The Classics – “John Wick”

So, I’m going to review more classics from various directors and franchises, leading to their successors. On that note, let’s about 2014’s sleeper hit “John Wick.”

HEAVY SPOILER WARNING! IN CASE YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED “JOHN WICK,” DON’T READ THIS REVIEW.

Keanu Reeves plays the recently widowed John Wick. After losing his wife to cancer, he receives an adorable puppy as a posthumous gift from her. The warm times between Wick and his puppy are cut short when a group of young thugs led by Yusef (Alfie Allen) break into Wick’s house, kill the puppy, and steal his car.

The thugs learn the hard way that they screwed with the wrong guy since Wick is a retired hitman nicknamed The Boogeyman. The body count rises when Yusef’s father and Wick’s former boss, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) gets involved.

The theatrical trailer made “John Wick” look like a generic revenge movie. I’m guilty as charged for being snobby because this is one of the best action films of the 2010’s.

“John Wick” takes an unconventional approach to the action genre by combining Neo-Noir narrative with both Spaghetti Western and Hong Kong action aesthetics, making it a refreshing departure from “Taken” rip-offs. This is a movie where assassins are in a league with their own hotel and currency. While we don’t have all the answers to the questions about this world, “John Wick: Chapter 2” might have these answers.

There’s a darkly funny mythology behind Wick. Bouncers are afraid of him, a chop shop owner (John Leguizamo) and Viggo both slap Yusef for stealing his car, and a particular cleaner (David Patrick Kelly) is honored to cover up Wick’s killings. He’s clearly a forced to be reckoned with.

David Leitch and Chad Stahelski made their directorial debut with “John Wick,” having a background as stuntmen for Hollywood action movies. The duo brilliantly choreographs the film’s action sequences, and focus on the actors rather than the camera work. There isn’t a single sloppy shot to disguise the actor’s poor athleticism. Instead, all shots are smooth and clear, as we watch impressive stunt-work.

The best action sequence involves Wick pursuing Yusef through a night club and shooting several bad guys with great innovation. There’s some additional morbid humor when Wick uses one man’s beard as a grip and takes a moment to reload before executing another baddie. Backed by slick visuals and a kinetic soundtrack, this shootout is the highlight.

Reeves has a divided reception; audiences and critics have both praised and criticized him for his laidback acting style. His style suits him well in the titular role. Reeves has little dialogue, but his facial expressions and a particularly angry monologue show that Reeves is best as an action star.

If you want a good action movie that focuses on world building and honors actors’ stunt work, “John Wick” is one to watch. Let’s just hope “John Wick: Chapter 2” maintains the same positive attributes.

Grade: A-

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“Split”

Well, I can say I’m looking forward to whatever M. Night Shyamalan does next… For the first time since middle school.

“Split” opens with a mysterious man named Kevin (James McAvoy) abducting three teenagers, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and Marcia (Jessica Sula). They wake up in a mysterious basement and learn that Kevin has Dissociative Identity Disorder, possessing 23 personalities. Meanwhile, Kevin’s therapist (Betty Buckley) suspects Kevin of hiding something sinister.

Shyamalan has fallen on hard times between the polarizing “The Village,” self-indulgent “Lady in the Water,” plain stupid “The Happening,” and flops “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth.” I missed “The Visit,” but “Split” is a return to form.

Shyamalan has a few of his usual flaws, like the quirky side characters, exposition-fueled monologues, and overly intelligent kids, but he makes it work. The quirks tie to the characters’ back stories, the exposition is fascinating and authentic, and the intelligent kids defy the usual dumb horror kids.

Shyamalan goes down some dark paths, exploring trauma, sexual abuse, and even cannibalism, but none of it is done for shock value. This is a character study of Kevin and Casey. They are both victims and understand each other. Casey not only learns how to trick Kevin through his personalities, but she learns what makes him tick, tying to her past.

