Thursday, 16 February 2017

'John Wick Chapter 2' (2017) Review: John Wick and the Terrible, Murderous, No Good, Very Bloody Day

Big Screen Watch: Every bit as enjoyable as the first film, with more to the world of John Wick to explore. 
It’s easy to think that originality in Hollywood is dead. Case in point: Lego Batman. A movie based on a line of toys, based on a comic book character. The cynic in me wants to give up on cinema altogether. Then a movie like 2014’s 'John Wick' comes around. The brainchild of long time stunt coordinators and first-time directors. With its captivating style and intriguing world, John Wick was a sleeper hit that thankfully, has been granted a sequel.

Blessed are we the meek, who have been granted by the Gods of film, this bountiful gift. 
Compared to the first film, John Wick Chapter 2 is a definite upping of the ante. Everything that made its predecessor an exhilarating thrill, is present in this sequel. It’s never going to be as impressive as that first instance, but John Wick Chapter 2 does enough to keep the film feeling fresh, despite stepping over familiar ground.

Then again, avid viewers of the first film might be slightly disappointed at how familiar this movie is. Many of the same beats are hit. Sometimes exactly. For my money, I was happy to get a mix of new interesting characters, and dimensions to John Wick’s world of coordinated assassins. There’s an air of immense playfulness and creativity to the film, a quality that runs from its world expansion, t the many many ways John Wick knows how to inflict punishment. It's a good thing he's an assassin and not a primary school teacher.

I once saw Mr. Wick discipline 3 kids, at his desk, with a pencil. A f*****n'. Pencil.
It's not just inflicting punishment. John Wick is one of those rare instances of action hero who despite his tremendous skill, takes quite a bit of pain. Physically and otherwise. Keanu Reeves is somber enough to give Batman a run for his grieving money. The entire cast does well to sell you on their intriguing additions to the John Wick world. Hardly anyone is wasted. Especially in the case of Ruby Rose. She plays an assassin who communicates only via sign language but is arguably the most charismatic of the lot.

To be honest, I'm not sure which is the case. Either the characters are so well performed by their actors, or the film is just that good at building the atmosphere that surrounds them. I'm inclined to think the latter, considering Common. The raptor is a bit of a distraction when you first see him, but as it goes on, he feels as organic with the rest of the movie as John Wick himself. There are a number of performances though that benefit from the notoriety of the actors that play them. Who could find fault with pairing Neo back with Morpheus?

I'll be honest, I would've cheered if it turned out the world of John Wick was just a construct of the Matrix.
A staple of the first film is the way the action felt as focused as John Wick himself. That’s not changed and remains the best element of this film. John Wick moves like a force of nature. The way he dispatches violence is swift, merciless and also, immensely creative. It shows an immense skill on the part of the directors. The kind of skill it takes to choreograph extended action sequences the way most scripts craft dialogue.

Of course, I couldn't end this review without mentioning how refreshing it is to have a film willing to use colour. So many big budget releases are devoid of a sense of colour palette. Looking drab and grey. Blues in John Wick pop, as do pinks, oranges and of course black. Black never looks as good as when it's amongst a symphony of colour. The movie isn't particularly gorey, so it's the gorgeous envrionments that stand out in John Wick's playground of murder.

John Wick Chapter 2 is an example of what makes a satisfying sequel. Its stakes are greater, and while a little bit too familiar at times, has more than enough new material in it to warrant the attention of fans of the first film. That said if you watched that film and found it wasn’t for you, stay home. This is not going to change any hearts, nor any minds. For me, I was happy to see Mr. Wick back in business.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Monday, 13 February 2017

"Chick Flick" Is A Stupid Name.

Today is Valentine's Day. Unless you read this on a day which is not Valentine's Day. Such is the trouble with holiday related productions. Sort of loses its relevance after a 24 hour period. Regardless, every Valentine's Day inevitably is met with movie releases that intend to capitalize on the day of love. Every couple looking for something to do will flock to the cinema. Guys will be dragged by their girlfriends, and sit through 90 minutes of the mushy stuff that they actively avoid since they'd much rather be watching an action movie.

Just wait for the moment where there's a conflict that could be solved by 5 minutes of talking. Not much left to go after that.

Except that's a complete fiction.

Movie studios green light projects based on who they think it'll appeal to. Different demographics get different movies. In the eyes of executives, women get Romantic Comedies, men get Superhero movies. It's the kind of thinking that kept Black Widow toys from being made for Age Of Ultron. As far as Disney's concerned, they already have enough princesses to sell, so leave the capes for the boys. But using Superhero movies as the example, there's one thing that ties each of those things together. They're almost all love stories.

Superman loves Lois Lane. Wolverine loves Jean Grey. The most compelling part of the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man films is the magnetic relationship between Peter and Gwen. Captain America spends most of his first film going gaga over Peggy Carter, and the last moment of the film is the man out of time with all the pain and sorrow in the world saying "I had a date." But sure, movies about love are just for girls.

Tell me you didn't bawl your eyes out when that plane went in the ice.
You're a goddamn liar.

Pretty much every movie that's aimed towards men has some form of a love story in it. John Wick is a man solely motivated by how much he loves his wife. You don't shoot your way through a nightclub unless it's for a good reason. As much as these movies feature love stories, they have to hide it. Obviously, everyone loves, love, but any movie that wears its heart on its sleeve is for women. Men's love stories are hidden beneath a barrage of explosions and cheap plots.

Now, I'm sure no one goes to those films for the love stories, but it's definitely a part of what makes them resonate. Maybe it is just something thrown in by the studio in a misguided attempt to attract female viewership, but it ends up being more than that. These stories give characters dimension and make them feel like real people. Reason being, everyone can relate to a love story, because even the most cynical of us wants to believe in love.

I know this doesn't exactly fit but I've got a girlfriend who likes Ed Sheeran. Look I'm not above pandering to an audience okay?
That's why "Chick Flick" is a stupid name. It's because delegating a type of story to one part of society is myopic. The world would be better off if we didn't have to uphold these artificial fences. Men shouldn't be ashamed to admit they like watching movies where two people meet, they laugh, they love, and then break up because of a lack of communication, only to get back together right before the credits. Why yes that is the plot of 'Deadpool'.

Possibly the most disgusting proposal in a movie.
Studios think they understand what people want to see. It's about time there was a change in that. Stereotyping may be good for business, but it's not good for us. We should have women in superhero movies. We shouldn't be ashamed to admit when we like something. When we do that we're taking cues from the people who wanted to make Sam Worthington a major star.

So this Valentine's Day, let's drop the pretenses and the outdated sectionalism. Let's throw on whatever we want to watch, and suggest the movies that aren't "supposed" to be for us. Once we let go of all that baggage, we can actually enjoy the movies we want to watch, without pressure or shame. If that ain't love then I don't know what is.

That's my article, and this is my podcast. Both are about love:

Movie Money: Episode 13

Well talk about a nice change of pace. After weeks of a top 5 book-ended by 'Split', 'Hidden Figures' and 'La La Land', the box office finally got some new blood this week. Mind you, 'Split' and 'Hidden figures still clung on for dear life, with 'Split' in the #4 spot, and 'Hidden Figures' at #5, but this has to be the last stand for them. M. Night Shyamalan is having one of his best runs in years. 'Split' is his 6th highest grossing film, and even after 4 weeks it's still making decent bank. I'd reckon it beats out 'The Last Airbender', which is the last movie of his to crack $100m. At least I hope it does for humanity's sake.

As for the newbies, they all took a decent chunk of a $130m pie. 'Lego Batman' was the top dog either proving that the 'Lego' brand is strong, or that 'Batman' still is. '50 Shades Darker' was at number 2, which made significantly less than its predecessor on opening weekend, but will no doubt reap the rewards of the Valentine's Day Weekend. 'John Wick: Chapter 2' on the other hand came out the gates swinging and will definitely surpass the original. Or it'll die trying.

Here's the show for this week:

Download here 

Saturday, 11 February 2017

'Split' (2017) Review: Half and Half.

Half Price: The movie falls apart in the third act, but MacAvoy saves it from irrelevance. 

After you've been called the Spielberg of a new generation, it's hard not to fall below expectations. Still, M. Night Shyamalan fell pretty far. 'Split' aims to be a return to form for the once celebrated director. A genuinely interesting concept. It's about a killer who suffers from dissociative identity disorder. Inside one body contains 23 distinct personalities. All played by Professor X himself, James MacAvoy.

Who is one of two personalities trapped inside Professor X. 

That's what the movie promises, but really you only meet about 4 or 5. Each of which MacAvoy plays with an enormous amount of giddiness. Truly he seems to be having the time of his life. Because what more could you ask for as an actor. He gets to play with distinctly different characters, each with their own accents and mannerisms. No way does this film work without MacAvoy's charisma and skill.

The part that doesn't work is the film's science. The best horror movies tread this line carefully. It wants to tap into a kind of general fear that people have, and expound on it. Still, the film has to have some semblance of credibility. Otherwise, nothing resonates. It becomes so mired in fantasy that it's as scary as the big bad wolf. The film raised interesting questions about what was real or not. Then it turned into a cartoon.

