FlixChatter Review: John Wick

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‘Don’t judge a movie by its trailers,’ That’s a saying I often live by, for better or for worse. But in the case of John Wick‘s trailer, which was groan and eye roll-inducing the first time I saw it, I’m glad I ignored my first instinct and saw it anyway.

The movie is as lean as its protagonist, the eternally-youthful 50-year-old man that is Keanu Reeves. It’s lean in running time (1 hr 36 min), dialog, as well as plot. The movie keeps things simple and doesn’t try to be anything else but a stylized revenge thriller. All you need to know is that John Wick is a former mob hit man who re-emerges after 5-year retirement when some dumb punks break into his house and kill his dog given by his late wife.

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The swift exposition reveals that those punks are actually the son of his former employer, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist). John Leguizamo‘s great in his brief scene as Aureilo, a car shop owner frequented by the thugs who’s also friends with Wick.

Viggo: Why did you strike my son?
Aureilo: He stole John Wick’s car and killed his dog.
Viggo: Oh.

The over-the-top way the movie tells us the protagonist is entertaining and hilarious. The filmmakers – former stunt professionals David Leitch and Chad Stahelski – are in on the joke and they’re smart enough NOT to take things too seriously for this type of action flicks. I read a review from a top critic that says action flick is about movement and given the stunts background of the filmmaker, they certainly subscribe to that adage. I remember critics described the stylized action of Zack Snyder’s 300 as the ballet of death. Here we’ve got the bullet ballet of Gun Fu, which is a martial-arts fighting in close-quarters with firearms that’s common in Hong Kong action cinema. It reminds me of John Woo’s style, but without the doves. Though the style is not exactly groundbreaking, it somehow still feels fresh and a heck of a lot of fun!

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People keep asking me if I’m back…. yeah I’m thinking I’m back

One of the secret ingredients of this movie is no doubt its leading man. Say what you will about Keanu Reeves but he’s got screen charisma. And not only that, he can effortlessly earn our sympathy, which is essential in any revenge fantasy. John Wick may be ruthless, but he’s not heartless and that layer of vulnerability is what Keanu often brings to even his most action-packed roles. His brooding, taciturn and trademark stoic mode is put to good use, as well as his physical prowess in pulling off those action stunts. I’ve always liked Keanu and I really don’t think he’s ever *left* even with the recent big flop of 47 Ronin. All the supporting cast like Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane did a good job despite not having much to do. The two that stood out to me were Lance Reddick in his brief appearance as the hotel manager frequented by hitmen, and Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist who actually makes for a memorable villain this time around. He’s so lame in Mission Impossible 4, but here he displays a genuine sinister side with a sarcastic sense of humor. I also like the fact that Viggo is kind of a reluctant bad guy, he doesn’t really want to fight Wick but he knows he has to. The only character I don’t care for is Adrianne Palicki‘s Mrs. Perkins which is totally unnecessary. It’s as if the filmmakers just want to have a femme-fatale character in here thrown for good measure.

JohnWick_Still4In case you can’t tell already from my review, yes I enjoyed this movie! Armed with gorgeous cinematography by Jonathan Sela, Tyler Bates‘ dynamic soundtrack (who did a great job scoring 300 as well), and bad-ass & kinetic action set pieces, I’m glad I saw this one on the big screen. The action stuff looks gritty and actually fun to watch, sans the dizzying quick cuts or extreme slo-mo that plague most action movies these days. It’d look great in IMAX too I bet, though seeing all those exploding heads and limbs getting stabbed in such a huge screen would’ve been too much for me. Given how violent it is though, the movie is actually not that gory. The gunfights are done in quick succession and there’s no lingering open wounds that make your stomach churn. Still, the scene after scene of carnage does make me wince at times, but hey, it comes with the territory.

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This movie should please action fans with its unabashed love for thrilling, preposterous action and no-nonsense storyline. Again, it doesn’t try to be deep or philosophical, the protagonist just wants to get back to those who wronged him. Pure and simple, the only moral of the story is, ‘don’t mess with John Wick!’ The ending is ripe for a sequel and you know what, I wouldn’t mind seeing it if Leitch/Chad Stahelski and Keanu are involved.

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Have you seen this? Well, what did you think?

Weekend Roundup & Europa Report review

It’s a pretty uneventful weekend after a busy one of last. Hubby and I opted for home cinema as I’ve already seen two of this weekend’s new releases: The Monuments Men and The LEGO movie. Click on the title to read my review of it, I actually agree with the critics on both films. It’s no wonder the latter is a big hit at the box office with nearly $70 mil, there’s really no competition for  a family movie and it’s an awesome one for all ages!

I did see two very good older films I’ve missed out on: Europa Report and Pirate Radio [review coming next week]. I saw the latter partly as my attempt to see as many films of Philip Seymour Hoffman that I’ve missed out on. It can’t be more different in terms of tone and subject matter but I quite like both in varying degrees. Here’s my review of …

EUROPA REPORT

An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon called Europa.

EuropaReportPosterThis is not an action-packed kind of sci-fi movie like Elysium, so if you’re expecting that you’re probably not going to like this movie. It does start pretty slow but I quite like the realism style of filmmaking here, making it look more like a documentary that makes it look as if we’re watching real NASA footage. CEO of Europa Ventures Dr. Unger (Embeth Davitz) serves as a *talking head* of sort, explaining what happened with what’s happened in the Europa mission. The narrative switches back and forth between current time and flashback of the team of six astronauts who’re privately funded to explore one of Jupiter’s moons to see if there’s any potential sources of life.

The date on the screen shows that the crew has been on that ship for a long time, as weeks turns to months and even year. It’s fascinating to see the mood shift from the earlier time of the mission to the increasingly-dire time of their last days. There are barely any movie stars on this film, in fact there’s practically no leading role here as the ensemble cast seem to get equal screen time. I’ve loved Sharlto Copley from District-9, and there’s also Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist from the original Dragon Tattoo trilogy, plus Davitz who impressed me in Junebug and Mansfield Park. Those three are the only names I recognized in the film, but they as well as the entire International cast (Daniel Wu, Anamaria Marinca, Christian Camargo, and Karolina Wydra), did a nice job here.

There’s genuine tension throughout, which continues building as the ship lands somewhere and the crew start collecting Europa samples. One by one, each crew member is dealt a nasty blow, and the whole sequence felt all too real. In fact, one of the scenario of two space engineers Copley and Nyqvist, doing repair to the ship look so similar to an early scene in Gravity. This is definitely one of the most suspenseful and heart-wrenching scenes to watch, beautifully-acted by both actors. Props to director Sebastián Cordero for his effort considering this is only his fifth feature film.

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Now, I’d have given this film a higher score if it weren’t for the rather clichéd ending that kind of make me roll my eyes. I was expecting something a bit more um, intelligent and realistic as that’s what the build-up seems to suggest. [SPOILER ALERT – highlight text if you want to read] I think if they’d go with some kind of natural gas/chemical substance that’s native to Europa but toxic to mankind and would also disrupt the ship’s electrical system, it’d have given the story a bit more weight. The whole ALIEN killing machine has been done to death and it makes the finale less impactful somehow.

My hubby said that as if the filmmakers were running out of ideas to end the film and just threw something together at the last minute. It’s a bummer as I think a bit more originality would’ve made this an excellent slow-burn sci-fi thriller. Still, it’s got enough going for it for me to recommend it if you’re a fan of the genre. I appreciate the performances and that it’s made in the true spirit of the sci-fi genre (see Conor’s article on this topic). The production values and effects are pretty good as well for its low budget of $10 mil.

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3 out of 5 reels


What did YOU see this weekend? Any thoughts on Europa Report?