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-

“The Neon Demon”

You know you’re watching a Nicolas Wending Refn when there’s a lot of pretentious metaphors that are both obvious and heavy handed. You know you’re watching a Nicolas Wending Refn movie when it’s beautiful and loaded with surreal imagery. You know you’re watching a Nicolas Wending Refn movie when it’s so screwed up and polarizing, you feel bad for loving it.”The Neon Demon” is all of the above!

Elle Fanning stars as Jesse, an underage model who befriends makeup artist Ruby (a terrifying Jena Malone) and enters the modeling scene. She quickly befriends Ruby and two other models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee) and also rises to the top of the fashion world. But at what cost?

“The Neon Demon” is part social commentary, part neo-noir, and part horror film (particularly psychological and body. While it’s overly fetishist, I walked out overwhelmingly intrigued by this psychotically entertaining movie. It’s arthouse meets grindhouse (like all of Refn’s movies) and it works.

Fanning’s Jesse  begins as the innocent young girl we see in several horror movies who discovers something evil. However, she doesn’t panic when exposed to terror and disturbing situations. She rather endorses it, biting the hand that feeds her. That’s more powerful than the formulaic horror movie.

Fanning delivers a mesmerizing performance as Jesse, and each line and stare is delivered brilliantly. Malone steals the show as Ruby, who acts as Jesse’s friend, then falls in love, and takes creepy stalker to a whole new level.

Speaking of creepy, Keanu Reeves appears as a wonderfully sleazy motel manager and he’s perfect in this role. He either needs to play more creepy characters or be in more Refn movies because he’s great in both.

Cliff Martinez’s music score matched with Refn’s signature neon colors creates fitting 80’s aesthetics, bringing out the model world’s sleaze. It also makes the horrific and disgusting sequences look beautiful (like the “Hannibal” series).

Why did I feel bad for loving this movie? There’s some crazy, disgusting sequences I never want to see again. This involves cannibalism and something kinky with a corpse that made me go, “WTF?” Much like the violence in Refn’s tasteless “Only God Forgives,” these sequences seem like a practice of fetishism. Luckily these are quick sequences and more restrained than “Only God Forgives.”

People are going to hate “The Neon Demon.” I can’t recommend it to anyone who likes movies, but for those who enjoy film analysis, horror films, and gorgeous imagery, this might be up your alley.

Grade: A-

“Knock, Knock”

Eli Roth must have learned the meaning of the word “restraint” in between making the horrendous “Green Inferno” and the surprisingly entertaining “Knock, Knock”. I wasn’t bored once in this ridiculous ride.

“Knock, Knock” is an erotic thriller combined with a home invasion movie, starring Keanu Reeves as Evan. Evan is a likable and handsome family man who’s left alone for a weekend to work on his architecture project while his family is away at the beach. Evan soon meets two young damsels-in-distress named Genesis (Lorenza Izzo, Roth’s wife, who was also in this year’s “Green Inferno”) and Bel (Ana de Armas) who show up asking to use his phone. Evan quickly regrets being polite after they seduce him into a threesome and won’t leave.

Roth trades in his gore and juvenile humor trademarks for mind games and dark humor, proving he has some range. The mayhem doesn’t occur until the 50-minute mark, but even prior to that, “Knock, Knock” is still a surprisingly tense movie in the first half. We get to know Evan and both femme fatales in the first half, seeing that Evan is clearly putting on the nice guy act and misses his youthful days. Genesis and Bel see this in Evan and use it against him from the beginning.

SPOILER ALERT

Genesis and Bel are very innovative and twisted in screwing with Evan’s life and do the following – vandalize Evan’s home, smash his wife’s sculptures before her exhibit, trick him into thinking he’s a pedophile, steal his dog(the dog lives, FYI), and post a recorded sex tape between him and Bel on his Facebook.

All of this above gives the movie a dark comedy vibe in its execution, but the acting and dialogue give it an unintentionally slapstick tone. Reeves is on par with one of Nicolas Cage’s sillier performances here and yelling lines like, “DON’T DO IT, THEY’RE CRAZY,” and “YOU SUCKED MY ****! IT WAS LIKE FREE PIZZA,” earn unwanted laughs.

Roth still has a bad habit of writing homage scenes that come off like a hack job, including one very obvious homage to “Fight Club”. But I can forgive Roth’s absurdity due to his restraint and craftmanship with “Knock, Knock”. It’s definitely a well-made guilty pleasure.

Grade: B-