John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

A good reviewer stays unbiased throughout, I am not a good reviewer so I’m going to say from the outset that this film earned a place in the “good films of 2019” end of year blog based solely on how great the first two films were, the fact that the trailer for this featured John Wick riding a horse, and for having Anjelica Huston in it. This film would have had to fuck up badly for me to dislike it. I’m so glad it didn’t. This carries on the tradition of John Wick films being the new standard-bearer for action films. No longer are they just “dumb fun”, and really, anybody who calls the John Wick franchise dumb really has no idea what they’re talking about. This is a great story about redemption and consequences, a story which runs through at least 4 films. Actually now I’ll mention one of my 3 issues with this film: it doesn’t work as a standalone film I don’t think. It sets up the next one too much so when it’s over you don’t really feel narratively satisfied. It’s the cinematic equivalent of really good tomato soup, yes it’s good as a starter, but it’s just not enough. Second problem: the action scenes. Now don’t get me wrong, they are FANTASTIC in terms of the scenes themselves, the choreography and lighting lead to them being some the best fight scenes you’ll ever see, it’s just…..well I don’t think all of them are necessary. There’s some which go on a bit too long and just seem to be an excuse to HAVE a fight scene, the fight scenes lead the movie rather than the other way around. The third issue: the main villain isn’t that interesting, kind of. The main physical threat anyway, doesn’t really have enough to do. Asia Kate Dillons character is kind of the big bad villain, orchestrating everything, and they’re fantastic, I just feel it’s a bit too late in the franchise to introduce a character like that. Side note: the John Wick franchise has now featured one non-binary actor, and a genderfluid one, and done so without even mentioning it or making it the character-defining trait, they’ve just put them in there and let them be amazing (Ruby Rose is still one of the highlights of John Wick 2, and Dillon is a definite performance highlight of this one).

This film also continues the BRILLIANT world building of the first two. It’s part of why I love these films, there’s so much that goes unsaid about the universe but is just implied and shown, it really sets it up as a universe which actually exists, and also means you have to be paying attention to everything. You actively engage with the films because you have to, you can’t just sit back and dip and out.

So in summary, yeah this film is great. But it could also be the film in the series where the cracks start showing, it all depends on where they go next, I can’t wait.

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Deadpool 2 (2018)

I remember a few weeks ago I saw reports from an early preview of this, and they were, well they were not kind. Actually, “scathing” would be a proper response. It got to the point where apparently the studio was making a few changes and reshoots. I’m not sure what, and how many changes they made but it proves one of two (completely contradictory things). Either:

  • The studio knows what they’re doing and made the right changes to fix it.

Or

  • The early reports were all wrong.

There’s no way THIS was the film that was hated. If you liked the first film, you’ll like this. It’s like the first one, but a lot more. It’s funnier, more brutal, a lot more meta, and has a much better story. Let’s tackle those subjects one by one.

Funnier

This might be due to the way I saw it. I saw the first one twice at the cinema, both times it wasn’t really that busy. As such you couldn’t judge how funny it was, you could only judge how funny I personally found it. This was different, it was the first screening so the screen was almost completely full. As such when jokes hit, you know about it as it feels like the entire room is laughing with you (as opposed to laughing at you, which is not as fun). The laughs are not only better, but there’s a lot more of them. They come quick and come often, like a pervert in the lingerie section of M&S. It’s almost Airplane levels of “jokes per minute” for most the film. With one MAJOR exception. Towards the end, there’s a 2-3 minute section with zero laughs. I know it doesn’t sound long, but it is, if you don’t believe me, stick your hand in boiling water for 3 minutes. That 3 minutes is REALLY good too, full of so much emotion that it makes up for almost the complete lack of nuance in the first one.

More brutal

The vultures started circling for this film when it was announced that Tim Miller, the director of the first film, wasn’t coming back due to creative differences. As such people wondered whether the second one would, or even could, be as good as the first one. Luckily they got David Leitch, best known for John Wick and Atomic Blonde. I do like Tim Miller, but his style was very video-gamey, the film didn’t really look “real”, so even when horrific injuries occurred on screen, it didn’t really have the same impact it should have done. Leitch is the complete opposite, just like the aforementioned Blonde and Wick, you feel the hits. When people got hit, you could hear people in the audience wince with pain. This means the fights and action scenes seem like they have consequences. Also, the violence means they can redeem a previously laughed at character. Last time we saw this character he was basically a joke played by a former footballer, this time he tears Deadpool in half and threatens to turn Colossus into a cock ring.

