JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (2017)
John Wick: Chapter 2 is a well-made sequel that returns Keanu Reeves’ “retired” assassin back to action. Here he must honor the marker from Italian crime boss Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) and go to Italy to assassinate D’Antonio’s own rival crime boss of a sister, Gianna (Claudia Gerini). Wick completes the mission, but is betrayed by D’Antonio with a contract put on his head for seven million dollars. Now every assassin in the NYC area wants the bounty, including Gianna’s vengeful bodyguard (Common).
Written and directed again by Derek Kolstad and Chad Stahelski, respectively, the duo deliver an action packed and fun sequel to the surprise hit John Wick. The action is slick and rapid fire with a larger body count as now Wick must battle his own kind. The locations are used well between Rome and New York City and Reeves is again solid as the stone faced assassin, who just wants to retire. It’s an entertaining action flick and a sequel that knows to stick close enough to the formula to not alienate it’s core audience and yet change’s things just a bit to keep it from being stale. Ian McShane returns as Winston as does John Leguizamo as Aurelio with Lawrence Fishburn appearing as the leader of a guild of homeless street people assassins in NYC.
JOHN WICK (2014)
John Wick is just simply a good, solid, popcorn action flick with no other intentions than to blow away bad guys and entertain…and it does that just fine. Keanu Reeves is really good as former assassin and man-of-few-words, John Wick. He retired as one of the most lethal killers in the business and after the death of his wife (Bridget Moynahan), has resigned himself to a life of solitude. When a Russian mobster’s arrogant idiot of a son (Alfie Allen) makes the mistake of invading Wick’s home, stealing his Mustang muscle car and killing the puppy that was a final gift from his wife, Wick is back in business and the body count piles up quickly and bloodily. The action is solid and there is some stylish direction by Chad Stahelski from Derek Kolstad’s script. There are some really well-choreographed shoot-outs and fights and the film does what it sets out to do, nothing more. Sure, there are flaws. The whole John Wick problem would have been solved if one of these gangsters actually took a shot at Wick, instead of rushing in close enough for him to get a hold of their guns, but who cares? Reeves kicks ass and it’s fun to watch him do it. An entertaining and stylish action flick. Also stars, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe as a fellow assassin/friend of Wick’s and sexy Adrianne Palicki as a female contract killer looking to collect the $2 Million bounty Russian mobster, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyquist) puts on Wick’s head. Fun and action-packed!
SINBAD: THE FIFTH VOYAGE (2014)
I’m a big fan of the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad films of yesteryear and so was looking forward to this homage from producer/director/co-writer and star, Shahin Sean Solimon. Despite being a one man production company and having numerous stop-motion animated critters, Solimon’s 90 minute fantasy is a mess of poor SPFX, bad writing, lame directing and awful editing. The barely cohesive story has Sinbad’s beloved Princess Parisa (Danielle Duvale) kidnaped for some sinister purpose by the evil sorcerer, The Deev (Said Faraj). Sinbad and crew set out to find her and after some pointless adventures that barely follow a structured storyline and equally pointless flashbacks, a plot convenience leads Sindad to his love for a final showdown with the sinister magician. There is very little purpose to anything that goes on here. The story creeps along at a dreadfully slow pace and the stop-motion critters are there just because past films have included them and none really support the story by appearing. The FX are awful, with the meager creature animation being barely adequate and the sets and acting are as bad as the over-used CGI. Despite good intentions, this is a tedious mess with only a few brief moments that actually amuse. I liked that Solimon resorted to old-fashioned stop-motion to keep tradition, but next time build an actual film around it. How Patrick Stewart got involved to narrate is anybody’s guess.
I love to cook and thus, I did have a fun time with with Chef, an entertaining movie written and directed by Jon Favreau that has a buoyant energy and is only held back by the fact that, at it’s c0re, it’s just another cliche’ story of a self-important person who is humbled and through that, reconnects with the family he has been ignoring.
Favreau also stars as Chef Carl Casper, the head chef of one of California’s top restaurants, Gauloise, who is always at odds with the owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman) over updating the long-standing menu. When forced to serve the same old cuisine to high profile food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), it gets him a bad review which triggers a nasty online war with Ramsey, one that goes viral, including video of Casper loosing his cool with the critic in the middle of the restaurant and finds Casper now out of a job and options. Casper finds help in his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and her ex-husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) who convince him to start his own food truck. Armed with his line cook Martin (John Leguizamo) and the son he’s been ignoring Percy (Emjay Anthony) he finds himself getting a second chance at life and happiness selling Cuban sandwiches from his mobile restaurant.
I liked this movie. Favreau really gives this a crackling energy and a nice cast of characters to inhabit the world of Chef Casper and he certainly fills the film with some wonderfully shot and energetic cooking sequences to delight the foodie and inner chef in all of us. But, it’s just too bad that the story is just so predictable and cliche’ at it’s core, despite the delicious wrapping. We have no doubt that Casper will reconnect with 10 year old son Percy and just possibly rekindle his feelings for ex-wife Inez. And to make things even more cliche’, is how everything gets wrapped up in a perfect bow by the time the credits roll. Sure, it’s a feel good movie, so, we should not expect heart-breaking surprises or dire consequences but, did Favreau have to follow the formula so closely? The movie still has loads of charm to spare but, he could have made Casper’s rise after his fall a little more challenging. It appears Casper is just handed things to get his life back together whether it be from Marvin’s oddly convenient generosity or his Twitter savvy son’s ability to use the internet to garner them instant fame and success. It never seems like Casper is truly being challenged… though he is having fun and we do have it along with him. One of Favreau’s gifts is to make this move a good time in spite of the fact that it is so familiar. He adds some clever animated touches with Twitter feeds showing up on-screen and the flying off into cyberspace… though that wears out it’s welcome about half way through… and gives us some really endearing characters who are very well cast.
And as for that cast, it is one of the things that make this film so likable. Favreau himself is a lovable lug from the beginning, despite being too full of his own success to spend time with his son. We are right there with him when he looses his cool and posh job and want to see him return to his roots and find happiness and success again… even though it’s obvious he will. Leguizamo continues to show he is a far more versatile actor than given credit for as the loyal and always upbeat Martin, Carl’s line chef. Sofia Vergara is fine as Inez though, I will admit I am not a fan of the actress and feel she always lays it on too thick. She’s like a new generation Charo and I don’t get her appeal beyond her ample cleavage. This leads me to Scarlett Johansson’s character of Molly. I really liked Johansson’s portrayal of the tattooed Gauloise hostess and felt she and Carl has a really interesting relationship and it seemed to make far more sense to pair them up but, the film is so set on following the formula that it abandons Molly halfway through, as it is insistent on reuniting Casper and Inez who seem to have little in common aside from Percy. And as Percy, young Anthony does a good job of playing the son who wants to be with his father more. He keeps him grounded and from being annoying and has a good chemistry with Favreau. Rounding out are Robert Downey Jr. giving an eccentric performance as the equally eccentric Marvin in an extend cameo as Dustin Hoffman is perfectly crotchety as Gauloise owner Riva, who follows a strong “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” philosophy to his restaurant’s long-standing menu. A very good cast of well written characters to keep the film floating about it’s sea of cliché’s.
Overall, I did enjoy Chef. It is a fun and very energetic flick with some very likable characters and performances and some deliciously mouth-watering cooking sequences. It’s just a shame that underneath it’s gourmet coating is basically an all too familiar and cliche’ Happy Meal that we’ve seen before, time and time again. The core story follows the formula so closely that there are no surprises and the story wraps up far to conveniently and predictably to really make this something special, but, at least it’s buoyant atmosphere and delightful cast of characters add a tasty sauce to what could have been a very mundane meal. Still highly recommend it.