John Wick, Chapter 2

We ventured out to see *John Wick, Chapter 2* this past Thursday, a testosterone-fueled affair where all but two of the principals are males.  The first is the target of a hit, and she demonstrates her defiance by stripping naked for the protagonist and jumping in a tub.  The second is a mute who is pretty masculine in her own right, with cropped hair and a conventional men’s suit.  She’s also tatted up.   What is going on with her is not exactly clear. The love interest is actually just a picture of his former love interest (who must have died in the previous movie?) and probably doesn’t count as a character, unless you need at least three females in the film to get it green-lighted in Hollywood these days.

Not that I was expecting it, but not a real feminine touch here.

The real love interest, it turns out, is John Wick’s dog, who behaves a lot like a woman typically behaves in these affairs — follows the hero around and focuses its attention solely on the hero (in this case literally sitting at attention until it is told it can do otherwise). The dog doesn’t have a name, either, which is both mildly comedic and instructive.

What the movie lacks in women, it makes up for in action, and in spots the action is brilliant.  The initial chase scene contains several moments where L&D (and our special guest, A) jumped out of our seats or covered our faces or shouted “OH!” and generally reacted in ways men react when they see another man take a direct and unexpected shot to the nutuals.  This is John Wick at its best.  The film also featured dozens of shots where the victim’s brain and skull spatter out the back of the head.  For example, Mr. Wick might angle the gun below a victim and the bullet would come out the back of the victim’s head, along with residual brain and skull, sort of like seeing the silhouette of water out of a fountain.

In fairness, most of the victims had it coming.

Speaking of fountains, I also liked the scene where hero and one of the villains were shooting at each other blindly through the fountain.   Why they were being so coy in the station a minute earlier and then start blindly shooting at each other out in the open is an unanswerable question, and if you see the film, you will not be able to answer it, either.

This is pure, live-action comic book.   Which, I gather, is pure live-action first-person gaming these days.  If you like watching people play first-person shooter video games, this is the movie for you.

But for the rest of us, even low expectations going in wasn’t enough to save it.  This movie has no heart.  The story isn’t interesting.  The characters aren’t interesting.  The great Ian McShane gets to play a priggish bore, like Teddy Bass running his own retirement community or a modern-day Al Swearengen who doesn’t allow swearing within his club. The only grasp at sex appeal in the entire affair is immediately supplanted with noirish bloodletting.

And even the villain isn’t that villainous,  at least not in a way that inspires true audience animus or awe. Aren’t great action movies as much about the villain as the hero?  Darth Vader, the Joker, Hans Gruber, Sam Gerard.  That’s probably as much of a deal breaker as anything.

Heart and a good Villain.  We will return to these themes in future posts, I’m certain.

As for the verdict:   For me, the movie was saved by low expectations and I got my $5 worth.

It passes the time.

It shocks.

It awes.

And then, like it never happened, I go home and forget all about it.

Unfortunately, my colleague was expecting more and was sorely, sorely disappointed.   So, plan accordingly.

Collide

There are many, many things colliding in the new Hollywood mashup Collide, coming soon to video near you.

The movie is set in Germany of all places, following the trajectory of Casey Stein, a reasonably good-looking American ex-pat with really big blue eyes (Nicholas Hoult).  Casey is involved in some illicit activities, acting as the pickup boy for the the underworld boss, Gerun (played by Ben Kingsley). At first glance, Kingsley seems  to be reprising his role as the bumptious bald guy from Sexy Beast, only with a different accent and a gaudier wardrobe, something along the lines of “Evil Bono” (ht: L). In this case, however, Kingsley is less worried about recruiting henchmen than he is about getting a fair cut from his boss, the trucking magnate Englishman thugmeister, Anthony Hopkins (played by Anthony Hopkins).  The uneasy tension sets the stage for a mutinous collision, of course.

Meanwhile, Casey has his eye on the good-looking American ex-pat bartender, Juliette (Felicity Jones), who doesn’t approve of his profession.  So, head-over-heels in love, Casey goes straight and starts working as a salt-of-the-earth guy in one of the many jobs available to Americans in European metal scrapyards, while the couple do the efficient German thing and fall in love over the course of a couple minute montage.  But, alas, their booze-fueled affair hits an icy patch, and the couple find themselves in the need of a very quick cash infusion, setting Romeo back to the underworld for that one last big chivalrous score. The cliches come Fast & Furious, and what ensues is the aforementioned gangster-heist-car chase-action hero mashup, with cars traveling at blistering speeds down the autobahn and things crashing and blowing up here and thar, leading to the climatic collision between the principals.  I’m guessing you can guess what happens from here.

One change from this standard formula is that Hopkins’ henchmen all have dark hair and steely blue eyes, sport monochromatic clothing, and excitedly shout things out in German during some heated moments, adding (probably inadvertent) comic effect to the extended manhunt. (It is possible these henchmen are all played by the same actor, with a beard tacked on at times to mix things up; the credits for actors was much shorter than the list of stuntmen).

Some of the sequences are done really well and, coupled with Hopkins in a fabulous light-blue suit and Kingsley parading around in high-end pajamas, hopped up on gop, it makes for a rather enjoyable, at times laugh-out-loud funny, 90 minutes or so.

I can think of worse ways to spend my $5, but I’m not so sure I’d spend too much more than that on this film.

Gold

Gold-Matthew-McConaughey

Gold is the third straight movie we’ve seen that focuses exclusively on a single character obsessed with conquering his world (see also *Live by Night* and *The Founder*). In this case the character is our main man, Matthew McConaughey, as a mineral prospector whose Nevada ‘plays’ have come to an end by the late 1980s, so he sets his sights to his dreams about the vast untapped wealth of rural Indonesia. From that point, the movie splits its time between the lushness of the jungle in one part of the world, to the arid semi-mountainous climes of Nevada in another, to the concrete jungle that is Wall Street that bankrolls the whole affair.

Actually, that is not quite right.  There are two candidates for main character, which the viewer has to sort out on their own.  The first candidate, of course, is McConnaughey as Kenny — a rambling guy with a protruding gut, a spectacularly receding hairline, and a tooth issue that I can’t quite put my finger on, who is often seen sporting tighty whities that are neither tight nor white. There are very few if any scenes where Kenny isn’t the focal point, and he is mostly fun to watch.  Big props to him for looking pretty much like a fat guy on a bender  from wire to wire in this one. The other main character is Edgar Ramirez as the gold whisperer, Michael Acosta, who gets to play the sharp-dressed man here, and is beautiful doing so.  I still can’t decide if he nailed it with his performance or if he kind of sucked. I’m leaning toward nailed it, with the suckiness coming more from some unevenness of the plot and pacing and incidentals.

Continue reading “Gold”

REVIEW: Live By Night

The L&D Report made its first trip of the year Thursday to see Ben Affleck’s new vanity project, *Live By Night*. Affleck plays the Boston Irish war hero cum petty thug cum Prohibition-era gangster hellbent on revenge (but with a heart of gold!). With a run time of just under four and a half hours, this sprawling epic is all over the map more than anything we’ve seen since Ibn Battuta. The plot itself is neither interesting nor surprising (though admittedly I was surprised it didn’t end sooner) and hardly worth recounting.

There were a few aspects where the movie excelled. There were some great long shots of Florida drives, some reasonably cool costumes (that generally made Ben Affleck look super good), and a really extraordinary car chase that had me seriously amped. There were also several supporting actor roles that were well played, including Brendan Gleeson as the police chief dad in mourning, Chris Messina as Affleck’s colorful Florida sidekick, and Titus Welliver as the grape-brained racist killer dude with this lip deformity thing.

Even so, most of the characters were caricatures or worse. The usually reliable Chris Cooper at one point breaks down crying, and it isn’t clear if it’s part of the story line or whether he can’t believe he’s stuck in that role. It doesn’t get any better for Cooper and he ends the movie in a completely debased and degraded state, which is I’m guessing how most audiences will feel walking out of the theater.

Let’s just say that this movie definitely didn’t hit the $5 value bar, and L&D Reporters will not be catching this when it is rerun on TNT, which will probably be coming sooner than you might think.