John Wick: Chapter 4 picks up where the last one left off with the organization known as “The Tabel” trying to kill John Wick and he trying to hunt down and kill them. His quest takes him around the world while the Tabel’s appointed leader Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgård) keeps upping the bounty and sending skilled assassins after him, like the blind Caine (Donnie Yen) and the mysterious Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson). John’s only hope is to force Gramont into an old-style one on one duel, but the path to his achieving this is filled with former allies, hired killers and dead friends.
Fourth chapter is again directed by Chad Stahelski from a script by Shay Hatten and Michael Finch and is the best so far in this overall solid franchise. The fast-paced sequel takes us from New York to Morrocco to Osaka to Berlin and comes to a dizzying and bloody conclusion in Paris, France, using all its locations spectacularly. Stahelski is at the top of his game visually as the film looks breathtaking and the action is some of the best yet in this series. The choreography really is amazing, no better example than a fight with multiple assassins in the frantic traffic surrounding the Arc de Triomphe. The film moves like one of Wick’s bullets and one hardly feels the almost three-hour running time. Chapter 4 does wisely give us a few moments to catch our breath before the next blood-spurting, bone-crushing action scene, so they remain effective, and does have some emotional resonance. Reeves and cast all perform well, including series regulars Ian McShane, Lawrence Fishburn, and the late Lance Reddick. All the newcomers impress too, including Clancy Brown as The Harbinger, Hiroyuki Sanada as the noble manager of the Osaka Continental and Rina Sawayama as his daughter/concierge. All in all, the best film in a series that has been getting better and better with each chapter. Watch through the end credits.
Sequel takes place many years later With Neo (Keanu Reeves) being a video game creator most famous for his Matrix game trilogy. When his company demands a Matrix 4, Neo starts to have memory flashes of his time in The Matrix and soon he finds himself back inside and meeting some old friends…and enemies.
Sequel is directed by Lana Wachowski from her script with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Harmon and is simply a terrible movie. It’s a mess of flashbacks and new scenes that is trying to not only recreate past magic—at least where the first film is concerned—but at the same time also wants to be so meta and clever and failing at both. It comes across as a bad fan film and one that looks cheap and rushed at that. Add to all that, that Keanu Reeves and Carrie Moss seem to be sleepwalking through this nonsense and that they recast the classic roles of Agent Smith and Morpheus with boring actors, and you have a flick that is far worse than the last two sequels…and they were pretty bad. A simply awful return to a once classic franchise.
Comedy sequel takes place 29 years after Bill & Ted’s (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) last cinematic adventure and finds the two wannabe rockers married to their princesses and fathers of their own kids. The jobless duo are still struggling to write that one song that will fulfill their destiny and their refusal to act like responsible adults may cost them their marriages. Worst of all, Rufus’ daughter Kelly (Kristen Schaal) arrives to take them to the future where they find if they don’t write the song in a matter of hours, time and space will unravel.
Nostalgic flick is directed by Dean Parisot from a script by Cameron Burns and Ed Solomon. It has a lot of fun moments and tries hard to carry the spirit of the original flicks by having Bill & Ted decide to travel to the future and steal the song from their future selves, who have already written it. In the meantime, their daughters Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) decide to travel back in time and assemble the ultimate band from famous musicians of the past, like Louis Armstrong (Jeremiah Craft) and Jimi Hendrix (DazMann Still). There is a most heinous robot assassin (Anthony Carrigan) out to stop the dudes and it wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Hell with the Grim Reaper (WIlliam Sadler), who still resents the guys for throwing him out of their band. Sure, it could have been funnier and a few of the bits fall flat, but if you are a fan of this series, there are still some good laughs and amusing new additions, such as the two daughters who are apples that haven’t fallen far from the tree. Features a really nice cameo by the late, great George Carlin as Rufus, appearing via hologram by use of previously unused footage.
It took a bogus 29 years, but we are finally getting a third Bill and Ted movie! EXCELLENT! Bill and Ted Face the Music opens 8/21/20 and is directed by Dean Parisot from a script by original series scribes Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon! Obviously, Alex WInter and Keanu Reeves return, along with William Sadler as The Grim Reaper and George Carlin’s Rufus appears via unused footage from the pervious movies. Also features Bridgette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving as Bill and Ted’s daughters. While it’s still a few months away, take a look at the bodacious trailer and awesome poster and get ready to “Party on Dudes!” on August 21st!
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 delivers 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 its 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.
Barely coherent British film has Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moving into a luxury high rise and discovering his neighbors are quite an eccentric bunch. The longer he lives there, the more decadent and out of control the activities get till it descends into a maelstrom of debauchery and even murder.
Written by Amy Jump, from J.G. Ballard’s novel and directed by Ben Wheatly, this flick starts out interesting and plummets quickly into pretentious nonsense quite early. There is a good cast, including Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons and Sienna Miller, who try hard, but they are wasted on this boring and meandering mess whose story and point are lost in all the random violent and decadent behavior. A waste of time that thinks it’s far more important than it is.
THE NEON DEMON (2016)
Latest film by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) has sixteen year-old Jesse (Elle Fanning) going to Hollywood to become a model. She takes the modeling world by storm, but soon learns there is a dark side to her dream and there are those who will go to shocking lengths to keep the new competition from taking what’s theirs.
Obviously, the story concocted by Refn and co-written with Mary Laws and Polly Stenham is nothing new. We’ve seen the naive newcomer in the Hollywood jungle story numerous times. Neon Demon starts out intriguing, though and Refn’s visual style is hypnotic at times, but the film collapses under the weight of it’s own absurdity when it goes over the top to include necrophilia and cannibalism in it’s cautionary tale. The cast, that includes Fanning, Jena Malone and Keanu Reeves perform well, but the film just gets too weird…and gross…to maintain it’s dramatic grip.
ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS! (2015)
Great documentary about schlockmeister Cannon Films that churned out so many delightfully bad…and very entertaining B-movies during the 80s. Mark Hartley’s documentary is told through the eyes of a number of talents who worked for Cannon during their existence from both behind and in front of the camera. We get a real good look at the inside of the studio founded by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus and how they dreamed of taking America by storm. We hear from actors like Bo Derek, Molly Ringwald, Robert Forster and Cannon regulars Lucinda Dickey and Michael Dudikoff, who all have entertaining stories to tell about starring in some of the studios most infamous productions. We also hear what it was like to make films for them by the likes of Tobe Hooper, Sam Firstenberg and Franco Zeffirelli. We get a story of two men whose dream to be a major studio was derailed by churning out some of the shlocky-est productions during a decade renown for it’s excesses. They made a major action star out of Chuck Norris and reignited Charles Bronson’s career…although not completely in a good way. Documentary is almost as fun as some of the ‘so bad it’s good’ movies they produced under Golan and Globus between 1979 and 1985.
KNOCK KNOCK (2015)
Eli Roth’s flick is a reworking of a 1977 film called Death Game where two women (Sandra Locke and Collen Camp who are given producers credits here) terrorize a man (Seymour Cassel) over a two day period. In this update, we have architect and family man Evan Webber (Keanu Reeves) who is left home alone on Father’s Day weekend to finish some work while his wife and kids hit the beach. During a rainstorm, two beautiful young women (Ana de Armas and Lorenza Izzo) show up soaking wet at his door, claiming to be lost and wind up seducing Evan into a threesome. The following morning Evan finds his guests still there and acting quite out of control. He manages to evict them, but they return that night to take Evan hostage and begin to torment him as punishment for what he did to them, claiming they are only fifteen years-old. Viewing him as a pedophile, the psychotic women claim he must die at dawn unless he plays their twisted games.
Despite a familiar premise that could have been fun, this flick is just dull and silly as these two loonies torment Reeves’ unfaithful family man for over forty minutes. It’s not only never gripping, but really just amounts to a fairly bloodless and uninventive torture show as the two women claim that Webber needs to pay for taking advantage of underage girls like themselves. While the two actresses do have a good time going all over-the-top, neither is remotely believable for a minute at being that young, or is given any real meaty material to work with. As for Reeves, he seems very miscast here and does not seem comfortable at all with the material…and it goes beyond the character’s discomfort with being a married man in the company of two horny vixens turned psychopaths. Even had Reeves been less wooden, the film offers nothing new and doesn’t even make inventive use of the familiar tropes of this type of Fatal Attraction flick. Roth does clarify his ladies intentions in the DVD extras, but one shouldn’t need supplemental material to make things clearer. Dull and only worth watching for the generous nudity from Armas and Izzo (Mrs. Eli Roth) who are clearly having a fun time with their parts. Wish Reeves would have had more fun with his part and Roth stopped recycling his influences and gave us something more original.
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 Sinbad 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.
This weeks double feature consists of two Asian set action adventures that feature heroes from the West. One in feudal Japan with Keanu Reeves and the other set in ancient China with Michael Angarano. Both also are filled with fantasy elements and magic characters and plenty of martial arts action and swordsplay, not to mention renown Asian actors such as Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Enjoy …
47 RONIN (2013)
I enjoyed this film which, sadly, bombed at the box office and though it isn’t a great movie by any stretch, it was entertaining and had some nice fantasy elements mixed in with all the action. The story focuses on half-breed servant Kai (Keanu Reeves) who, along with 46 masterless samurai, fight against overwhelming odds to avenge the wrongful death of their lord. The vile and ambitious Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) has used the power of witch Mizuki (Pacific Rim’s Rinko Kikuchi) to cast a spell on rival Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) causing him to attack Kira in the presence of the visiting Shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and thus dishonor him. Asano commits seppuku (ritual suicide) to save the honor of his people, but Kira is granted control of his clan and the hand of his daughter Mika (Kou Shibasaki) in marriage. Asano’s Samurai are expelled and are now dishonored as masterless Ronin. Kai, who is rumored to have been raised by demons and has always loved Mika, is sold into slavery. Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), the lead samurai, bides his time and one year later, frees Kai and rallies the Ronin to attack lord Kira and free Mika and avenge Lord Asano’s death… all against the Shogun’s orders. It’s only 47 Ronin against a 1,000 soldiers and one powerful witch, but against these odds, the 47 warriors valiantly choose to wade into battle to get their revenge or die trying.
47 Ronin is a fictional story by Chris Morgan and Walter Hamada based on real events from Japanese history. As directed by commercial director Carl Rinsch, from a screenplay by Morgan and Hossein Amini, the film is moderately paced, but I liked that it took time to tell it’s story and didn’t rush into it’s climactic battle. Rinsch handles the large scale of the film well for a first-time feature director and seems to have a nice visual style to go with all the fantasy elements and the exotic setting. There is plenty of well-staged action peppered throughout and the heavy fantasy elements…as there are demons and a powerful witch involved in this story of honor and revenge…are mixed in well with the drama. Character development is a little on the weak side. We get to know the characters a little, but with 47, only a few get proper attention and even some of those we could have gotten to know better. Despite star billing and a central role, Reeves’ Kai is not the only character focused on and that helps make this more of an ensemble piece to a degree and less Reeves’ show. The cast are all quite good including star Keanu, who plays a noble character who just wants to be recognized fairly by the samurai and will do anything for the woman he loves, despite that she is out of his reach as a Lord’s daughter. The film is in English and the Japanese cast are all well spoken, perform well and there are many recognizable faces from current Japanese cinema. The budget is lavish as are the settings and SPFX and the action scenes have some nice energy and are excellently choreographed. I’ll admit the story could have used a bit more dramatic strength and the end conflict is exciting though, over a little too soon, but it is still an enjoyable action/fantasy with some nice old fashioned charm.
So, in conclusion, 47 Ronin is not a masterpiece and maybe not something all that memorable, but it is a well-made and entertaining enough adventure with some fun fantasy elements and exotic locations to give it a little something different. The action moves and while we could have used a little more character development and the story could have used a bit more weight, it was an entertaining 2 hours and I had a fun time with it. Go in with moderate expectations and it can be a pleasantly surprising flick and an entertaining watch. Certainly nowhere near the disaster it’s poor box office would lead one to believe.
Sure this flick has a heavy Karate Kid vibe, but we get Jackie Chan, Jet Li and the beautiful Li Bingbing as a villainous hottie so, why complain if we have seen this kind of story before. Charming and fun fantasy adventure has martial arts movie nut Jason (Michael Angarano) buying his favorite movies from old shop owner Hop (Jackie Chan) and finding a peculiar staff in his shop. When thugs force Jason to help them rob Hop’s store, the injured Hop tells the mortified and regretful Jason to take the staff and return it to it’s rightful owner. Jason is thus transported into a fantasy world in ancient China where he meets a drunken martial artist named Lu Yan (also Chan), a noble monk Sun Wukong (Jet Li) and pretty Golden Sparrow (Liu Yifei) who all agree to help Jason return the staff to The Monkey King (also Li), who is the staff’s rightful owner and is being imprisoned by the evil Jade Warlord (Collin Chou). But to get the staff back to The Monkey King, Jason and his new friends must battle the powerful Warlord, his army and a very deadly witch (Li Bingbing), who all wish to see that the staff never sees the Monkey King’s skilled hands ever again.
Despite the cliche’ story and some very familiar plot elements, Rob Minkoff (The Lion King) crafts a really entertaining martial arts fantasy that is loaded with charm and filled with martial arts action. There are plenty of fantasy elements too, in John Fusco’s script, from a story by Wu Cheng’en and Minkoff really captures the look and style of one of the martial arts fantasy films that Hong Kong cinema is famous for. Aside from numerous scenes of hand to hand combat, we get characters imbued with magic, who fly and cast spells, all presented with some very solid SPFX and fight choreography. Obviously, the main attraction is seeing Chan and Li working together and the two do have a great on-screen chemistry and camaraderie that goes a long way to making this flick so much fun. Their scenes together really crackle with energy and they seem to really enjoy working together, which I hear they did. Both are a lot of fun in their dual roles, especially Li’s whimsical Monkey King. Lead Angarano holds his own as the naive outsider who learns not only martial arts, but to believe in himself. Cliche’, yes, but it still works. Yifei is pretty and proves a resourceful heroine as the vengeful Golden Sparrow who seeks to destroy the Jade Warlord, but succeeds in catching Jason’s eye too. Chou is a solid villain though one stereotypical of these kind of films and Bingbing is having a blast as the evil and powerful witch Ni-Chang, who is as beautiful as she is deadly. The fun cast also helps make this a treat.
All in all, I like this film a lot. I am a hug fan of Asian cinema, and that certainly includes Hong Kong martial arts fantasy epics and this film captures the spirit of those movies very well. It mixes the traditional format with a underdog/fish out of water story for a really fun and colorful fairy tale-like movie, of a meek boy who becomes a heroic man. Sure we know he’ll eventually face those mean thugs from Hop’s store again, but we still eagerly anticipate it, despite it’s familiarity and the film is so charming and fun, we can forgive the age old story and oft-told story elements. When all is said and done, we get two martial arts living legends together on screen for the first time and, if that’s not enough, a couple of very pretty Asian actresses who are as easy on the eyes as they are dangerous with their fists and feet. That’s more then enough to get me in a seat! A fun martial arts fantasy flick.