gold buried in his floor. We learn that Wick is known around town as the Boogeyman, and the asshole who stole his car has a father, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), who once employed Wick. Viggo lived in confidence that Wick was retired and out of the game. Now, his son has killed the Boogeyman’s dog, and all involved, voluntarily or not, are going to face his wrath.

That wrath consists of some of the greatest choreographed carnage in recent movie memory. Wick shoots bad guys with a precision that protects the innocent—but anybody around with a criminal background is going to die.

A couple of stunt guys—David Leitch and Chad Stahelski—make their directorial debuts with John Wick. Stahelski has actually been a Reeves stunt double many times, in the Matrix films, Constantine and Point Break. Their familiarity pays off, because the stunt sequences and choreography are flawless. In the pantheon of action-movie directing debuts, this one stands tall.

Reeves is an actor who has taken a lot of shots over the years. True, he can be pretty darned terrible at times, but he has a strong command of himself in front of a camera. There’s a scene in this movie that may contain the best acting of his career. Wick is a character who doesn’t exactly wear his emotions on his sleeve. He’s a simmering sort, but once pushed to a certain level, he shows some mighty powerful rage. Reeves is very much up to the task.

It’s also very clear that Reeves does much of his own stunt work in the film. There’s a lot of rolling around, and numerous gun dances. He’s always been a capable action star, and his physical outing here is as impressive as his work in The Matrix series. (OK, the first one. Screw the sequels.)

The screenplay adds some nice touches, including an exclusive hotel for assassins run by Ian McShane. The place is like an artists’ loft, except the inhabitants paint with blood and brains. When Wick gets his stay violently interrupted, the calm calls from the front desk and visuals of criminals sleepily sticking their heads out their doors to see what’s going on are quite funny.

Willem Dafoe makes a nice mark in a few scenes as a double-crossing hitman. Adrianne Palicki, the actress who was supposed to be TV’s Wonder Woman (until NBC saw the pilot and puked), shows action-movie chops as another gun-for-hire who can’t be trusted.

John Wick is a great-looking movie that mixes in some strong emotions with awesome set pieces. It’s nice to see Keanu Reeves back in the saddle. Now, with the success of this film, perhaps somebody will finally green-light Bill and Ted 3.

John Wick is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Dwayne Johnson follows Steve Reeves, Kevin Sorbo and Arnold Schwarzenegger into the role of the Son of Zeus in Hercules.

Actually, this film suggests that the title character might not be immortal, and is part of a scam. That’s one of the many sly touches that make this movie enjoyable.

Johnson is good in the lead, and his band of battle disciples, in fine form, includes Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell.

The film is directed by Brett Ratner, the man who got himself into trouble with legions of rabid fans for screwing up X-Men: The Last Stand. (I didn’t think it was that bad.) Ratner does a lot with a medium-sized budget. (Yes, $100 million is a medium-sized budget for a blockbuster these days.) The movie looks good, and is quite clever at times.

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting this to be very good given its pedigree, but the results are enjoyable. Johnson has developed into a fun movie star, and Ratner can make a decent movie—even if he is the guy responsible for the Rush Hour films.

Hercules is now playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way; 844-462-7342); the Ultrastar Mary Pickford Stadium 14 (36850 Pickfair St., Cathedral City; and the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 and IMAX (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342).

Published in Reviews

Jack the Giant Slayer will go down as one of the worst domestic flops in recent Hollywood history.

Using a budget somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million, director Bryan Singer—who took a lot of flack for his underperforming Superman Returns (a film I liked)—has put together a visual mess.

The movie features live actors performing along CGI giants, and the live action doesn’t integrate with the effects at all. The effects have a cartoon quality that had me wondering why they didn’t just make this a CGI animated adventure. It’s not like they have huge stars anchoring the picture. Will Smith fought cartoon zombies in I Am Legend, but you forgave the silliness of those cartoon zombies because Smith sold the whole damn thing.

The responsibility of selling Jack rests on the shoulders of the likable but not extremely charismatic Nicholas Hoult (who was very good in Warm Bodies). He plays the title character with enough charm to make the movie almost tolerable, but that’s it. Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci have supporting roles, and they actually register more than Hoult.

Unlike in the classic fairytale, Jack must go up against an army of giants. Those giants are created via motion-capture animation that is never convincing or impressive. In fact, the lineup of giant characters looks quite bad.

It doesn’t help matters that the lead giant, a two-headed villain named General Fallon, is voiced by Bill Nighy. Nighy, of course, voiced the Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and his work here is very similar. In other words, you’ll spend the movie being constantly reminded of his better performance as a more-interesting villain in another picture. It also doesn’t help that Fallon’s simpleminded second head is a total Gollum rip-off.

The movie is rated PG-13, but don’t take the little kids. Singer inserted many violent moments in which the giants dispatch human victims, often by biting the humans’ screaming heads off. Granted, Singer doesn’t show the bloody aftermath, but it’s pretty shocking for what’s supposed to be a family film.

People get stomped, too, like Charles Grodin in the 1976 version of King Kong, which I just re-watched on Netflix the other day. The ’76 version of Kong was better than Jack the Giant Slayer, because Rick Baker in a monkey suit was more convincing than the CGI giants in Jack. Plus, Jessica Lange was really hot.

As the reluctant princess who runs away from her puny king dad (Ian McShane), relative newcomer Eleanor Tomlinson doesn’t exactly light up the screen. This isn’t necessarily her fault, considering that the screenplay provides her with nothing but flat dialogue, and the wardrobe department makes her wear silly hats.

McGregor fares best and has a couple of good moments, including a sequence in which he almost winds up as a pig in a blanket. Tucci is saddled with a goofy wig and goofy teeth. He looks like he thinks he’s playing somebody funnier—but he isn’t funny.

For the kids, Singer allows for a few farts and boogers. I suppose he thinks that balances it all out: Yes, giants rip heads off screaming victims in this movie quite often, but I will throw in a couple of farts to keep the kids laughing.

I’m curious why Warner Bros. moved this from its original release date last summer. Is it because they wanted to do some more work on the special effects in an effort to make them look better? (If so, they failed.) Or did they know they had a stinker on their hands, so they decided a March release would lessen the competition?

Either way, they have a history-making stinker on their hands.

Up next for Singer is X-Men: Days of Future Past. That’s encouraging news; let’s just hope none of the X-Men fart, pick their nose or bite somebody’s head off.

Jack the Giant Slayer is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews