Review: “John Wick”

John Wick

Sometimes a simple story is all you need for a great action movie.

Flying into the weekend box office heavily under the radar, “John Wick” is about a retired assassin (Keanu Reeves) who comes back to his violent lifestyle after a mob boss’ son (Alfie Allen) steals the last bit of his humanity.

After an illness claims the life of his wife, John Wick tries to reclaim his place in the world, but it turns out that things may not be that easy. When unfortunate circumstances bring an old business associate (Michael Nyqvist) back into John’s life, he is forced to pick up his guns once more to exact revenge.

Long gone from his days as a Hollywood star, Reeves is looking for a bit of a comeback. Fortunately it appears that “John Wick” could be his first money-making film since 2008’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” It turns out that finding his way back to a hit only required hooking up with his former stunt double.

Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch have been in the film stuntman business since the early 90’s. Stahelski was even Reeves’ stunt double in films like “Point Break” and “The Matrix.” So what happens when you put two stunt coordinators behind the camera? You get some of the best action sequences in recent memory. Working with Reeves a plethora of stuntmen, they construct some bone-crunching fight scenes that actually obey real world laws. Each time Wick takes on some bad guys in a shootout, he actually reloads his weapons at the appropriate time and it often takes more than one bullet to confirm a kill. While things like that may not mean much for some people, it’s nearly a groundbreaking achievement for the action genre.

Despite some great fight sequences, the film is still written by Derek Kolstad. If you don’t know who that is, his only other film credits are 2 straight-to-DVD action movies starring Dolph Lundgren. As you can expect, a lot of the dialogue is mediocre and there are a few spots in the story that could have been handled much better. That being said, the stylish direction, well-choreographed fights, and the film’s star mostly make up for the script’s shortcomings.

Though most revenge tales are played with a heavy dose of gritty realism, “John Wick” is more of an oddball film that plays up awkward silences and character clichés. The light humor the film carries with it almost relegates the story to some kind of graphic novel. As such, the film stands out as something more unique than your average tale of revenge.

If for nothing else, “John Wick” plays for excellent Friday night entertainment. With a better script it might have been one of the year’s best films. People keep asking if Keanu Reeves is back. Yeah, I’m thinking he’s back.

Grade: B

Happy viewing.

Advertisements

Review: “Fury”

Fury

In the history of American film, World War II has been a constant source of inspiration for generations of filmmakers.

Aside from being one of the biggest historical periods of all time, there are two reasons why WWII is often seen on the silver screen. One, America is often seen as the hero of the war and we like that feeling. Two, Nazi Germany is considered the most evil organization in recent history so everyone’s cool with them being the go-to villain. This is the same reason why politicians and writers often compare anything bad to Hitler.

The newest addition to the WWII filmography is “Fury,” the story of a Sherman tank crew that has stayed together through the entirety of the war. Sergeant Don Collier (Brad Pitt) leads the five-man squad as they battle in Germany near the end of the conflict. Collier is a battle-hardened man who knows the cruelty that is required of him but struggles with his decisions behind closed doors.

Rounding out the rest of his crew are Grady (Jon Bernthal), “Gordo” (Michael Pena), “Bible” (Shia LaBeouf) and, its newest member, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). All five of these actors deliver a great performance in the film and each brings a different aspect to their characters. Pitt is the weary leader who is haunted by what he’s done. Bernthal is the soldier that has completely lost himself in the horror of war. Pena is a cynical man still clinging to what decency he has left. LaBeouf is the God-fearing soldier who is torn between Scripture and the darkness of his warring ways. Lastly, Lerman is the fresh-faced kid that’s been thrown into fighting and it’s through his eyes that the audience views the war.

“Fury” tells the story of war that often gets overlooked for a more valiant, glory-seeking storyline. Though it contains exciting action sequences and a few laughs, the overall tone is a dull gray that matches the fatigue and burden of a soldier that’s been away from home for years. The film never turns judgmental on the actions of the American soldiers or takes a swing at revisionist history, but simply shows the lengths at which men must go during a time of war.

One of the most heartbreaking scenes in the film involves a pair of German women the crew encounters during a break from their fighting. Without spoiling anything, this 10-15 minute section of the film displays a full range of emotions and was the point in the film where I was completely hooked.

Though he took a big step in the wrong direction with his last film, “Sabotage,” writer/director David Ayer is back on the right track. “Fury” is the best WWII film since the last time Brad Pitt took on the Nazis in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”

Grade: B+

Happy viewing.

Review: “Gone Girl”

Gone Girl

Remember when I had a blog that I made pretty consistent posts on?

After a month-long absence, it only makes sense to review a film about the disappearance of a woman in a small Missouri town.

Originally the work of writer Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl” chronicles the disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and the investigation by Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) into her husband, Nick (Ben Affleck).

Amy and Nick spark a fairy tale romance when they meet at a party in New York City. A few years into their marriage, they are forced to move from NYC to North Carthage, Missouri to care for Nick’s ailing mother. Financial woes and Amy’s loss of her New York identity set the couple up for disastrous consequences.

On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears into thin air, broken glass on the living room floor and a small blood splatter the only trace of her plight. As the investigation gears up and the media closes in, we learn the truth about Nick and Amy’s marriage and the kind of people they each are.

A true master of murder mysteries on the silver screen, David Fincher directs this compelling tale with true precision. There are very few directors in the game that can create an atmosphere quite like Fincher. Films like “Se7en”, “Zodiac”, and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” all display his talent for soaking a film in mystery and creating a world that fits its dark characters. Here he works again with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth to build the perfect environment for Flynn’s novel.

Fincher’s recent collaborator, Trent Reznor, also provides the music for “Gone Girl”, giving the right balance of murder mystery, heartfelt moments and pure psychosis.

Built on the strong foundation of its source material, the film condenses the narrative without betraying the original story. There are plenty of twists and downright uncomfortable moments in the film, just like in the book, and Fincher and Flynn (who also wrote the screenplay) do well to determine which parts of the story are necessary or work for a feature film. That being said, there are still one or two disappointing factors from the book that made it into the film.

As someone who read the novel, I went in concerned with how the story would be translated without the benefit of knowing the inner thoughts of Amy and Nick. Fortunately, both actors (especially Affleck) knocked it out of the park. Everything about these characters from the book make perfect sense based solely on how they are played by Affleck and Pike. On top of these two strong performances, the supporting cast of Dickens, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry and Carrie Coon is outstanding.

Despite being just shy of 2 1/2 hours long, the film moves at a pretty brisk pace as it tells the story from the viewpoints of several different characters. It may just be the fact that the book is over 400 pages, but each milestone of the story appeared to fly by at an alarming speed to me. That’s probably why most people enjoy films more than books.

In a year that’s been fairly light on quality films, “Gone Girl” is the perfect transition from summer blockbusters to the more serious fall pictures.

Grade: A-

Happy viewing.