Film Review: Parenthood (1989)

Release Date: July 31st, 1989 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, Ron Howard
Music by: Randy Newman
Cast: Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Dianne Wiest, Mary Steenburgen, Keanu Reeves, Martha Plimpton, Joaquin Phoenix, Tom Hulce, Jason Robards, Harley Jane Kozak, Eileen Ryan, Helen Shaw, Jasen Fisher, Paul Linke, Alisan Porter, Ivyann Schwann, Zachary La Voy, Alex Burrall, Charmin Lee, Dennis Dugan

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“It sounds like a boy Garry’s age needs a man around the house.” – Helen, “Well, it depends on the man. I had a man around. He used to wake me up every morning by flicking lit cigarettes at my head. He’d say, “Hey, asshole, get up and make me breakfast.” You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, or drive a car. Hell, you need a license to catch a fish! But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.” – Tod

Man, this movie is great.

There are a lot of large family comedies that have been made over the years but for whatever reason, this is the one that hits all the right notes for me.

That’s probably due to when it came out and how old I was then, as well as how incredibly superb the cast is. All of them are loveable in their own way, even the shitty black sheep son that only comes around when he’s in serious trouble.

The thing is, anytime that Steve Martin and Rick Moranis get together, the results are pretty satisfying. However, when you add in Dianne Wiest, Mary Steenburgen, Tom Hulce, Jason Robards, Keanu Reeves, Martha Plimpton and a young Joaquin Phoenix, it maximizes the overall positive impact and gives you so much great talent to enjoy.

What makes this movie so perfect is that it features so many people but each one of them gets a fairly equal amount of time to let their story be told. In fact, the multiple plot threads are really well-balanced and when they merge, at times, it all flows pretty smoothly. Writing big ensemble stories like this can be a real challenge but the writers succeeded and Ron Howard, who directed this, had great material to work with.

I think a lot of credit also has to go to the editor, who kept this thing moving at a good pace and who handled the transition between plot threads pretty seamlessly.

Ultimately, though, this is a picture with a lot of heart and I feel like most people can find it relatable. Even if you don’t have all of these character types in your own family, I think we all have at least a few. Furthermore, these character tropes are all pretty timeless and even if this has that ’80s movie vibe to it, it’s still kind of timeless.

Additionally, the movie is well-acted from top-to-bottom, including the kid actors.

Parenthood is one of the best movies of its type. Personally, it’s my favorite but I’m also a big fan of all the key players in the film. And frankly, I can watch it just about anytime and it’ll lift my spirits even if I’m in a funk.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other family-centric comedies but this one takes the cake.

Film Review: Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

Also known as: Bill & Ted 3 (informal title)
Release Date: August 27th, 2020 (Malaysia)
Directed by: Dean Parisot
Written by: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Anthony Carrigan, Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays, Holland Taylor, Kid Cudi, William Sadler, Jillian Bell, Hal Landon Jr., Beck Bennett, Amy Stoch, George Carlin (posthumous cameo), Kelly Carlin, Dave Grohl (cameo), “Weird Al” Yankovic (cameo), Guillermo Rodriguez (cameo)

Dugan Entertainment, Dial 9, Hammerstone Studios, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Seriously, Uncle Ted. When did you get so excellent on Theremin? Your playing rivaled, and I’m not kidding, Clara Rockmore!” – Thea

Man, I really wanted to like this movie. I even went as far as to try and convince myself it was good and was going to pan out okay in the end. It didn’t. In fact, it pretty much killed that part of me that wants another one of these vanity, nostalgia projects to succeed.

Well, I guess Cobra Kai is just a once in a lifetime miracle. But maybe that’s because it wasn’t about vanity and it was just about bringing to life a good, fresh idea without trying to replicate what came before it.

As far as Bill & Ted stories go, this is just more of the same but it feels like a really weak attempt at taking the framework that came before it and just trying to paint-by-numbers while changing a few details.

In the case of this movie, we’re rounding up musical legends from history, while also seeing Bill & Ted travel back to hell as well as alternate futures where they confront different versions of their older selves. So there’s two adventures but it essentially takes the two adventures from the two previous movies and mashes them together in a way.

