Thursday, January 15, 2015

John Wick


  I want very badly to call this movie Keanu Reeves' comeback. Unfortunately, it's not like he ever really left. He just kept making underwhelming stuff. And then he made John Wick. Holy balls. John Wick is the kind of flick Keanu was born to make. It's probably his most emotionally charged movie too, which is astonishing considering how simple and gleefully action-minded it is. He emotes like a seasoned stage actor, taking us through the gamut; grief, anger, rage, depression, and even joy for a moment or two. What's amazing is that for once, he's given the perfect material to work with and his acting is on par with the stunts. I don't think Reeves is ever really a bad actor, he's just an actor who needs a part tailored for him. He gets miscast in a lot of movies, but suffice it to say, John Wick is not one of them.

  Reeves plays the eponymous title character, who used to be a hitman of sorts for the Russian mob. At one point however, he met the love of his life and made a deal with the boss to retire from the life. He actually pulled it off and got out, to live happily ever after with his wife. Unfortunately, an illness claimed her life, and as a parting gift... she left John an adorable Beagle puppy, named Daisy. Then, not a day later, the son of his old boss takes a liking to Wick's car, not knowing who he is. Then, having turned down their offer to buy it from him, they break into his house at night... beat him to a pulp, steal his car, and kill his dog. This sends the entire Russian mob into a panic because this jumped up little shit just send the boogeyman himself into a blind rage.

  Wick dives back into his old life, calling up old acquaintances and meeting familiar faces again. All as he systematically kills his way to the boss' son, Iosef. This is a very simple story. It's cut and dry, black and white, no nonsense. It's also full of neat scenes and awesome secondary characters. Unfortunately, these little interludes, particularly one where Wick seeks lodging at a fancy hotel that seems to be a no-business zone for hitmen and the like- these scenes interrupt the pacing of the movie. They're also one of the chief highlights. John Wick isn't just a plain action movie, it creates a whole world for it's characters to inhabit. One full of shadowy clubs, unspoken rules, and secret alliances. It's really immersive, interesting, and endlessly fun.

  Oddly enough, this movie feels like a sequel. All these familiar faces feel like ones we should've seen before. Not that the movie ever leaves us in the dark as to who they are, it handles that adequately enough, but... even the backstory seems like it could use it's own movie. A prequel maybe, one that has Wick pulling off that one last "impossible" job for the Russians, essentially earning his freedom and riding off into the sunset with his ill-fated wife. It's a whole movie right there, and it's one we don't get to see. I want to see it. Namely because more John Wick at this point can't possibly be a bad thing. I'm skirting around the real topic of discussion here, the real star of the movie...

the action.

  ...And holy hell, is there action. I suppose the fact that John Wick was directed by Keanu Reeves' longtime stunt double Chad Stahelski played a big hand in how slick and well shot all the action is. Every single fight is choreographed down to every last bullet, every single movement, and nothing is wasted. Nothing is superfluous. As an action fan, I think the highlight of any action movie is when they do something you don't see a lot, or they do something unique in an action scene. Off the top of my head, just about every fight scene from The Raid (and it's sequel), and even the shootouts in Dredd. They all managed to be really creative, and at the least they were all exceptionally well executed. However, action movies become a drag when all they are is guys blindly firing guns at each other while the camera shakes like it's having an epileptic seizure.

  John Wick doesn't roll like that. Each shootout is paced, tracked, and choreographed. Reeves moves through the scenes with calculated precision, shooting, punching, kicking and judo-flipping enemies as he sees fit. He moves and fights like clockwork. This does more than just give us mind-blowingly cool action scenes, this infuses something into the character of John Wick. This is a guy who the entire Russian mob is afraid of... and the movie is keen to show us exactly why. Wick is a goddamn machine. They way he fights and shoots is part of his character. It's why he's the best. The whole movie hinges on that selling point. He has to be frighteningly good at killing. He can't be a stock action hero. He has to be on the next level of convincing badassery. I'm happy to report, Keanu pulls it off like he was The One all over again.

  Not since The Matrix have I seen him in a movie that utilizes him so well. John Wick is a very good movie. It has a few hangups with the length of the story, and a few momentum hiccups, but I'd be lying if I said I felt these were serious issues. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. With any movie I feel like there's a checklist of a few little things to ask yourself when reviewing it. Would I watch it again? Would I buy it? Would I recommend it to others? When it comes to the case of John Wick, for all three questions, the answer is a resounding "Yes."  It's been too long of a time since I saw a Keanu Reeves vehicle that blew my hair back, because most of his post-Matrix filmography is either moderate (Constantine, Street Kings) to snore inducing (The Day The Earth Stood Still) and some unfortunate misfires (47 Ronin). So, regardless of how you wanna look at it, John Wick is a supremely satisfying return to form for Keanu, and a breath of fresh air for action fans.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wanted


  Based on the comic book of the same name, Wanted is little more than witty escapist nonsense. It's Fight Club with all the über violence of a trigger happy video game. I don't mean to sound down on this movie at all, especially not right out of the gate. I really really like this movie. I'm also pretty torn about it. I saw the movie when it first hit DVD, late '08, early '09. It was fun, but nothing revelatory. No matter my thoughts on the movie; I knew, even then, that James McAvoy was a total badass. Not just because he got to shoot a lot of bad guys and look cool doing it. It was because he has that one-in-a-hundred tough guy stare that you just can't fake. The way he carried himself was that of a no-nonsense action hero. Whatever this movie did or didn't do, it gave us our first look at Badass James McAvoy, and for that, I love it.

  It pretty much takes only the first ten pages and the namesake of it's source material before going in a completely different direction. Which is sad, because a faithful adaption of the comic book would've been mind blowing. It would have been epic proportions of amazing. Unfortunately I don't think any movie studio would throw big bucks at a summer blockbuster that is essentially devoid of any redeemable hero. In the comic book, miserable office worker, Wesley Gibson finds out that his father, who he's never known, was the world's deadliest supervillain, and that being a world-class killer is hereditary... if it wasn't for a lifetime of being trained to be a total "pussy". Wesley ends up getting trained to be a ruthless costumed supervillain who can kill, maim, and destroy with no hesitation, or reason for that matter.

  The comic creates this world that mind-fucks you in the way The Matrix did. It makes you question things that you take for granted. The movie doesn't do any of that. In the movie, Wesley finds out that his father used to be a secret super assassin and he gets trained to be a "weapon of fate" as well. It's a much safer story. The hero is a hero, trained to kill, not trained to be a sociopath like he was in the comics. The movie is also really simple emotionally. It's an un-challenging action flick that employs impossible gimmicks ('bending' bullets?) and stylized adventure to make up for it's lack of emotional heft and intricate plotting. The comic was definitely a much more gripping tale, but it had the balls to be something that Hollywood would never touch with ten foot pole. Which explains why the movie is essentially nothing like it.

  Despite it's R rating, in comparison to the comic, the movie feels nothing if not sanitized. Having said all that, there's no denying that Wanted is an exceptionally well made movie that seems to have a firm handle on how to be slick and satisfying entertainment. From the ground up, it's a fantastically fun action movie. The visual style, the camera work, even the score is all bold and ambitious. It never reaches the genre-shattering heights of The Matrix, but it manages to infuse the feeling of originality back into the summer blockbuster formula. Even though it borrows heavily from a few other movies, and at the same time, is also an adaptation of a superior work of fiction, it still gels and runs smoothly. It's a finely tuned machine, right down to the pacing and dialog. Most of it ultimately amounts to nonsense, but it's clever nonsense. Not to mention fun.

  The movie walks a fine line though, it seems to be somewhat self-aware, but it's also not as clever as it'd like to think it is. I think "clever" might be overstating it a bit. It's more like... witty. Like the writers had seen Fight Club ten times in a row as inspiration before putting pen to paper. Not that I mind honestly. Wanted ends up feeling like it wants to be more than it is, and that's okay, because it's still head and shoulders above what's commonly considered mindless entertainment (i.e. Bad Boys II). It's like an aftermarket Tarantino/Rodriguez project. It has the style, the wit, and the flair, but none of the substance. It's escapist fantasy at best. If anything, it's never dull. I've seen it many times and it's definitely grown on me over the years.

  I'm trying to articulate something about it though that so far I've been unable to adequately put into words. It really does seem like it knocks off The Matrix and Fight Club, so it's definitely nowhere near as good as they are... but as a knock off of those two great movies, that does put it above the competition a bit. It's not precisely mindless, even though it asks you to suspense belief to the extent of believing bullets can curve. With nothing more than "What if nobody told you bullets fly straight?" as an explanation. There's no functional context for it. The Matrix had the perfect setting to pull out all the stops and do crazy stuff like dodging bullets and the like, but Wanted has nothing like that. It just is. You either accept it, or you don't. If you don't, you'll probably have a hard time enjoying the movie. It doesn't bother me that much, but it is pretty silly.

  All in all, come for badass James McAvoy (who's amazing facial expressions make the movie that much better) stay for the insane action sequences and escapist fantasy. No matter if you're reading the comic (which I wholeheartedly suggest you do, regardless) or if you're watching the movie... Wesley Gibson is a repressed office dork who undergoes a transformation into a ballsy über assassin. There's something so completely satisfying about that character arc. I think the appeal of Wanted lies in that little part of everyone who wishes they inherit a fortune someday from a dead relative they've never met. Only Wesley inherited superpowers and a knack for killing. Which is also incredibly cathartic. The whole movie is cathartic to be honest. It's not great, but it's great fun. I'd shell out money for a sequel if they ever do one. It's not like I haven't already shelled out money on the comic, the movie (on blu ray and in a collector's edition) the video game and the soundtrack. Bring on Wanted 2. I need me some more Badass James McAvoy.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Doom


  Doom plays like it was made by a team of guys who played the game for 5 minutes when they were younger, grew up and thought, "Oh hey, remember that one game with guns and monsters?" and then the second guy was like, "Wasn't it on Mars?" Then they collectively decided to make it a movie, starring The Rock. If only you could hear my long sigh just now, it would've summed up my thoughts on this flick quite nicely for you. On the flip side, this movie might be serviceable to someone who has either never played the game, or has no knowledge of it. However, if you're a fan of the games, you should have been in the prime target audience for this movie. Yet sadly, us fans are the first people it alienates.

  The movie also seems to exist solely for people who've never seen any other sci-horror/action movies. It borrows so much from Aliens, Resident Evil, and Predator that you wonder why they didn't even try to borrow from the game which it's based on. Because the video game, Doom, isn't really like any of those movies. I don't know why I'm shocked honestly. I think Super Mario Bros. the movie had more in common with it's own game than this movie did. Hell, Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat, and all their sequels were more like the games they were based on than Doom is anything like it's source material. I will concede that I have so far only been referring to the '93 video game and it's sequel, Doom II: Hell on Earth. This movie in fact actually shares a bit of likeness with the 2004 video game, Doom 3.

  That's not a good thing though. See, even fans of Doom and Doom II had a hard time accepting Doom 3 for what it was. Why? Because Doom (and Doom II) were balls-out action games in a horror setting. You were loaded to the teeth with guns and ammo, and you had to mow your way through legions of demons and possessed soldiers. The game is a non-stop gorefest. It's nasty, it's in your face, and it's insanely fast paced. Doom 3 is a survival horror game with jump scares and bad guys here and there. Doom and Doom II had waves and waves and waves of enemies after you, but they also gave you the hardware to feel like you could handle it. They made you feel like a badass. Doom 3 doesn't really do that. You never feel like you're on the winning side, unfortunately.

  Point being is that, in order for Doom, the movie, to be remotely worth watching it needed to be like the first two games. It needed to be wall-to-wall gore, satanic imagery, and non-stop action. Instead, it modeled itself after Doom 3 and became a ripoff of every other sci-horror/action movie that's ever managed to be competent in the slightest. Does this make Doom a bad movie? Well, yes and no. Is it original? No. Smartly written? No. However, it is very competently made. From the creature effects, to the camera work, the cinematography, and the industrial rock soundtrack- it all coalesces to make a rather entertaining flick, in a mind numbing way. It's mediocre at best, but not awful.

  It's saved from being a total waste by a number of things. First and fore-fucking-most... Karl Goddamn Urban. This man has saved many a shitfest from being total wastes of time. (Cough. Pathfinder. Cough.) Karl Urban plays a member of the RRTS (Rapid Response Tactical Squad), a group of marines who've been called to a research facility on Mars, to 'deal with' a "level 5 threat". The Rock (I refuse to refer to him as Dwayne Johnson in any movie pre-Fast Five) plays the leader of this team, affectionately dubbed, "Sarge". How original. That's his actual call sign too. It's not just a nickname. Anyhow, if you're not seeing the gi-normous likeness to Aliens yet, you're either dumb, or you haven't seen Aliens. In which case you should stop reading this review right now and go watch Aliens. You'll thank me later.

  If you're still here, and you know what I'm on about, you'll know why this is super annoying. The plot of the game for Doom had a better story, and it was tailor made for the big screen too. The game has a marine, punitively stationed to a research facility on Mars (the most boring assignment imaginable) for disobeying an order to fire on civilians. Whilst there, the resident scientists, who've been experimenting with teleporter technology accidentally open a portal... to Hell. Literal Hell. The actual Hell. Not the figurative "this place is hell" Hell that the movie keeps teasing us with. Oh, yeah. I forgot to point out, the creatures in the movie aren't from Hell. They're not demons. They're mutated people who've been infected with a Martian virus that makes good people... superhuman, and bad people... super bad-er?

  It mutates them into various creatures and blah blah blah. At that point, finding all this out, the movie had lost me. Not that it didn't have me checking my watch before that, but it was bearable, to an extent. They stripped everything that makes Doom... Doom away from it. The only other highlight of the movie worth mentioning, is the First Person Shooter sequence. Once Karl Urban goes superhuman, the film's perspective literally shifts to First Person, and we're treated to a rather awesome action sequence shown entirely through his eyes. Shooting zombies, monsters, and fending off a neat looking creature with a chainsaw in a rather bloody showdown. It's a great freaking scene. The only great scene. Shit, the only good scene in my opinion.

  Karl Urban's stoic glare and natural aire of badassery go a long way towards making any scene with him in it watchable, but not even he can make this a great movie. His talents were put to the best use in 2012's Dredd. Anyways, Doom makes so many rookie errors, and if you think too hard it'll leave you with the stupidest questions. What's the different between a code red lockdown, and a level 5 lockdown? Do they rank by colors... or numbered levels? Why do they flip flop between the terms? Did I miss something? If they're in a level red code 5 lockdown... why are all the lights off? Wouldn't it make more sense to have the lights... on? So nobody trips or dies trying to evacuate or get to safety? Sure it'd sacrifice the half-assed "atmosphere" the filmmakers were going for, but who gives a shit? I want to -see- the monsters.

  The first two games didn't do this crap. Everything was thrown at you to your face. Once in a blue moon you'd run into a dark room, or a hallway with flickering lights. That was scary. But if the whole game was dark like that, it would've been an abortion! Kind of like... the movie. Ah... Not like we're seeing a pattern here or anything. If the movie was more like the game, it'd be awesome. Since it's not, we're left with a mixed bag. Surprisingly, I'm not ready to sentence this flick to death. Maybe it's childhood nostalgia? Or maybe it's because I've seen it so many times, I'd be embarrassed to tell you the actual amount of times I've seen it. Even though it's been a while... I scared myself because I knew all the lines.

  Ultimately no, Doom may be unoriginal and a terrible Doom movie, but it's an okay movie on it's own right. If you have no affinity for the game, Doom might be worth a watch on a Saturday afternoon if you're really curious. The flashy special effects and nicely realized set design go a long way towards making it at the least, watchable. It's not completely bad, and in it's best moments, is even a little fun. But those moments are rare. The Rock's facial expressions are fun. His big video game-y gun, is fun. Karl Urban being a badass is fun. Stumbling around in the dark with the least likeable group of space marines ever to hit the big screen... is not so much fun. So yeah, Doom is a mixed bag for those who don't care about the games. But for us fans of the game, Doom is a travesty. Yet I still find excuses to watch it every five years...

 It makes no sense, and I've been brutally honest about this movie, yet... I can't understand why I like it, but strangely enough I do.

Go figure.

  Could it be just because it's a slick and well packaged movie? Right down to the photoshopped DVD cover, that manages to be eye catching and cool looking, yet detestable in it's lack of effort or imagination. Much like the movie itself. I still like the movie against ALL my better judgment, but I can't say I actually ever enjoy it all that much. If that makes no sense whatsoever, don't worry about it. Just know that there's a scene in this movie where the marines are slowly walking through a dark corridor, and a steam pipe or something pops loose, scaring one of them so badly, he shoots at it. If that sounds familiar, it's because you've seen it a billion times in every movie ever.