More Meta (Spoilers)

If you plan on seeing the film, close your eyes now, and open them when I tell you. Done it? Good. Those idiots, they won’t able to read when I tell them to open their eyes those gullible fools. They’ll be walking around with their eyes closed forever, they’re going to walk into traffic and possibly die. Oh God, what have I done? Anyway, spoilers. The mid credit sequence for this features Deadpool killing the Deadpool from X:Men Origin Wolverine in a remade scene from that film, and then killing Ryan Reynolds as he reads The Green Lantern script. It also features a cameo from most of the X-men, in the background. There’s also a scene where they say “and if we do this, there won’t be a third act”. It’s deliciously meta and brilliant, I love it.

Better story.

Judging from the trailer, what do you think this film is about? You’re wrong. The trailer only really covers half the film, the final half takes it in such an unexpected direction, and one you didn’t expect, but makes a lot of sense. Criticism of the first one was that the story and the villains were lacking, definitely not the case here. The story is, whilst not exactly To Kill A Mockingbird, is multi-layered and not exactly something you can call rushed or lazy. It also has genuine emotion, like, an actual tear-causing emotional scene, It also has the first (that I can think of) openly gay relationship in mainstream superhero cinema.

The downsides: there’s quite a lot you feel could be cut. Large amounts of fluff, but it’s incredibly funny fluff, so it works. There are moments where you feel like the writers themselves have forgotten small parts of the story. Also, it has to be said, they could have cut TJ Miller. Not only they could, they SHOULD have cut TJ Miller. The sexual assault allegations are one thing. You could argue that someone shouldn’t lose their job over unproven allegations, no matter how heinous (despite the fact that this seemed to have multiple witnesses). But then he called in a fake bomb threat to get back at a random woman on the train. His scenes could have been replaced with someone else easily enough, and it’s a black mark against the film that it didn’t.

But despite that, I highly recommend this film if you enjoyed the first one. It’s like the first one, but turned up to 11.

 

Red Sparrow (2018)

There’s a scene in this where one of the characters is tied to a chair and has their skin slowly stripped off layer by layer. It’s still less painful than watching this film. Okay, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but there’s a lot of truth in that. I will not look back on this fondly, for multiple reasons. One, it wasted a good cast: Jennifer Lawrence is actually really good, just the film is bad. Same goes for Jeremy Irons et al. The story itself just isn’t good enough. To be an effective film of this genre you need to be one of two things:

  1. Lots of fun and expertly made (John Wick,  Atomic Blonde, the Bourne/Bond series etc)
  2. Incredibly clever, with more twists and turns than a rollercoaster someone makes in a video game.

This was neither, I’m thinking it was aiming more towards the second one but wasn’t quite good enough to do it. I mean, it does have a twist, but it only really effects the final 5 minutes, it doesn’t affect the way you watch the film. You won’t watch it for a second time and delight in the intricate way the ending was set up throughout the film. There are no layers, no hidden depths to the film. Everyone pretty much says what their intentions are, all the time.

I get what they were going for; kind of like an 80’s Sex and Soviet’s style spy film. But they’ve forgotten one thing: those films were fucking terrible. They were badly written, misogynistic as hell, and treated sex the same way virgin fan fiction writers do. It doesn’t even have the decency to look impressive, even The Snowman managed that, and I’m pretty sure the script for that was written on a napkin. Spy films should look crisp and clear, the brutality of the actions contrasting with the stark nature of the surroundings. This just looks dreary, like it’s taking place in Milton Keynes whilst it’s about to rain. These kinds of films deserve to be great, they should take your breath away, and this one doesn’t (although if someone did say they were going to choke me during it, I probably would have accepted the offer as it would have made a nice distraction).

