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?

FlixChatter Review: The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

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I read The Fault in Our Stars and absolutely adored it. You can read my full review here! The dialogue was witty, sharp and fun and the characters were well developed. I’m also a huge fan of the television show “Friends.” Each friend lends a different perspective and balances each other out. Without all six friends, the show wouldn’t work. After digesting the novel in one sitting, this is precisely how I felt about each character. So, when I discovered TFIOS was destined for the big screen, I’ll admit I had my reservations. With that said, the film happily exceeded my expectations. 

Forget what you might’ve heard, but this is not a film about cancer. It’s about relationships; more specifically, two teenagers who experience real love for the first time. Cancer just happens to be their particular obstacle. Fun fact, the title is actually borrowed from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar:” 

“Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is battling Stage IV thyroid cancer, forcing her to wear a nasal cannula and carry an oxygen tank. Augustus (Gus) Waters (Ansel Elgort) has osteosarcoma (bone cancer) which caused him to lose part of his leg. The two meet in a cancer support group and they bond over ‘An Imperial Affliction,’ which just so happens to be a novel about a woman dealing with cancer.

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For being so young, their relationship is so mature yet innocent at the same time.  

Both Woodley and Elgort were believable as romantic interests, and, in my opinion, captured the sarcastic and clever nature of their respective characters. More importantly, not only did they portray the fear of living with cancer as teenagers, but also showed they are more than just their cancer. Even with death close on their heels, they demonstrated compassion and wisdom beyond their years. Woodley and Elgort perfected the boldness and insecurities of their characters. 

Woodley and Elgort actually appeared in another blockbuster YA film adaptation as brother and sister in Divergent! Admittedly, Elgort’s role was somewhat forgettable. However, to be fair, he isn’t integral to the plot of the first story; whereas, I was blown away by my introduction to Woodley. I can pleasantly say Elgort’s performance in TFIOS will not be so readily forgotten. He was gentle, sweet, caring, and was surprisingly confident for one so young. 

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There was one character I was particularly looking forward to seeing encapsulated on-screen. Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe) is the author of ‘An Imperial Affliction,’ but abruptly ended his novel in an unorthodox manner. Questions on what happens to the characters have plagued Hazel, and now Gus. Even though his novel was a vast success, Van Houten became a recluse and moved to Amsterdam. Needless to say, Van Houten is a quirky, bitter and cantankerous character, who also happens to be an alcoholic. I purposely avoided watching too many trailers and monitoring casting, as I wanted to be, for the most part, uninformed. So, I won’t spoil the surprise for you. I will say I loved the casting choice, and I think you will too. After seeing the film, I don’t think there was anyone else who could’ve pulled this character off (without being too showy or typecast).  

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Also, I was relieved to see a majority of the novel remained the tone and plot remained intact. There were a few tweaks and edited scenes I would like to have seen fully, but as a whole it really works. Director Josh Boone (Stuck in Love) has created an accurate, beautiful and humorous interpretation of a most beloved novel. I think in large, this is due to the fact author John Green was consulted and marginally involved with the production. Nevertheless, he has given his stamp of approval.

I highly recommend seeing this film; although, be prepared for an emotional roller-coaster. If crying in a dark movie theatre surrounded by strangers doesn’t appeal to you, then maybe save this one for the privacy of your own home. However, if you are bold enough, go see this film! It’ll make you laugh, cry and swoon all at the same time. 

4.5 out of 5 reels


PostByAshley


What do you think of The Fault in Our Stars? 

FlixChatter Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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I came to appreciate Wes Anderson‘s films through his third feature film The Royal Tennenbaum a few years after its release in 2001. I enjoyed it but I didn’t immediately become a fan right away, his movies are definitely an acquired taste. Since then I have only seen three more from his work, The Darjeeling Limited, The Fantastic Mr Fox and Moonrise Kingdom. I never really quite anticipate Wes’ movies until this one though right from the first time I heard about the premise. I was hooked not only because of the usual stellar cast, but the story just sounds like a joyful romp.

The film centers on the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. I’ve always loved stories about unlikely friendship, and it couldn’t be more unlikely than Gustave and Zero, played brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes and newcomer Guatemalan actor Tony Revolori. When you see a Wes Anderson’s movie, you’re invited to an eccentric world where everything is symmetrical and painted in a retro-looking, highly-saturated color palette. It’s within this meticulously-stylized macrocosm that he set kooky scenarios of his equally quirky characters. The film was set in an old hotel in Görlitz [on the Germany-Poland border] and there’s a whimsical cartoon quality about it despite being a live-action film. Apparently Wes did complete the animated version before he started filming this, according to this article.

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It’s a story within a story, starting with an author (Tom Wilkinson) recounting his memoir based on his encounter at the Grand Budapest Hotel, located in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka in Central Europe. We then see the author as a young writer (Jude Law) staying at the hotel and ended up having dinner with the mysterious hotel’s owner Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham). The movie takes place primarily in flashback mode in the early 30s, as Zero recounts the adventure he had thirty years earlier with the renowned Monsieur Gustave (Fiennes). Gustave ran the hotel almost with an iron-like precision, who’s apparently known for wooing the older ladies who frequent the hotel. It turns out most of them came to see him, including the 80-something Madame D. (an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton). It’s when she passed away that the real adventure begins, involving Madame D’s huge family fortune and a priceless Renaissance painting.

