FlixChatter Review- JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM (2019)

Parabellum is Latin for “prepare for war” and is often used within the context of the phrase Si vis pacem, para bellum, meaning “If you want peace, prepare for war.” (per Wiki). This title is absolutely spot-on for John Wick 3, which picked up exactly as the second movie left off. Our titular hero who’s beaten and bloodied is on the run, literally. There’s a lot of running in this movie… running in the rain, in the streets of Manhattan, dark alleyway, fluorescent-lit building with glass walls allover, you name it… John is either running or fighting.

Mr. Wick (Keanu Reeves) has less than one hour until he’s declared excommunicado by The High Table, a shadowy council of high-level crime lords, a society of well-dressed, lethal assassins. The reason for his persona non grata happened in John Wick 2, when John broke the rule of conducting deadly business on The Continental grounds, which is supposed to be a safe haven for assassins. With $14 million contract bounty on his head, naturally ALL of the world’s most dangerous criminals are on to him. Yes, initially John was all about avenging his dead puppy (given by his beloved late wife), but the previous film has shown us a bit about his backstory and his connection to this mysterious underworld society. Screenwriter Derek Kolstad and his team of four writers has crafted something quite intriguing with the High Table concept, but in the final chapter, there’s no time to delve deeper into this underworld as the focus is on action, action, and more action.

Director Chad Stahelski, a former-stunt-guy-turned-filmmaker (who used to double for Keanu himself) clearly loves action and all forms of martial arts. He relished in basically giving action fans all kinds of fight sequences imaginable. By now he’s specialized in hyper-kinetic action as a form of storytelling. There’s barely any pause in between gun-fu shoot-em-up and another well-choreographed fight sequence with swords, knife, basically anything John could find. Man, even a book is proven to be lethal in the hand of Mr. Wick! The movie is obsessed with the ballet-of-death and there’s even an actual ballet dancing in it. As an Indonesian, I have to say I was quite giddy when two Indo actors (Pencak Silat experts from the equally-violent actioner The Raid) get to fight John Wick and even uttering some lines in Bahasa.

To make life even more complicated for Wick, the High Table sent The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to declare severe verdicts to anyone who helps him. Wick’s perilous adventure takes him from Manhattan to Morocco where he goes to collect his debt from Sofia (Halle Berry), a former assassin who’s pretty much Wick’s equal. Hey she even have a pair of killer dogs she loves like her own children, definitely John Wick’s kind of woman. Debt collection is a running theme in this movie, in line with the classic themes of loyalty and allegiance that’s common in this genre. Angelica Huston has a brief but intriguing moment as a high-ranking member of the High Table that Wick encountered.

Now, John Wick is definitely made for people who love action movies, specifically the fantastical action flick in the vein of Mission Impossible, James Bond, Fast & Furious, etc. It’s an action franchise where absurdity is the norm given the sheer invincibility of the hero. It’s fitting that the trailer song is Andy Williams’ The Impossible Dream, its lyrics say ‘To fight the unbeatable foe… To bear with unbearable sorrow.‘ All the ridiculous and over-the-top action sequences are expected demanded by fans, and Stahelski & Reeves obviously knew this. They upped the ante by raising the stakes so high that blows the limit of credulity out of the water. I find myself laughing and shaking my head a lot during the craziest action scenes. The ultra-stylized action gets so overblown it’s cartoonish, but THAT is precisely the appeal of John Wick movies. The horse chase through Manhattan traffic scene in particular was a lot of fun to watch because it is absurd. I have to say though, some of the action scenes, no matter how amazingly-choreographed they are, would get repetitive. My mind glossed over quite a bit during many of the brutal, no-holds-barred fight scenes, even as I heard a lot of moviegoers wincing loudly as Wick viciously goes through one opponent after another.

Visually speaking, the movie is stunning. Danish DP Dan Laustsen created a vivid, luminous cinematography with extended long takes on the fight sequences where you can practically see every movement. That glass set towards the end is particularly beautiful to look at, which of course becomes a ‘house of pain’ for Wick as he literally crashes into one glass structure after another. Mark Dacascos proves to be one of Wick’s toughest foe in the final battle, but he provides some comic relief as well. The dynamic score by Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard (who also scored the previous films) perfectly punctuates all the action.

Gif courtesy of range365.com

In a hyper-stylized movie that prioritizes adrenaline-pumping action above everything else, there’s no room for narratives nor logic. There are so many inconsistencies in the way the High Table or The Continental is supposed to be run. Obviously the filmmakers care so much more about perfecting their action sequences than exploring the film’s own ‘mythology.’ After all of that world-building it did in the second film, I can’t help thinking that it’s a missed opportunity not to explore those further. Wick’s Russian backstory is merely hinted at and uttered in passing as if it hardly mattered. We’re constantly shown what John Wick can do, instead of who he really is and what truly drives him. Just as Wick’s opponents often get hit over the head with things, I feel like the filmmakers are hitting the audience over the head with Wick’s fighting skills. There’s only so many ways one can kill another person before we get numbed by the deafening gunfire or knife slashing sound.

That said, it’s still a fun experience to see Keanu Reeves in his element, doing what he does best. I’m always glad to see familiar faces from the previous films – Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick, the loyal concierge who finally got in on some of the action, but this movie truly belongs to Reeve from start to finish. It’s interesting that the most peaceful actor (whose known for his benevolence and humility) makes the most mercilessly-violent movies. But he’s become an action legend as this suffering hero, a role he’s clearly born to play. The super-fit 50-something star doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, and neither does this franchise.


So, what do you think of JOHN WICK franchise? If you’ve seen JOHN WICK 3, let me know what YOU think!

Music Break: Top 10 Favorite Film Scores of 2014

Top10FaveFilmScores2014I’m so behind on my year-end top ten lists, but hey, I think January is still a great time for those lists right? 😉 I was listening to NPR two nights ago and caught host Robert Siegel interviewing composer Thomas Newman (The Shawshank Redemption, The Road To Perdition, Wall•E, etc.) and naturally I started thinking about some of my favorite scores from 2014.

Well, there are a few that I know would make my list, but it was pretty challenging to settle on the last three or four of them. If you’ve been keeping up with my Music Break posts, you might not be surprised by some of my picks here. Now, for this list, I’m focusing on instrumental film scores instead of songs. Thus you won’t see soundtracks of The Guardians of The Galaxy for example, though I think that’s awesome! I will cover the Top 10 Songs in a separate post.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

1. Belle – Rachel Portman

For some reason I had never paid attention to Rachel Portman‘s work before, though she had quite a stellar resume scoring for Emma (that won her an Oscar), Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, Never Let Me Go, etc. I absolutely adore her lush and elegant score she did for Belle and it just suits the tone of the film so well. I’ve listened to the entire soundtrack and loved every second! If you read my review, you know how much I adore this film and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s portrayal of Dido Elizabeth Belle. Portman’s music somehow captures Belle’s emotional journey as well as the romantic side of her relationship with John Davinier.

2. Breathe In – Dustin O’Halloran

After I saw this film, I was inspired to do a list of memorable piano moments on film, but I haven’t posted the score from the film. I’m not familiar with composer/pianist Dustin O’Halloran at all, but after this one, I definitely will keep an eye (and ear) out for him. There’s a bit of Philip Glass’ influence in his work here, and sure enough, when I checked on his Wiki page, he’s influenced by Glass as well as another favorite composer of mine, Ennio Morricone. I grew up listening to piano music as my mother’s a huge fan of French pianist Richard Clayderman. There’s something so ethereal about this score that makes me swoon. The film is atmospheric and intimate, and this music complements that tone beautifully.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Henry Jackman

One of my favorite Marvel superhero movies also have one of my fave soundtracks ever. Henry Jackman should just score every Marvel movie as I LOVE LOVE his X-Men: First Class soundtrack. I thought that Alan Silvestri’s fantastic job for the first Captain America film was hard to top, yet I think Jackman managed to do an equally phenomenal work here. The first one had a strong retro vibe with unabashed patriotism that’s fun and infectious. This one the nationalistic sensibilities is toned down a bit, but the score is still dynamic but a little darker and more ominous. It’s as if the music reflects Captain’s more conflicted moral sense as he navigates the more complex and intricate world he’s suddenly thrown into.

4. Gone Girl – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

I’m not always fond of electronic music but there’s something so hypnotic about the somber sound of Gone Girl’s score. It’s as beautiful as Amy Dunne, but just as unsettling. This Technically, Missing track is perhaps my favorite of the entire album. It’s spine-tingling yet lush, melodious yet haunting, exactly how you’d feel about this story. Every time the repetitive three notes are played, it always takes me back to that big sprawling house where the doomed couple descend into madness. This is Reznor/Ross’ third collaboration with David Fincher and they seem to be even more adept at capturing the psychology of his work.

5. Grand Budapest Hotel Alexandre Desplat

I first heard of the Desplat when he worked on The King’s Speech back in 2011, and ever since then I’ve become a big fan of this prolific and brilliant composer. I LOVE the more classical-tinged style of his work like The Painted Veil or Tree of Life, but I can’t help being entertained by the playfulness of this score. Just like the film, it’s just so quirky and whimsical and it definitely has a strong eastern-European sound. Desplat incorporates Russian folk songs and pieces and some were performed by the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra.

6. How To Train Your Dragon 2 – John Powell

I LOVE John Powell‘s work for this animated feature. I actually love the score for the first film more, but the score of the sequel is equally excellent. I have featured the soaring Beyond the Clouds track before in a Music Break post back in June. Now this one is just simply a lush track including the sweet choir sound that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. It’s truly an amazing and inspiring work that I love listening to time and time again.

7. The Imitation Game – Alexandre Desplat

It’s incredible how different this score is from The Grand Budapest Hotel, and this one sounds more like something I’d expect from Desplat. I love classical music and there’s definitely a lot of classical influence in his work. This particular score somehow captures that enigmatic and mysterious quality of the subject matter that is Alan Turing. It also has a tinge of sadness that really hits you in the gut as you listen to it. The repetitive quality somehow makes me think of the Turing Machine and its mechanical process. It’s amazing that according to IMDb, Desplat only had three weeks to score this film, and that’s that’s three weeks from signing on to finishing the last recording session! He said he had the same amount of time to score The Queen, too. Wow, they certainly got a genius to score a film about a genius.