As you can probably tell, I was not a fan of this film. It wasn’t without merit, the performances are good, and the way they set up the films universe was good, it’s just almost everything else which didn’t work. This seems very “first draft”. Like if you looked at it again you could fix it, make a few tweaks here and there, cut out the unnecessary scenes (and at 140 minutes, trust me, there’s A LOT of that), set up the ending better, and you’ll have a pretty damn good film. You could get a somewhat decent film if you edited this differently, but the way it is? Wouldn’t recommend. I wouldn’t even watch this if it got put on netflix. Really disappointing as I had high hopes for this.

Why We Love…..John Wick.

Directed by: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch

Budget: $20million

Box Office: $86 Million

So this week the teaser trailer for John Wick: Chapter 2 dropped, with the full trailer being released tomorrow at New York Comic-Con. Usually I hate the idea of trailers for trailers, but I think I finally get their purpose. They’re basically a “heads up”, a “keep your eyes out for later this week”, and I know for certain that I’ll be searching for the trailer on Sunday. It helps that I really love the title for some reason, it’s both ordinary and superb at the same time. The original had a real sense of being part of a wider universe. There were a lot of moments in it which set up that this world wasn’t just for the benefit of the main characters, you got the feeling that everything continued to exist even once the camera stopped rolling. I remember coming out of that and wondering whether it was a comic book adaptation, it genuinely felt like one, but a good one.

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So not this, definitely not this

I will admit I went into this with low expectations, I’ve never really rated Keanu Reeves that consistent, he’s had flashes of brilliance but I would never think “I’m really looking forward to the new Keanu Reeves movie” I went in basically expecting a dumb but fun action movie. Whilst it is fun it is definitely something more than that. The films starts off with his wife dying, now most films would have her killed by a dickbag (not a literal one), and then the hero has to go through and avenge her death. But this? This has her die of an unspecified disease, but before she dies she arranges for him to get a puppy to help him cope with her death. The villains in this KILL THE DOG! Most films don’t do that, even Kick-Ass 2 which was ultra violent had the lead villain balk at the idea of killing a dog (in the movie anyway), so the fact that it’s that which kicks off the story is a brave piece of storytelling, and it’s effective. He doesn’t even spend the film chasing the guys who did it, he gets his retaliation in then has to deal with the person’s father who’s the head of a crime family. The entire story is not generic revenge, it’s about dealing with the consequences of your actions, the second half of the film is basically what a lesser film would put in the sequel.

john-wick

But it’s not just the story it’s telling, it’s the way it’s told that is effective too. It looks beautiful, yes it’s quite dark in terms of lighting, but it’s not in a bleak way, it uses bright lights often to create the contrast between light and dark, it’s like an extremely toned down neon noir film. The choreography is superb as well, I do love a good fight scene in films, but only when done a certain way (I’m quite picky). I hate the fight scenes where every single punch/kick etc is accompanied by a cut, where the scenes cuts away just on the impact. It can be effective tool to use, but when it’s used with every single impact it just makes the scene disorientating, particularly when you change the focal point with the cuts so your eyes are constantly wandering (although Mad Max: Fury Road did this superbly where even when they changed angles they kept the action almost dead centre). This film does cut on impact occasionally but it also lingers long enough for the punches to have an impact. Both the colour and the choreography can be showcased best in this scene.

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Or just this

The film is even more impressive when you realise it’s a directorial debut for both directors. Previously they’d done mostly stunk work and assistant directing (it was actually their stunt work on The Matrix which led to Keanu Reeves suggesting them directing this), but they definitely step up to the plate here and knock it out the park. Utilising visual techniques from anime films, choreography (particularly in regards to “gun fu”) from Honk Kong cinema, mixed with an almost old-school Western movie vibe (to the point where if I had to put this in a genre I’d say “Neon Western”) combine to make something truly exciting even on mute. Even the character’s costume has a good look to it, it’s kind of “priestly gangster” and works well for the character. Basically I can’t oversell this film enough, it’s superb and you should see it.

Also watch:

The Drop. Another film I saw with low expectations which ended up being a personal favourite. Tom Hardy is superb and the storytelling is brilliant.

Nightcrawler. Similarly coloured, also great.