I was worried about “Split” because I thought it would be an insensitive stereotypical depiction of mental illness, but it’s surprisingly sensitive. Each personality is a guard for Kevin, but only three of Kevin’s personalities are villainous. The rest want to help him and we can’t help but root for Kevin at times.

McAvoy brings his A-game as Kevin, Dennis, Barry, Miss Patricia, Hedwig, and The Beast. I know it’s a January horror movie, but this is a performance that should be considered for awards. For an egomaniac director such as Shyamalan, this isn’t his movie at all. It’s McAvoy’s.

Plot twist? Oh, yes. But you’ll have to find out for yourself.

Grade: A-

Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2017

 

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Happy New Year! Did you have fun? Are you tired of countdowns? Well, bare with me because I have one. I’ve chosen my top 10 most anticipated Movies of 2017. Let the countdown begin!

10) Wonder Woman (in theaters 6/2) – The DC Cinematic Universe has been rather tame since Man of Steel was released in 2013. With Gal Gadot arguably being the strongest part of Batman vs. Superman, and a trailer demonstrating the titular character’s humanity and positive attributes, Wonder Woman has the potential of being the first great DC-CU movie.

9) Split (in theaters 1/20) – I never thought I’d say again that I’m excited for an M. Night Shymalan movie. The trailer for Split features some of M. Night’s flaws (overly intelligent kids, exposition-fueled dialogue), but in terms of direction and acting, Split looks like a bone-chiller. James McAvoy showed his sinister side in Trance and he appears to embrace it again with Split.

8) Power Rangers (in theaters 3/24) – This one’s on my list out of nostalgia. Plus being a sucker for superhero movies and John Hughes movies, Power Rangers looks like a solid combination of the two. Here’s to hoping it’s not just a generic origin movie.

7) The Lego Batman Movie (in theaters 2/10) – The Lego Movie was the biggest surprise of 2014, and Will Arnett’s satirical performance as Batman was one of my favorite parts. Two hours of Will Arnett as Batman, Zach Galifianakis as The Joker, and Michael Cera as Robin? I’m sold.

6) Star Wars: Episode VIII (in theaters 12/15) – If The Force Awakens followed A New Hope, then we can expect Episode VIII to be as dark and epic as Empire Strikes Back. With the underrated Rian Johnson (Looper) writing and directing, he can potentially satisfy the disappointed Force Awakens viewers.

5) Kingsman: the Golden Circle (in theaters 10/6) – For the first time, Matthew Vaughn isn’t flaking out on a sequel to his own movie! Kick-Ass 2 was watered down lackluster compared to his mayhem-fueled Kick-Ass, and X-Men: Days of Future Past wasn’t as imaginative as X-Men: First Class. Can The Golden Circle be as good as The Secret Service? With Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, and Julianne Moore cast, here’s to hoping!

4) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – The Guardians are back in what appears to be another visually arresting and hilarious space opera. Plus we get a little Tango and Cash reunion with Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone being cast in key roles? I’m in.

3) Dunkirk (in theaters 7/21) – I’ve been a fan of Christopher Nolan’s work since Batman Begins (the first film I saw of his), and Dunkirk looks like Nolan is branching out of his comfort zone. Instead of science or psychology, Nolan explores history. We have an ensemble cast, so we’ll see various perspectives in Dunkirk, giving us a potentially epic and powerful journey.

2) Alien: Covenant (in theaters 5/19) – Alien and Aliens both excited and terrified me simultaneously when I saw them as a kid. The red band trailer for Alien: Covenant gave me that same reaction. Besides the nostalgia, I’m happy to hear that all of Prometheus’s questions will be answered and Covenant will be a full transition into the Alien franchise.

1) Blade Runner: 2049 (in theaters 10/6) – Harrison Ford is rumored to be in Blade Runner: 2049 for a short amount of time, but that’s okay. Ryan Gosling is our new lead and his acting style suits the psychological and ambiguous tones of Blade Runner. Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners, Arrival) is now director and with his trademark cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men) and composer Johan Johansson, Blade Runner: 2049 will be a dark, artistic experience that suits our world.