8. Interstellar – Hans Zimmer

Speaking of a genius, is there anything Mr. Zimmer can’t do? Seems that no matter what genre, Zimmer somehow could create a music that complement the subject matter. Now, I’ve mentioned in my Interstellar review that I didn’t like how overpowering the music was when it’s played over scenes with dialog. But when I listened to it afterwards, I fell in love with it. Now that I think about it, I think I love the soundtrack much more than the film. It’s like a love letter to space exploration in musical term. It somehow captures the more grounded familial love theme of the story, as well as the grandiose cosmological journey that the characters – and us the viewers – experience. The entire soundtrack is phenomenal, but I like the slower, more introspective music than the more intense versions like the one used in the docking scene.

9. John Wick – Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard

Yet another electronic style music I’m loving from this year. This soundtrack, and this track in particular, has become a staple during my workout routine. It always adds a dose of adrenaline rush whenever I’m not feeling that motivated to get on the elliptical machine. There’s a retro vibe to this soundtrack that adds to the cool factor. It’s one of those pulsating soundtracks that a DJ could spin in a dance club, as John Wick himself performed lots of his dance of death in nightclubs or discotheques.

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10. Maleficent – James Newton Howard

In keeping with the darker, more mature story of Sleeping Beauty’s villain, gone are the chirpy and dreamy-like music of the original. Once Upon A Dream is one of my all time favorite Disney songs, and Lana Del Rey’s rendition will surely end up in my favorite 2014 songs list. Now, the score itself still retains that magical/fairy-tale quality with the composer commanding a large orchestra with a full choir. It’s lush and playful at times but not too Disney-fied the way say, Frozen was. This Maleficent Flies score, complete with the fairy dust sound effects, is just so ethereal and gorgeous. It’s easily my favorite and the one I remember most from the film.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Michael Giacchino

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Howard Shore

Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I – James Newton Howard

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So what do you think of my picks of favorite 2014 scores? Feel free to share your own favorites!

Everybody’s Chattin’ and Music Break: John Wick Soundtrack

HAPPY [almost] FRIDAY!! I’m gonna combine this month’s Chattin’ post with Music Break as I missed it the past couple of weeks. I’m getting a bit of a blog fatigue lately and I’m behind on a bunch of reviews, so I might do more mini reviews in the next few weeks. I also have two fantastic guest posts from my pals Jack Deth & Daveackackattack on David Mamet and great TV recommendations, so stay tuned!

Well, since Interstellar opens this weekend, I most likely will go see that on Saturday. It’s nearly 3 hrs long, so I don’t feel like seeing it after dinner or I’ll doze off before the first half is over.

So here are what blogger’s been chattin’ about this past week:

Michael eloquently talks about his love for film photography which is increasingly become a lost art today.

OnlyLoversLeftAliveImgI can’t believe I still haven’t seen Only Lovers Left Alive, especially after such a glowing review from Mark , but fortunately I have seen Fight Club, and another Mark, as in Mark Walker illustrates why it’s definitely one of Fincher’s finest

Margaret reviewed Begin Again, which sounds lovely and I can see why she’s crushing on Mark Ruffalo 😉

Stu just caught up on The Act of Killing and I’m glad he appreciated that documentary despite not being the easiest film to watch

Drew on the other hand, is lamenting on how boring and pointless The Rover was, I had no idea Joel Edgerton wrote it!

PrinceSwitching gear to a music post, check out what makes Chris‘ list of Top 10 Songs by Prince 

Lots of new trailers are released this week, check out what you’ve missed on Terrence‘s Trailer Time Thursday

Now this is a list I can get behind… Tom lists 10 actors he avoids in pretty much anything. Wow, I agree with ALL of them, though I still don’t mind Timberlake in a small supporting role

Last but not least, Dan and Ryan have already set their minds on 2015 Blindspot lists, and they’re asking your help to choose 12 movies that you believe they must watch next year

 


Now time for some awesome music …

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… and John Wick’s puppy, cutest movie dog you’ll see this year!

A lot of you already know I love the movie but one of the things I love about it is this cool and dynamic score from Tyler Bates and Joel Richard. It fits the mood and tone so perfectly and it’ll make for an awesome dance party soundtrack! I can’t help tapping my feet and groovin’ to the beat as I’m listening to it. Screencrush said in their John Wick review that Keanu Reeves is “…the kind of star who is still partying like it’s the mid-to-late ’90s, and that’s totally more than okay…” Y’know what, the music certainly has a 90s vibe to it to match the 90s-style action sequences of shooting guns mid air and the likes.

My fave track is the Shots Fired one at the club scene, followed by Red Circle and a slower one about Willem Dafoe’s character, Old Friend Marcus.




Well have a great Friday, everyone! What are you gonna see this weekend?

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?