Me in the last 20 minutes of 'Split'
The third act takes a film that skirted the line carefully and knocks it over with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. So much so that scenes intended to frighten evoked jeers and jokes. It’s impossible to take it seriously. That’s only a problem because the movie doesn’t seem to be in on its own joke. ‘Split’ insults its audience's intelligence by masking its stupidity as cleverness.

It's so frustrating because I know there's a director that cares behind the camera. One scene involves a parody level stack of boxes. All unopened. All seemingly recently delivered. It's not a key part of the film, but it's something that stands out, if only as a distraction. In the same scene, a character is shown to be an impulsive home shopper, giving satisfaction to my gnawing curiosity about the mountainous pile of unopened packages sitting by the front door. This is just one of multiple moments in the film where Shyamalan rewards a keen attention to detail.

This is a good metaphor. It's a reward, but at the end of the day I still got Rick Rolled. 
Even throughout the frustration, 'Split' is a fun movie. MacAvoy's unpredictability lends itself to the movie's most chilling moments. While I wouldn't call it a return to greatness, 'Split' is definitely one of the better in Shyamalan's repertoire. It's especially rewarding for people who have stuck with Shyamalan throughout the good and the bad. In fact, I would say, if you've seen Shyamalan's work, the movie is exponentially better as a result.

I did enjoy ‘Split’ in its first two acts, and the third act, while a departure from the movie it could’ve been had an unintentional humour to it. I suppose that salvaged it for me. Still, I wish I could’ve seen a film of this subject matter taken a bit more seriously. It’s not the 80s anymore. Movies should be smarter than this.

Rating: Half Price

Speaking of M.Night, a trademark of his is to always include a twist of some sort at the very end. With that, here's a podcast episode we did a while back that looked at twist endings.

Monday, 6 February 2017

'Hidden Figures' (2016) Review: Could've Been Darker

Half Price: It had the potential to be great but it's mostly just fine.
I wasn’t around for the 1960s, but everything I’ve seen from the time period confirms two things. It was a great time for NASA, but a bad time for black people. Worse if you were a black woman. Never do you get a film that combines the two stories. That’s what you find with ‘Hidden Figures’. A story that prominently features not one, not two, but three black women. Scientists working on the problem of getting a man into space.

"There's no crying in Space!" - A line from this movie as a comedy.
Like many films of this type, ‘Hidden Figures’ is ripe with embellishment. Ways to make the movie less like real life, and more like a story. The trouble with this film is, it takes it a tad bit too far. Often the harsh realities of living in a society where you’re thought of as lesser are played down. Take for instance the numerous times Taraji P. Henson’s character must run back and forth to the only bathroom designated for “coloured folk”. It’s gallingly portrayed as comedic, and may as well have been set to ‘Yakety Sax’

For the moments that do take the time period to task, it's a harmful revisioning. In the world of 'Hidden Figures', all that needed to happen to solve racism, is a temper tantrum in an office full of white men, appalled and astounded at the way black people are treated. It's especially unsettling when the film reminds you of real life events that occurred around the time period. The film wants to say that when face to face with the oppressed, the oppressors would see the error of their ways. Light the fire. Sing Kumbaya. Roll credits. 

Yes. Totally reasonable. Just picture perfect rationality.
That’s not to say that there aren’t gut-punching moments in the film, but they’re very easy to recover from. The best parts of the movie are in fact the 3 main characters. Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae are each captivating by themselves. Combined they’re mesmerizing. They interact naturally, and they give the movie authenticity. They sell the film’s best moments and elevate it to be the feel good, inspirational, Sunday afternoon movie that it is.

I particularly liked the way the characters interacted with their own worlds. The way they battled against "the way things are" in their own homes had the best moments of the film. Watching Octavia Spencer teach her sons the difference between "right" and "right now" is a hard scene to screw up. There's not much to say about the male actors of the film, which is a point in the film's favour. If Hidden Figures were a Superhero movie, Mahershala Ali would be the crying damsel in distress.

Mahershala finds that very funny because even in a dress he'd be 10 times more "masculine" than I.
There’s an unfortunate safety to ‘Hidden Figures’. The film is never as bold as the stories it’s telling. Thus, it feels a little hollow. There are moments when it seems to perfectly grasp the tone, but those moments are far too few. I almost wish those moments didn’t exist. Because they do, I saw inklings of the great movie ‘Hidden Figures’ could have been, rather than the decent one that it is. Then again, I suppose I should be happy I got the movie at all.

Rating: Half Price