CVIndependent

Fri08072020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 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 whole lot of people get shot in the face in John Wick: Chapter 2, a worthy sequel to the 2014 breakout hit.

A totally bummed-out Keanu Reeves returns as the lone assassin, originally brought out of retirement after somebody killed his dog and stole his car. Many deaths later, Wick is back in his stylish home, with a new (and unnamed) dog, intent upon burying his guns and taking a long break. No such luck: A man from the past shows up with a marker, giving him a killing assignment that will take him to Italy and have him face off with Common. (It turns out Common is built like The Terminator and makes a good villain. Oh, wait … he’s sort of the good guy. Wick is actually a villain.) Balletic violence begins—and never ends.

This time out, Wick is wearing some sort of bulletproof lining under his suit. He was unstoppable before, but now he can take a bullet!

Reeves is the perfect guy for this role, physically believable as an aging yet unstoppable assassin, and great with the stoic line deliveries. He’s in one mode for this movie, and that mode is badass.

Reeves has himself a brand new franchise, and this one is very ripe for the next story. It also has another Reeves franchise guy, Laurence Fishburne, aka Morpheus from The Matrix. Thankfully, this sequel is much better than The Matrix sequels.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

There was no movie that I was anticipating more this year than this cinematic rebirth of Superman. I was so excited that I buried in my mind the fact that director Zack Snyder’s most-recent effort, Sucker Punch, was a pungent mess.

Man of Steel could do no wrong. Right?

Wrong.

Snyder went and turned Supes (Henry Cavill) into a whiner with mommy issues. The director was going for something akin to Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, rather than the Richard Donner flicks that inspired Bryan Singer’s unjustly maligned Superman Returns.

General Zod, as played by Michael Shannon, is close to perfect. Conversely, Amy Adams is a total miss as Lois Lane, and Laurence Fishburne is awful as her boss, Perry White. Passing grades go to Kevin Costner as Superman’s earthly dad, and Russell Crowe as the Kryptonian papa. Diane Lane is also good as his Earth mommy.

This movie is absent of humor, joy and fun. I’m all for taking Superman to a darker place, but Snyder also takes him to a place that is significantly duller. I fear for the future of the Superman and Batman franchises with Snyder at the helm.

Special Features: There’s a feature in which Zack Snyder basically explains the whole movie; it’s a feature that goes beyond the scope of the usual audio commentary. In fact, it takes up most of the second disc you get in the package. You also get making-of docs. I liked the features more than the movie.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Seven years ago, director Bryan Singer tried to re-launch Superman by casting a Christopher Reeve clone (Brandon Routh) and a long-dead Marlon Brando, while retaining that majestic John Williams theme. I liked Superman Returns, but it performed beneath expectations, and producers put Superman on ice.

With Man of Steel, Warner Bros. is reviving Superman by giving the son of Jor-El the Christopher Nolan treatment. Nolan doesn’t direct, but he does produce; David S. Goyer, who co-wrote Nolan’s Batman films, has penned the script.

The result? A dull Superman who whines about his parents a lot. Man of Steel has some impressive fireworks, but it severely lacks soul. It’s like a Superman/Transformersmovie.

I’ll say this: Henry Cavill is easily the best-looking Superman. I mean, this guy is GORGEOUS. Man of Steel will probably do good box office simply because people will want to spend many summer hours just gazing at this positively dreamy guy. Problem is, he’s duller than an ax after 10,000 whacks at a big, hard boulder.

Much of the blame for Cavill’s flat effort should go to director Zack Snyder. Snyder’s films aren’t generally noted for their emotional realism. His thirst for style usually outweighs the need for his performers to deliver anything of depth, unless you count Gerard Butler screaming “This is Sparta!” in 300.

While I liked the way Snyder delivered his comic adaptation of Watchmen, I started to fret about him helming a Superman movie after the dreadful Sucker Punch. I was afraid Superman would get lost in a sea of washed-out visuals, extreme speeds, and stripper-hookers. Thankfully, he left out the strippers-hookers, but all of his other directorial trademarks made the cut.

For instance, whenever Superman flies, he flies like a supersonic jet. The camera is often far away, and he’s just a little speck zipping around. When we see him up close, he’s bouncing around so much that we can’t really enjoy the visual of a man flying. It’s like a really bad Top Gun movie.

This is another origin story, and with Nolan in the mix, it’s an often somber one. The thing with Superman is that he’s supposed to be selfless. His primary concern is saving people’s clumsy asses, not wondering who his parents really are. Sure, he cares to a certain extent, but not to the extent that it derails his primary mission of protecting humanity.

This story that starts on Krypton, where Jor-El, Superman’s philosopher dad (played well by Russell Crowe), is witnessing the destruction of his planet. Before things go kaboom, he has a final confrontation with the deranged General Zod (Michael Shannon) and launches a ship containing his infant son.

Fans of Superman know that he winds up on a farm with earthly caretakers (played winningly by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). The film goes in a new direction with the Clark Kent alter ego—and I am not crazy about that direction.

The supporting cast is generally strong, with Crowe and Costner giving their best work in years. Shannon, in a fierce and frightening performance, almost makes the whole thing worthwhile.

While Man of Steel isn’t great, or even good, it does have a highly memorable villain in Zod, the Krypton general determined to see his people live on. In fact, the film suffers whenever Zod isn’t onscreen. Shannon manages to pierce the dulling veil that is Snyder’s directing.

As Lois Lane, Amy Adams isn’t really a factor. The script calls for her to be humorless and dull in her own right. (It’s no wonder she and Superman fall for each other.) As her boss, editor Perry White, Laurence Fishburne proves to be a terrible choice. He’s in full, droning Morpheus mode.

I must also call out the filmmakers for their musical choices. I understand the impulse to separate from the original Superman franchise, but John Williams wrote a great theme, and it deserves to be heard whenever an actor puts on the blue tights. (Let it be noted that these blue tights don’t have the red underwear on the outside … SACRILEGE!) The new score by Hans Zimmer is far from memorable.

This film is attempt by Warner Bros. to have a superhero beyond Batman to compete with all of Marvel’s Avengers. However, Marvel has the upper hand, because most of Marvel's recent films contain charm, humor and worthy drama to go with their whiz-bang. Man of Steel, meanwhile, just has a guy who looks really good in tights, and a villain who far outmatches him in acting prowess. The result is a movie that falls miserably flat.

There’s a moment at the end of Man of Steel that left me curious. Perhaps Cavill will come out of his shell in later installments, and will actually make an emotional impression in the sequels.

As for those sequels, I’d like to see one without Snyder at the helm. He has clearly lost his touch.

Man of Steel opens Friday, June 14, at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews