Tagged Movie Review

JOHN WICK: Dog’s Best Friend

John Wick. 2014.  Directed by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch.  Starring Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, and Ian McShane.  Thunder Road Pictures.  Rated 14A.  101 minutes.  Action/Thriller

★★

john-wick-poster-Keanu-reeves-405x600I, for one, have been a Keanu Reeves fan for a long while now.  When he played Bill for the second time I was only about 6 years old, but it was also only a couple years later, at an early age, I started to see a lot of movies I probably shouldn’t have been watching – Lethal WeaponDie HardHouse [1986], and more.  Not that I’m a prude about when kids should be allowed to see graphic material in films.  Though, I’m sure a lot of people would say 8 years old probably shouldn’t watch too much.  Anyways, I’d seen both Bill & Ted films around that time, too.  I thought Reeves was cool because those surfer types were the kind of characters I latched onto first.  Probably one of the reasons I later enjoyed Point Break, albeit for different reasons.  Then, of course, when I was getting closer to the end of high school The Matrix just destroyed all my concepts of action moviemaking, in a good way, and also pushed me towards what I would later start studying in university – philosophy.  Once again, Reeves reaffirmed to me he was one cool, bad ass dude.

Now there’s John Wick.  While a lot of people hyped this movie up as some sort of revelation in the ‘hitman coming out of retirement’ sub-genre of action films, I reserved judgement until I actually had the chance to see it for myself; something I try to always do, but with some movies it’s difficult because of the level of hype.  However, I went into this one with a very open mind.  I really do love action films, and there are always a few here or there which really subvert my expectations.  That being said, John Wick is not particularly one of these movies.  I did enjoy it, it’s decent enough to put on when you’re looking for a nice fix of a solitary man killing dozens of people relentlessly, but it’s nothing overtly special in any way, shape, or form.
john-wick-keanu-reeves-600x399I won’t recount much of the plot because there isn’t one.  John Wick [Keanu Reeves] is a supposedly dangerous man who once worked as a hitman for other similarly dangerous people.  His wife dies, but has also given John a dog, so as to make sure he isn’t all alone after she is gone.  One day, some men invade his home, kill his dog, and take his car.  This prompts John to revert back to his old self and search out those who did this to him.
-daa89c34-63fc-40be-ae3d-c218fe0e8df1I’m not saying any one plot for this type of film is better than another.  A lot of these movies work on a very similar principle.  Ever since Liam Neeson absolutely knocked it out of the park in the Luc Besson-scripted Taken, the ‘aging hitman’ sub-genre has become one of the hot tickets in Hollywood.  No doubt one of the reasons John Wick originally got greenlit.  I just really think the plot of this film is incredibly weak.  The story is so frail.  I mean, we’re not even given any sort of time to really care about Wick’s personal life before – BAM – you’re in the middle of the action.  I don’t need 50-minutes of a build up or anything, I think it’s just ridiculous to try and make this movie into something it’s not – there’s nothing grand here, there is no emotional weight.  So when Reeves barks out terrible lines like “Yeah – I guess I’m back” or one of the few dozen dead bodies drop to the floor, one after another, there is nothing to prop up such moments and make them any better.  Not that this script is a killer piece of writing; it’s not.  Regardless, you can shine a turd into a diamond with enough effort.  Reeves is not a bad actor, contrary to what some may have you believe, but him plus a bad script is just a mixture for trouble.
john-wick-is-keanu-reeves-best-movie-since-the-matrixThere’s a lot of wasted acting talent in this film overall.  I’m a fan of Reeves, yes, however – I’m a much bigger fan of both Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist.  I even love Dean Winters and John Leguizamo. You can’t forget about Ian McShane – incredible actor.  For all the names I’ve just listed, the many projects these guys have been involved with that I really dig, there is just nothing going on here to justify having them all in here.  There isn’t enough to hold up such an ensemble cast.  Plus, even the guys like Dafoe and Nyqvist who are onscreen plenty throughout the runtime just don’t get much to work with ultimately, and it shows.  The film tries to make up for lack of emotional depth by using tons of music in attempt to cover all the gaping areas where the absence of character development is really felt most.
keanu-reeves-john-wick-600x399I’ll give this about 2 out of 5 stars.  It is not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and it isn’t my least favourite action movie, but there is nothing at all new here.  Even the way it’s filmed – they make John Wick out to be some sort of ‘better than average’ action flick, and yet there are maybe one or two scenes, hell, maybe only a couple shots, where I actually thought “Okay this is fun or interesting” or whatever other description you might come up with to describe a better movie.  Outside of these moments there is nothing else to make this movie worth raving over.  I really don’t understand all the love this got, and this is coming from a guy who often has a pretty unpopular opinion about movies now and then – I like a lot of stuff others seem to not care about.  John Wick is, simply put, a load of unused talent in a sub-par action film with a bad script, and offering no real innovation in terms of action, stuns, or anything similar.  I didn’t totally hate it.  Yet I can guarantee this is not a Keanu movie I will buy, nor one I will ever watch again unless it’s playing next time I fly somewhere.

ENEMY is a Beautiful, Dark Mindfuck

Enemy. 2014. Dir. Denis Villeneuve.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, and Isabella Rossellini. E1 Films. Rated R. 90 minutes. Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★ (Movie)
★★★★ (Blu ray release)

enemy-poster03I won’t waste any time really describing the plot of Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, which is in part based on the novel The Double by José Saramago. You can easily get the quick description from any site like IMDB, or somewhere else of that nature. What I want to talk about is my take on what actually happens in the film. So, with that being said, if you’ve not yet seen this you’ll probably want to avoid the remainder of my review.

Early on, Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a history professor at some college, gives lectures pertaining to totalitarian regimes. I think this leads into one of the larger themes of the film. While some think the movie is an analogy of how it is to live under a totalitarian regime, maybe unknowingly. However, I think this is ultimately about the totalitarian in all of us. What I mean is that I believe Adam Bell and Anthony Claire – his double – are truly one person. I think this movie speaks to how we are often dictators of ourselves.
In this sense, Adam is both himself, a history professor, and Anthony, or Daniel Saint Claire the background actor in lesser known films.
One of the instances I think that points to this is when Adam meets with his mother (the consistently interesting and lovely Isabella Rossellini) – he tells her about this possible double, which she of course pretty much laughs off. Afterwards, though, she tells him: “I think you should quit that fantasy being a third-rate movie actor“. The statement throws Adam off. It’s worth mentioning that just before this his mother serves blueberries for dessert. Adam tells her he doesn’t like blueberries, but she reassures him “of course” he does, and they’re good for him – this directly relates to when we see Anthony earlier before his meeting with Adam, when he arrives home looking for blueberries and his pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon) forgot to get the ones he wanted. I believe this is one tell-tale sign Villeneuve is exploring the duality of one person.
enemy06There are most certainly instances in Enemy that cannot truly be reconciled into one neat little package for explanation. On the other hand, I do believe there’s one overall theme that protrudes from the film – the struggle of certain men to overcome their desire and draw towards infidelity. I am almost certain the spider imagery here is also closely paralleled with the idea of women. For instance, the very end – and once again, TURN BACK if you have not see this film to the end!
enemy05At the close of the film, Anthony has died in a car accident along with Adam’s girlfriend Mary (Mélanie Laurent) after a switch between the two identical men goes awry. After this, Adam is seem continuing on, seemingly, happily with a pregnant Helen. He receives an envelope in the mail containing a smaller black envelope; inside, a key. This is harkens back to an awkward encounter Adam has in the elevator with a man, thinking he is Anthony, talking about some place they went together, rambling about new keys, and so on. All of this plays to the beginning where Anthony is seen at the weird sex club with the women and the spider – all that. Adam then says he may have to go out later that night, but receives no response from Helen. When he goes into the room to find her, Adam only finds a massive black spider huddling up, as if scared, in the room instead. He doesn’t really look scared so much, as he almost seems to have expected to see it there sooner or later.
enemy07I believe this is a huge key. Right there, Adam comes face to face once more with the infidelity inside him – the feelings Anthony represented. Adam had no desire to have sex with Helen in the beginning. It was only due to Anthony’s aggressive behaviour Adam ever agreed to switch places for the night; Anthony was the one who wanted to get away from his pregnant wife and be a single man again for a night, even if it meant pretending to be Adam. Once Anthony’s crazy behaviour goes over the top, it leads to him and Mary being killed in the car crash – this is Adam effectively killing off the side of him which strives to cheat on his wife. In reality, Adam and Helen are together, and the parts of the film involving Anthony and Mary are almost like the struggle involving his feelings of infidelity going on in his mind. You can see a real change start to happen particularly once Adam lays down in bed with Helen for the first time – I think this scene unlocks a lot of things.
These ideas also tie into the moments where we see the ominous spider stalking through the Toronto skyscrapers. Furthermore, the woman in the beginning about to crush the spider with her heel is sort of a representation of a woman being the answer to Adam’s search – the woman is literally going to crush the spider, the infidelity, underneath her boot. At the end of the film, Adam sees the giant spider in that room and we can see how he may have thought the thoughts of infidelity were killed off with Anthony – however, they were simply relegated to a room in his mind – because it’s clear the city itself is a sort of lifelike, realized world representative of Adam’s overall mind. Even some of the cover art points to this fact. I think, for me, this is one of the best explanations of the film. It works for my viewing. Maybe not for that of others.

1015996-rodeo-fx-enhances-villeneuve-s-enemyThis is by far one of the best films I’ve seen in the past decade or so. I love a movie which not only has what can be taken as a definitive meaning behind all the imagery, but also likes to play with the imagery in a way that can shock us, or push us to interpret, reinterpret, and so on. Villeneuve does a great job of weaving a fantastic tale here. He certainly leaves a lot to the imagination. I’m not saying my opinion on the meaning of this film is a definitive answer at all – there are many other great views on what Enemy truly means, and I think some of those are excellent, as well as very viable options as to a concrete theory. I happen to think mine, which is shared by plenty of others before me, is just one of the most interesting ways to look at the film. It’s a great one, and on the top of my 2014 releases – this didn’t make it out until last year here, even though it was screened plenty in the latter half of 2013. So please, check it out.
The Blu ray is also fantastic – there are a few special features you can dig into, including interviews with all involved. Wonderful picture and sound. Highly recommend this release. Denis Villeneuve is one of the best Canadian filmmakers ever to grace us with his presence. I can’t wait to see what he does in the future.

Not Everyone’s Cut Out for POKER NIGHT

Poker Night. 2014. Dir. Greg Francis. Screenplay by Dough Buchanan & Francis.
Starring Beau Mirchoff, Ron Perlman, Titus Welliver, Halston Sage, Ron Eldard, Corey Large, Giancarlo Esposito, and Michael Eklund. XLrator Media.
Not Rated. 104 minutes.
Action/Crime/Thriller

★★★★

Poker Night-thumb-630xauto-51561I’d anticipated this movie just because of the trailer. Now, sometimes this can come back to bite me in the ass. I’ve been known to be duped by an interesting trailer, or even a bit of great artwork from posters, covers, et cetera. However, Poker Night really surprised. It’s got a phenomenal ensemble cast while also containing a pretty good central performance by young Beau Mirchoff, who I’ve never really seen in anything particularly great. Not to mention, the story of the film is really fun, and the way director Greg Francis chooses to show it play out, how the plot unfolds sneakily at times in front of our eyes, really helps this become more than just a VOD film. This really deserves respect. It’s a pretty good crime-thriller with awesome bits of action, a drop or two of pitch black comedy, and a nasty villain.
PokerNightFeatPoker Night takes the form of a titular card game – a group of veteran detectives get together to play poker, as they have for a decade, and use this as an opportunity to not just bond with rookie detectives, but to also instill them with lessons in the form of them all telling a story from their career’s past. The young rookie, Jeter (Mirchoff), is not just the new guy – he was involved with Amy, the young daughter of one of the veteran detectives (played by the always excellent Titus Welliver) who has recently gone missing. Despite this, they get together for their card game, and the older guys on the force try to help Jeter become one of the elite. After the card game, though, Jeter ends up taking a call. This turns out to be a trap sprung by the man who has taken Amy. Soon enough, Jeter wakes into a world where he needs to use all the advice given to him and the stories told by the veteran detectives at poker night to make it through this situation. From here, the twists and turns come flying.
PokerNight-2134_rev-thumb-630xauto-51576I think this could have easily been a by-the-numbers thriller. Instead, this has a bit of everything. I realized this would be a pretty damn good movie once the villain was introduced. He has this great introduction when he explains himself to Jeter – the director throws in this really great dark comedic bit where the villain talks about his former life, and all the while in a flashback he’s dressed in suit and tie, still with his creepy mask on. I thought it was so funny, and also really disturbing; when he lays out his ‘2 rules’, I actually dropped my jaw a little because it was so forthright and brutally honest. Very dark subject matter at this point. Really dig it. There are times when films go for the dark, creepy vibe and instead it comes off more in a cheesy, typical way rather than being fresh. The fact Francis steers the villain into real vile territory works well because, coupled with his later violence particularly towards Jeter, he seems like an actual maniac. Even with an obviously fabricated mask, it’s still scary. He does seem funny at times, but intentionally. He doesn’t come away as a cartoonish type villain, like some of those included in franchises such as James Bond. There are a few moments with the villain that were admittedly a bit of a stretch imagination-wise. Overall, though, I really enjoyed this character.

POKERNIGHTEXCCLIPFEATThe most interesting part about Poker Night is how the stories become the framework of the entire film. For instance, while Jeter listens to each detective tell his own story/lesson, he himself actually goes through the memory; in this sense, he’s literally putting himself in their shoes cinematically. It’s a really effective technique. Not only do we watch Jeter experience these stories firsthand, as I mentioned before he has to put these experiences to use in order to escape the villain and hopefully save Amy. It could have turned out real cheesy had the director sort of carbon copied the stories into exact situations from which Jeter had to escape. On the other hand, he sticks with the moral behind each lesson from the detectives – example: never give up even when things are stacked against you, or when you’re on your own do whatever you can to get yourself out of a bad situation, and other such bits of advice. This prevents the movie from feeling too hokey. While Jeter uses all the advice, the situations he encounters where the advice needs to be used aren’t too on-the-nose. Not for me, at least. All of this really makes Poker Night unique.

Some may say the flashbacks within flashbacks, techniques like this, cause disorientation or confusion. My opinion is that if you can’t follow this movie, I don’t know what sort of plot you’re looking for to stay entertaining. This is not hard to follow. It’s a unique film, but it’s not confusing in any sense. Pay attention from the get-go and you will have no problems whatsoever following the plot. The flashback sequences and the bits involving Jeter walking through the detectives stories are refreshing. They keep things exciting and a lot of fun at times, especially depending on which detective is telling the story (Eldard & Welliver’s in particular are both cool but also pretty funny).
PokerNight-1563-thumb-630x423-51571I found the cast great. While not all of them had their rightful chance to do a whole lot, they were all pretty wonderful together. The chemistry between them all during the card game scenes is just fantastic. If any of you have ever sat around a card table, you know much of the banter, policemen or not, goes on just like this between a bunch of men. The way they ribbed one another and joked, it was all so natural that I couldn’t help but get attached to the characters. Mirchoff and Perlman had some pretty good chemist as well during other scenes. I just love Ron Perlman, anyways, so to see him play a tough, no nonsense type of cop is really great; he gives bits of his dramatic chops up, and also plenty of his comedic talent. Altogether, the cast really makes things work.  If there were a bunch of people who had no chemistry this whole thing would’ve come off very flat. Instead, it’s raw, fun, and exciting in equal doses. Plenty of great laughs.

Overall, this is a really good movie. Absolutely worthy of a 4 out of 5 star rating. There was a lot of darkness in this thriller. While we get some great comedy and drama mixed into the pot, the dark angles of the film really help this standout. At times, there’s a Tarantino-esque influence happening, and I can also feel a bit of Joe Carnahan’s influence in there at times, honestly. One of the best things about Poker Night is the villain. I really loved his flashbacks in particular, as they never once gave up his identity by keeping his weird mask on during those scenes, even when it’s downright awkward and hilarious. I sort of knew who would be the villain just because of the cast, and the guy who plays him is really great at darker roles, but regardless I thought it wasn’t so much about his identity anyways – it’s not like there’s a twist involving him (or maybe there is? Muhuhaha). The villain really made this something special. Lots of good dark comedy, but mainly a great deal of sadistic violence and mayhem. You should absolutely check this movie out! Great and dark crime thriller. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It isn’t a perfect film, but in a sea of really average films, especially crime thrillers if we’re being honest, Poker Night stands above it with some exciting characters, good dialogue, and a wholly interesting premise.