The journey to round up musicians is undertaken by Bill & Ted’s daughters, who are named after them and act too much like them that they just come across as gender swapped caricatures. Now I can’t trash their performances, as both girls were charismatic and likable but it just felt like the writers would rather lean on familiarity than trying to create characters that were more unique and didn’t just worship and emulate their dads on every level.

In regards to the first two movies, they always felt like a perfect story with a great, definitive ending. This film undoes that by retconning the ending and pretty much ignoring it and the newspaper headlines that appeared in the credits. Granted, the writers claim that they didn’t write those headlines and they were made as jokes by the people who did the credits. Still, fans, for decades, have kind of taken them as canon and why shouldn’t they?

In this film, we learn that Bill & Ted are old losers and that they’re incapable of fulfilling their destiny. What we also learn, is that it actually isn’t their destiny and, as is the trend with many modern sequels and reboots, the men are dumb idiots and its the female characters that have to come in and save the day. It’s not that I have a problem with female heroes, I just have a problem with downgrading already established heroes and brushing them aside because Hollywood feels guilty about shitting on women for years. Even though we’ve had women heroes and badasses for decades. But I digress.

This film was underwhelming and a disappointment. I wouldn’t call it intentionally “woke” but I do think it’s a product of its time and that it was influenced by the shitty, mundane art of the modern era. These characters and the fans deserved better.

At the same time, I don’t hate this film. It exists, it’s okay, not great and I don’t have to watch it again. Honestly, as a long-time fan of the film series, I’m just always going to see the first two movies as the complete story. It always was before this and that shouldn’t change just because ’80s nostalgia is in and the entertainment industry has to milk its teats until they bleed.

And of course, Rotten Tomatoes likes this.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: its two predecessors, as well as the animated series and really awful live-action show.

Film Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Also known as: John Wick 3 (unofficial title)
Release Date: May 9th, 2019 (Brooklyn premiere)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Written by: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams
Based on: characters by Derek Kolstad
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane, Robin Lord Taylor, Jason Mantzoukas

Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment, 87Eleven, Thunder Road Pictures, 131 Minutes

Review:

“John Wick, Excommunicado. In effect, 6:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.” – Operator

This is where the film series really jumped the shark for me. Granted, that happened in the finale of the picture but even taking that out, this is the weakest and worst entry in the John Wick franchise.

Let me start by saying that I really dug all the big action sequences and that the physicality of these movies is top notch. And since this is an action franchise with big, epic showdowns, the film doesn’t disappoint in that regard.

My real issue with the film is that the story and the mythos that the writers have been building up for three pictures has devolved into a big, shitty mess.

These films only really work if they follow a theory I have about them but I’ll get to that theory at the end of this review.

I mostly only really like the first movie. The second was decent and carried by its action. This third film, even with great action sequences, was just hard to get through as someone that wants to try and understand the world that these characters inhabit. It’s just become superfluous and overly complicated.

All you really need to know about the story is that an assassin’s guild with specific rules is pissed off at their top guy who has broken those rules. What we get instead is a story that is trying so hard to be larger than it needs to be. There is a guild, a side guild other entities playing a game to increase their political power among their peers and all the while, they are all trying to be so cool that they fail at it and just come off as pretentious, pompous shitheads.

It’s hard to follow what the hell is happening in these movies and when it comes to action pictures, the audience shouldn’t be required to think too hard and remember all these lame, uninteresting details.

The vocabulary of these movies is also ridiculous with words like “excommunicado” and “Adjudicator”. It’s like the writers had a thesaurus next to them and they were competing to see who could write the most pretentious ways of saying dialogue. No one talks like the people in this movie. In fact, John Wick is about the only person that sounds fucking human.

Additionally, almost all the characters other than Wick and the two guys from the Continental are deliberately crafted to be cool. But when everything is made to exude coolness, nothing is cool and everything just looks like shit and as if it is trying too hard to convince the audience it’s awesome.

The biggest example of this is the main antagonist, which is the Adjudicator, played by Asia Kate Dillon. Now while I only know Dillon from her role on Orange Is the New Black, I thought she did a good job on that show. Here, her character is made to act cool and calm to the point where she is essentially lifeless. Now there have been lifeless, emotionless, blank characters in movies before, they aren’t typically very exciting and this is no different. In fact, it makes her stick out like a sore thumb when everything else in the picture is audibly and visually boisterous. I can’t really blame her for it, as it seems to be more than likely an issue with the writing and the overall direction. Needless to say, the Adjudicator character is excruciating to watch and really puts a halt on any excitement or momentum that previous scenes have built up.

The one moment that really broke this film for me was the finale, which saw Wick get shot and then fall off of a very tall building, smashing into fire escape railing and metal awnings on the way down. Somehow, he fucking survives this and we’re supposed to except that because he’s a badass. Unless the dude is Wolverine, he’s fucking dead. I don’t care how good he is with a gun and his fists.

But this circles me back around to my theory and that’s that these movies only really work if John Wick is a character within a video game world. It would fix a lot of the movie’s problems and it would be easier to overlook the fact that nearly everyone in these films survives brutal deaths. Maybe he’s so good and doesn’t even feel in control of his own hands, feet and weapons because he isn’t. He’s actually controlled by some twelve year-old on Xbox sitting on a couch in Amarillo, Texas. Hell, maybe some of these characters can just respawn as long as the game is still going.

As crazy as my theory may sound, it’s less crazy than Wick surviving a fall like that.

In the end, I loved the action sequences and that was really about it. Do we really need to do this for a fourth time? No… but as far as there being another movie, signs point to yes, considering he’s not dead or paralyzed.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two John Wick movies.

Film Review: Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Also known as: The Burly Man (fake working title), The Matrix 3 (working title)
Release Date: October 27th, 2003 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Harold Perrineau, Collin Chou, Gina Torres, Anthony Zerbe, Cornel West, Mary Alice, Bruce Spence

NPV Entertainment, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 129 Minutes

Review:

“Can you feel it Mr. Anderson? Closing in on you? Oh I can, I really should thank you after all. It was, after all, it was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life is to end.” – Agent Smith

*Sigh*

Well, I got to the end. But I’m glad this journey of revisiting The Matrix film series is now behind me.

Reason being, I didn’t really enjoy these films because of how dated and horribly cliche and goofy they are. Plus, each installment in this trilogy got worse. I thought that this one might play better than the second but this film is such a massive misfire that it didn’t even come close to hitting the target it was aiming at.

My memories remembered this as a big two hour action sequence. But it’s not. There is a lot of action but it doesn’t really come until the last hour of the movie. Everything before that is really unnecessary. I mean, fuck, Neo was stuck in a subway station for a fucking half hour while his squad tried to save him from his limbo. Great way to use your time wisely in a final installment. The first act of this picture felt like episode 15 of a season of a TV show where they needed filler bullshit to pad out the season to 22 episodes.

Once the action does get going, the film gets better but we’re also thrown into action sequences with characters we just met or barely know and there’s no real reason for us to feel connected to many of them. So when some of them die, it doesn’t hit you in any emotional way. Maybe the first act of this film could have developed these disposable and empty characters.

Anyway, Neo is blinded in the most ridiculous way ever and he has to fight a swarm of Sentinels using his “electro-psychic vision” or whatever the hell his blind Daredevil sense is called. But that fight is mainly just Trinity flying a ship, dodging Sentinels that Neo doesn’t explode with the Force because at this point, Neo is a blind Jedi master over technology or something.

Trinity dies, which makes all the “No Trinity don’t die!” bullshit of the previous film seem like a massive waste of time and bad storytelling.

Now the big battle between Neo and Mr. Smith within the Matrix is pretty awesome and the only real highlight of the film. Tech-Jedi Neo becomes ’90s Goth Club Superman and he and Mr. Smith both swing for the fences in an over the top CGI bonanza. This sequence works for me and it accomplishes what it set out to do tremendously well. However, it doesn’t excuse the other 90 percent of the film that made me want to stick my head into a wood chipper.

But hey, I survived. I’m not sure if Neo did, as it seemed unclear when Doctor Octopus arms carried him away like a half dead messiah.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Matrix films, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

Film Review: The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Also known as: The Burly Man (fake working title), The Matrix 2 (working title)
Release Date: May 7th, 2003 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Harold Perrineau, Collin Chou, Gina Torres, Anthony Zerbe, Roy Jones Jr., Cornel West

NPV Entertainment, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes

Review:

“Choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without.” – Merovingian

From memory, the Matrix sequels weren’t as good as the first film. Having seen this one again, a decade and a half later, I’d say that this holds true.

Still, this wasn’t a bad experience. This one does stand out simply for the fact that it has the best action sequence out of the series. Granted, my mind might change after I revisit the third film next week.

The scene that I’m talking about is the Interstate chase which is actually more than a simple car chase. It is an insane bonanza of flying bullets, flying bodies and vehicular carnage. Although, I have some issues with it too.

To start, I want to point out the positives. It was a lengthy section in the film but none of it was dull and it was high octane and over the top in an entertaining and gratifying way. I loved how things shifted throughout the sequence between switching roads, driving in opposite directions and the human vehicle jumping. The dynamic of the Ghost Twins also works well to spice things up, even if I thought that the characters were kind of lame attempts at trying too hard to be cool but then again, that’s just about everything in these films.

However, the sequence is far from perfect and it actually looks cheap considering that the entire strip of highway over this long, drawn out, violent jamboree takes place within highway walls. The geography of the location is the opposite of dynamic, it’s just a simple highway, lots of cars and concrete walls as far as the eye can see. Sure, there are some building far off in the distance and some powerlines sprinkles in but it lacks detail, depth and the appearance that anyone cared about anything other than the action and CGI effects.

Also, the physics are really bad despite all of this existing within the Matrix. But that’s an issue I have with the whole film series. But it is kind of intriguing that this all goes down and the star of the film was far away from it until that final moment where he literally swoops in to save two of the heroes from exploding semi trucks.

Like the first film, I thought the writing was pretty weak and too many things were way too convenient. This had a lot of fate and destiny mumbo jumbo surrounding its characters and their special roles with the Matrix system that I was still pretty annoyed by it all. Why is there an Oracle? Why is there the key maker guy? What the hell is a Merovingian? Why is Agent Smith going rogue? Why is there still a One? I don’t know? But most importantly, why did I waste ten minutes of my life sitting through the Architect’s villainous monologue, which just made things more confusing?

I know, I know… this is supposed to be mindless escapism but the problems I had with the film in 2003, seem worse to me in 2019.

But hey, explosions, fights, CGI fuckery and cave raves! What’s not to love?

In the end, this was worth revisiting and I certainly wasn’t bored watching it. Well, except the first hour was a little too slow, but this does a good job of evolving beyond the first film and setting up the third and final act, which if I remember correctly, is pretty much just a two hour action sequence.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Matrix films, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

Film Review: The Matrix (1999)

Release Date: March 24th, 1999 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Joe Pantoliano

Groucho II Film Partnership, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 136 Minutes

Review:

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” – Morpheus

I enjoyed The Matrix films back when they were coming out but I was never an immense fan of them, despite their cultural influence and how they were heavily ripped off for other action and sci-fi films from the early ’00s.

It’s actually been a long time since I’ve seen these, so most of the details have been lost to time and even though I remembered the gist of the story, I felt like I went into this with mostly fresh eyes.

This is the best film in the series or at least, it’s considered to be when looking at the critical and public opinion on this series. From my memory, I always liked this one the best and I’m assuming that the other two will still fall somewhere beneath this one when I revisit them over the next few weeks.

Overall, this film is pretty good in most aspects. However, there are some style choices that I don’t like, which actually bothered me back in the day too.

For starters, I’ve never been keen on the “bullet time” thing. I understand why certain moments were presented like this on screen but I always thought it was hokey looking in execution. Twenty years later, it looks dated and even more hokey. It’s also cliche but that’s really not this film’s fault as it was what brought that technique into the mainstream.

Also, I don’t like the movement during gunfights. The flipping off of walls with all limbs extended out is just going to make you a bigger target and for those who understand the physics of combat, it’s baffling and it shows off this film’s biggest weakness: style over substance (or practicality).

Plus, I don’t like how hard the film is trying to convince you that it is cool. Sure, it was cool in 1999 but the way coolness is achieved doesn’t quite work the same way in 2019. I’m not saying that the filmmakers should have predicted that because no one is an actual psychic but it dates the film.

I don’t like the use of filters in the movie either. The real world is shown in bluish hues while the Matrix itself is presented in a greenish tone. I understand the use of color to differentiate between the two spaces but it feels like the Wachowskis are trying to channel David Fincher and even though Fincher is a better director, I don’t like his overuse of color filters either.

In regards to the story, I have issues with that as well.

I guess my biggest gripe about it was the plot device where the Oracle told characters specific information about prophecies and whatnot and then later you find out she lied and it’s just brushed off with the line, “She told you what you needed to hear.” And why does this film have prophecies anyway? And where is the Oracle getting her info? And why does there need to be a “One”? It’s all kind of derivative, even by 1999.

Also, why does Agent Smith so badly want out of the Matrix? Why does he have emotions? He’s just a computer program, right? He should just follow programming without philosophizing about it. And can’t the Matrix fix his programming if it’s broken? Why does he care that the world within the Matrix is gross? How did he develop feelings and a personality? Why does he have such a grudge? Is all of this explained later because I don’t remember? Either way, it’s sloppy storytelling.

But all this criticism aside, I still like this movie. It’s hard to quantify why with all this baggage I just dumped on the floor but I think a lot of it has to do with the cast, their chemistry and how their performances propel the film forward. Also, if you don’t overthink it and just watch it as mindless entertainment, it is still a fun film with a lot of action and cool moments.

Some of the CGI looks bad in 2019 but this is still full of some incredible shots. That exploding helicopter scene still looks f’n fantastic.

It’s also best to ignore the limitations of technology for the time when this came out. Considering that everything in this film had to be done over hard wires, makes me wonder why this advanced artificial intelligence that wants to enslave humans weren’t using Wi-Fi. I mean, humans were using it pretty regularly less than a decade later. So in the year 2199 (or thereabouts) the evil robots hadn’t yet found a way to work around the hard wire problem? But again, the Wachowskis aren’t psychics.

Anyway, just ignore all the crap I just said in the previous 873 words and go into this film mindless with the intent of just enjoying some solid escapism from your own personal Matrix.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequels, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

Film Review: John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Release Date: January 30th, 2017 (Arclight Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Common, Laurence Fishburne, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Claudia Gerini, Lance Reddick, Bridget Moynahan, David Patrick Kelly, Franco Nero, Peter Serafinowicz

Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven, Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate, 122 Minutes

Review:

“John Wick, you’re not very good at retiring.” – Bowery King, “I’m working on it.” – John Wick

Having finally watched the first John Wick, I figured that I would check out the sequel, as it is available on HBO but is soon expiring.

This film is longer than its predecessor and it is also packed with a lot more action and I thought that those sequences were orchestrated really well. Although, I didn’t like this film’s story as much and it seemed forced in parts and disjointed in others.

Still, this was enjoyable and a good followup to the first chapter.

Here, John Wick is pulled back into his life as an assassin. He is called upon by an old acquaintance that he owes a favor to. Wick refuses, has his home destroyed and finally decides to do the favor. However, like a typical film-noir, the plot has a lot of swerves, surprises and is hard to predict. While this approach worked well in the first film, I found this one a bit harder to follow. Plus, they introduce new characters left and right and the amount of people in the film is a bit overwhelming and bogs down the flow of the narrative. But I guess when a film needs to get by on murdering the crap out of everyone and everything, you’ve got to throw characters at John Wick in order to keep piling up the bodies.

Also, the dog isn’t murdered in this movie, which is a plus.

While the first film did well and got the sequel treatment, this film, I don’t know if I have much interest in watching more of these. I like Keanu, I like the action but there isn’t much else to sink my teeth into that satisfies my palate.

Yes, this is well made from a visual, action and stunt standpoint. But I need more than that from a film. I don’t know, I admire what I see in these pictures but I just don’t feel connected to them. What John Wick goes through to setup these films is horrible but it is just backstory without any sort of real emotional context. Maybe it’s because you never really get to spend time with Wick and his wife, other than a quick sort of montage in the first film. I’m not saying that this needs to be The Notebook but I feel like they needed to show a their deep connection to really give Wick’s loss some weight. And by the time you get to this second film, the loss of his wife and dog are mentioned but the gravity of the situation is lost.

I would still probably check out the eventual John Wick 3 but I’ll go into it without any expectations other than anticipating solid action sequences and nice cinematography. Which is fine. I just feel like these movies had the opportunity to be so much better.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: John Wick, as well as Atomic BlondePunisher: War Zone and Death Wish 3, which still has the best balls out grand finale in motion picture history. For some old school pictures with similar themes and visual flair: Tokyo Drifter and Le Samouraï.

Film Review: John Wick (2014)

Release Date: September 19th, 2014 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch (uncredited)
Written by: Derek Kolstad
Music by: Tyler Bates, Joel J. Richard
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe, David Patrick Kelly, Clarke Peters, Kevin Nash, Lance Reddick

Thunder Road Pictures, 87Eleven, MJW Films, DefyNite Films, Summit Entertainment, 101 Minutes

Review:

“When Helen died, I lost everything. Until that dog arrived on my doorstep… a final gift from my wife. In that moment, I received some semblance of hope… an opportunity to grieve unalone. And your son… took that from me.” – John Wick, “Oh, God.” – Viggo Tarasov, “Stole that from me… killed that from me! People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer. But now, yeah, I’m thinkin’ I’m back. So you can either hand over your son or you can die screaming alongside him!” – John Wick

Well, I finally got around to seeing John Wick after putting it off for four years. Why did I put it off? Well, people hyped it up so damn much that I knew that if I went in with said hype, I’d probably walk away disappointed. I needed some time for that to cool down and to separate myself from it. I actually intended to watch this before John Wick 2 hit theaters, last year, but I was incredibly busy around that time.

Having now seen it, it doesn’t live up to the hype but it is still a balls to the wall, unapologetic motion picture and I love seeing Keanu as a complete and total badass murdering the crap out of scumbags in such an amazing and calculated way that he makes the Punisher look like Richard Simmons.

It is quite obvious that John Wick takes some cues, in style and narrative, from the the Hong Kong gangster pictures of the ’80s and ’90s, especially those directed by John Woo. It also has very strong film-noir tones, whether it knows that or not. There’s crime, plot twists, deception, a femme fatale character and a visual style that borrows heavily from classic noir as well as neo-noirs from the ’60s through the ’80s. I see a lot of visual similarities to the neo-noir work of Wim Wenders, most notably The American Friend, as well as notes of Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.

As far as the story goes, John Wick is pretty much the greatest assassin in the world. Just after his wife dies, a crew of shitheads break into Wick’s home, kill his dog and steal his car. The shitheads have ties to the Russian mob boss that Wick used to work for. Wick goes on a one-man killing spree for revenge and doesn’t care who crosses his path: his old boss, his old rivals and his old allies. With Wick reentering the world that he left years earlier, he is once again in the thick of it and won’t be able to just walk away when the dust settles. Of course, this was established to setup all the future sequels, which I have a feeling, Keanu Reeves will do until his body won’t let him anymore.

And speaking of Keanu’s body, he trained like a madman for this role and continues to do so now that this has become a franchise. He does all the driving, all the fighting and has become a legit badass in the real world because he wanted to play John Wick as realistically as possible. Seriously, if you want to be impressed, go watch some of Keanu’s training videos for these movies.

This is in no way a perfect film but if you are a guy that wants his action raw and soaked in diesel fuel next to an open fire, then you will enjoy this. It reminds me of the spirit of those ’80s Cannon Films except with much better cinematography and more capable talent in front of and behind the camera.

I was surprised to see so many actors I love pop up in this. I guess I never paid close attention to the cast details other than knowing that this had Keanu Reeves and John Leguizamo in it. But anything with Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane in it, automatically gets a hefty helping of gargantuan gravitas piled on to whatever is already there. Plus, you’ve got small roles for David Patrick Kelly, Clarke Peters and “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash. I also have to point out the good performance by Adrianne Palicki, who always seems to play the same character, but definitely came with a harder edge in this movie.

John Wick is solid. Damn solid. It doesn’t need to be a perfect film and it doesn’t want to be. It’s fun and manlier than an Everclear drinking lumberjack piledriving a bear through the hood of a Hummer.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: John Wick 2, I’d have to assume. As well as, Atomic BlondePunisher: War Zone and Death Wish 3, which still has the best balls out grand finale in motion picture history. For some old school pictures with similar themes and visual flair: Tokyo Drifter and Le Samouraï.