  In fact, it might just be the scariest scene in the movie because you have to think... someone wrote that. Someone had to direct it, someone had to act it out, and someone had to leave it in the movie. There's nothing scarier than that.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Out for Justice


  Anyone who's seen my movie collections know that I have sections devoted entirely to the kind of movie that Out For Justice is. It's good old fashioned balls-to-the-wall action. Out for Justice isn't a Die Hard, or a Lethal Weapon. It's hero isn't a Dirty Harry, or a Snake Plissken , but instead belongs to the onslaught of aftermarket action heroes who had their glorious 15 minutes of fiery fame. Steven Seagal plays New York cop, Gino Felino. Despite the fact he sounds like a guy who might open a sandwich shop, he's an okay action hero. He punches bad guys and waves his gun around, giving lectures to criminals who're too dense to listen. Why does he keep doing this? So he'll have an excuse to flip them on their ass when he's done.

  Gino does a lot of that in this movie. Since just about everyone he meets is a criminal, or a scumbag in general, just about everyone in this movie gets flipped on their ass. I would've tried to count, but it would've been a count that I'd have quickly lost track of. In short, Seagal kicks all the ass. When he's not kicking ass, he's making his rounds through the streets and the 'neighborhoods', trying to find the guy who offed his buddy, Bobby. Yes, there is a plot! Amazingly, it's of little consequence though. We hear "This guy killed Bobby!" about several dozen times and then Seagal is off to track down a rather pathetic looking William Forsythe who's trying his hardest to seem psychotic, but you know... the scary movie villain kind of psychotic. Not the generic kind of psychotic.

  Unfortunately, despite lots of violent theatrics, he just ends up seeming like the generic kind of psychotic. Nevertheless, the paper thin set up has Seagal cranking out lines like... "Just give me an unmarked and a shotgun and let me do this my way." Which is awesome. I mean, it's just awesome. Any more with a headlining action star is just a vehicle to see him kick ass. That's all Out for Justice is. It's a "hard-hitting" action movie that was probably billed as "the most exciting movie you'll see all summer!", along with a dozen other shoot-em-up flicks at the same time. I'm trying to make a point, but it's sort of self defeating.

  Out for Justice isn't a good movie... but it's a good Steven Seagal movie. It belongs to that cluster of movies that action junkies like, but aren't exactly great movies on their own merits. Out for Justice has lots of dialog heavy scenes that don't really go anywhere. Characters are introduced and then dropped just as fast. There's mobs and gangsters and nightclubs galore. We're just here to see Gino navigate this dangerous maze of criminals and psychopaths with his soft-spoken trash talking and his martial arts. It's akin to a video game. There's a bar fight level, a night club level, a streets level, and in each level there's a batch of bad guys for him to fight. Ultimately every action movie boils down to a similar formula, but it's the ones like this that make that formula so obvious.

  You come for the action, you stay for more action. Steven Seagal never had a Terminator, or a Rambo. He never had, to me, that one iconic role that would elevate him above movies like this. Not to say that for what it is, it doesn't do it's job, and does it well at that. It's just standard in every other regard possible. Yet it has some memorable and remarkable action scenes, and some funny moments in general. Gino rescues a puppy thrown away by some dickwad, and it's a cute scene. Throughout the movie, the dog is sort of just, around now and then. It's a cute touch, and somewhat unexpected in such a tough-guy flick. Yet still, the highlights of this movie is like... that one punch here, or that shotgun blast there. Those "Oh SHIT!" moments when Seagal pulls off some crazy stunt that looks super cool.

  That's all this movie's good for. But it IS good for it. No action junkie could turn down Out for Justice on a lazy Saturday night in. I had a lot of fun with it. I'd probably watch it again sometime. It's fun. And honestly, isn't that all these movies really need to be? Just... fun. Mindless, simple, punch-em-in-the-balls... fun. I love these kinds of movie. They're arcade game nonsense, but they're entertaining and well made. Slick, stylized, simplicity. The stories are usually irrelevant, but that's okay. It's all about the punching, kicking, and shooting. Stuff blows up real well, not unlike Stone Cold, Raw Deal, and Rapid Fire. If you enjoy movies with titles like those, you'll undoubtedly enjoy Out for Justice.