Film Review: The ‘Bill & Ted’ Film Series (1989-1991)

The Bill & Ted series was pretty enjoyable when I was a preteen. I’ve owned the box set for several years, since it first came out on DVD. I rewatch through the two films every couple of years or so and hope that the rumors of a third film, which has supposedly been written, are more fact than fiction.

In the meantime, I wanted to revisit this series again, in an effort to review them and because they are still enjoyable popcorn movies to kill some time over a weekend.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989):

Release Date: February 17th, 1989
Directed by: Stephen Herek
Written by: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Terry Camilleri, Dan Shor, Tony Steedman, Rod Loomis, Al Leong, Jane Wiedlin, Robert V. Barron, Clifford David, Hal Landon Jr., Bernie Casey, Amy Stock-Poynton, J. Patrick McNamara, Frazier Bain, John Karlsen, Diane Franklin, Kimberley LaBelle

Interscope Communications, Nelson Entertainment, Orion Pictures, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K.” – Ted

The first film in the series follows Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves), as they have to ace a history report in order to not flunk out of school. If they flunk out, Ted gets shipped off to military school in Alaska and their band The Wyld Stallyns will never exist and bring peace and harmony to the universe. In order to make sure that they fulfill their destiny, Rufus (played by comic legend George Carlin) shows up in a time traveling phone booth – sending them off on their journey.

Taking a few pages from Doctor Who and Back to the Future, both big franchises at the time, these films add in some good old school rock and roll and two dimwitted heroes who are lovable characters with big hearts and a thirst for fun and adventure.

Excellent Adventure is far from a perfect film. It has its flaws and most of my fondness for it is out of nostalgia but it is still entertaining and funny.

As Bill and Ted traverse through time and abduct several noteworthy historical figures, the adventure unfolds and seeing these figures interact with one another, as well as the heroes, is pretty hilarious.

The special effects are good for the time, the plot doesn’t really matter other than creating a cool scenario and despite its wackiness and complete implausibility, the film just works.

Additionally, the sequence where the historical figures discover the mall is one of the best moments in film from the 1980s. Napoleon taking over the water park is also a classic moment that still plays great today.

The end of the film is their over the top history report and it is pretty friggin’ bad ass. It plays more like a rock concert than a report and helps build the mythos of these two characters becoming rock and roll legends.

Ultimately, this film is exciting, it encompasses many of the things that were awesome about entertainment in the 80s and it has George Carlin in it.

And who doesn’t want to replay the scene where Genghis Khan trashes Oshman’s Sporting Goods again and again?

Rating: 8.5/10

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991):

Release Date: July 19th, 1989
Directed by: Pete Hewitt
Written by: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, William Sadler, Joss Ackland, Pam Grier, Annette Azcuy, Sarah Trigger, Hal Landon Jr., Amy Stock-Poynton

Interscope Communications, Nelson Entertainment, Orion Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“A hit. You have sank my battleship!” – Grim Reaper

Bogus Journey picks up a few years after Excellent Adventure. At this point, Bill and Ted haven’t yet fulfilled their destiny of bringing peace and harmony to the universe.

This film also introduces a villain in De Nomolos and his evil Bill and Ted robots who are sent to kill the real Bill and Ted. The robots succeed and Bill and Ted’s “Bogus Journey” is their trip through Hell and then Heaven, as they are essentially resurrected and gain allies in the Grim Reaper (William Sadler) and a pair of great alien scientists called “Station”.

This film is even more over the top than its predecessor and that works fine but overall, the film isn’t as good. It is still enjoyable and adds more to the building tale of these two future legends but it is missing some of the magic that made the first film work as well as it did.

It is a much darker film and maybe the tone distracts from the lighthearted heroes. Bill and Ted are still Bill and Ted and the Grim Reaper is a fantastic character but the film just feels off.

There just isn’t anything as memorable as what was in the first film. Granted, the sequence where Bill and Ted play the Grim Reaper in several board games in an effort to escape Hell is pretty damned good.

The film ends positively and it shows Bill and Ted on the cusp of greatness. But it leaves you wanting more, as you want to see the next step in their progression. Still, twenty-six years later, we haven’t gotten a sequel.

Well, according to Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, it is finally on its way.

Rating: 7.5/10