It’s fun to see what Wes has in store with each of the cast member, including his BFF Bill Murray who yet again has a cameo in their seventh collaboration. I have to admit that whenever each of these well-known actors show in various scenes, it did take me out of the story a bit, but soon I was caught up in the story again. There’s an underlying dark story about war and the dramatic continental change, after all, the memoir Wes was inspired by (The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig), describes Austria at the start of the 20th century as it’s anticipating Nazi persecution. But a lot of the violence as well as sexuality are played for laughs here and they’re shown only briefly on screen. It still made me wince though seeing even a glimpse of an old woman performing fellatio on Gustave, one character losing all his fingers in a rather gruesome way, as well as a display of a severed head.

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The hotel is practically a character in itself, where most of the adventure takes place. The retro-looking saturated color palette feels a bit brighter with the addition of the pink color of the hotel exterior and the box of the old-world pastry of Mendl’s bakery, which plays a pretty big part in the story. I appreciate the visual treat of Wes’ idiosyncratic camera work and the precise symmetry of each shot makes for an amusing contrast to the haphazard and chaotic scenes. There’s a journey theme here that we often seen in Wes’ films (again involving trains). Either the characters are running away from or towards something, sometimes both. This is also perhaps one of the most action-packed of all his movies — part road movie, part heist, complete with a snowy ski/sled chase scene as farcical as in the Roger Moore’s Bond flick For Your Eyes Only. Some of the action scenes, like the shootout at the hotel, felt over the top to me though.

Ultimately, the heart of the film belongs Zero Moustafa, whose loyalty, bravery and selfless-ness saves Gustave time and time again. There’s a sweet romance between him and Agatha (the always excellent Saoirse Ronan), whom the older Zero speaks of as being the love of his life. There’s a scene where Agatha is reciting poetry about her romance with Zero is a welcomed tender moment amongst all the droll and wacky scenarios. Similar to the two newbie actors playing young couple in Moonrise Kingdom, Revolori is quite memorable here even with his zany, deadpan expression. Abraham as the older Zero adds gravitas and emotional resonance to his character even in his brief scenes. I rarely see Fiennes in a comedic roles but that actually adds to the peculiarity of his character. I read that Wes wrote this role for him, which I think is an inspired choice. The rest of the supporting cast did a nice job, with Jeff Goldblum, Ronan and Adrien Brody being my favorite. Ed Norton‘s character seems quite similar to the one he did in Moonrise Kingdom, which reminds me it’s been a while since I saw him in anything but small supporting roles. Harvey Keitel and Willem Dafoe played the kind of tough guy persona I’ve seen in other films, but it’s still amusing to see them here.

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When I look back at previous work of Wes that I’ve seen, this one perhaps rank pretty close to The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which I consider my favorite of his work. I was quite invested in the two lead characters, particularly Zero, more than I’ve ever felt about previous Wes Anderson’s characters. There’s a lot of stuff happening in this movie that it was discombobulating at times, but it was an entertaining ride. I thoroughly enjoyed it and the pace felt swifter than his other films, so there’s not a boring moment for me here. Mischievously whimsy, but with heart. Like a charming hotel, it’s one I wouldn’t mind revisiting again and again.

4.5 out of 5 reels


What did you think of Grand Budapest Hotel?

Rental Pick: Daybreakers (2009) – a novelty twist in a classic genre

I’m not into horror flicks but I kind of have a penchant for the vampire genre (the proper kind, NOT Twilight!) so when I saw the premise of this last year, I was intrigued. It took me a while to finally see it but I’m glad I did.

DAYBREAKERS (2009)

In the year 2019, a plague has transformed almost every human into vampires. Faced with a dwindling blood supply, the fractured dominant race plots their survival; meanwhile, a researcher works with a covert band of vamps on a way to save humankind.

This is one genre that’s been done to death that very few of them lack bite anymore, pardon the pun. But with Daybreakers, the filmmakers managed to have deliver new to say on this genre. Glad to see that it’s not the classic vampire/human gothic romance but more of a survival story, not just for the humans but for the vampire as well as blood is scarce. On TV we heard a Senator said that humans had been offered a chance to assimilate but because they refused, they’re now considered enemies of the state and will be captured and farmed for blood supply.

These vampires live in a world just like ours — they work in offices, they drive cars or take the subway, etc. They even line up to buy coffee in the morning (albeit with a percentage of blood in it). In fact, as the human blood supply gets lower and lower, so is the percentage amount in their coffee, and there’s an interesting scene where a riot broke out out of their frustration.

The protagonist is Edward Dalton (fortunately this Edward doesn’t sparkle!), a hundred-something year-old vampire who works as a hematologist at a Bromley Marks pharmaceutical corporation ran by Charles Bromley (Sam Neill). Dalton has been working on finding an artificial blood supply but when they finally tested it on one vampire, it didn’t work, leaving the subject in pieces, literally. The situation is pretty dire as the lack of human blood on these vamps eventually turn them into these horrifying creatures (basically a human bat) that would prey on anything and everything, even their own kind. Edward and his brother had a terrible encounter with one of them one night and it turns out that creature used to be one of the gardeners!

Edward detests being a vampire and he’s resentful that his brother turned him many years ago. So when he somehow encounter a group of humans who trusted him enough to take him to their hideaway, Edward was more than willing to help. The rest of the film becomes a cat and mouse game between the vampires and the small group of humans.

This film has some truly gory parts so it’s definitely not for the faint of hearts. I had to cover my eyes in some parts, especially the devouring scene at the end, but overall I really like this film. Ethan Hawke has the soulful, deeply forlorn look to him that suits his role perfectly. Nice to see Sam Neill playing the baddie and Willem Dafoe as a good guy for once. I really thought that when I saw Dafoe in the cast that he would be the lead vampire, ahah! The actress playing Dafoe’s cohort is amateurish however, I wish they had cast someone far more expressive in that role. Hawke and Dafoe are the only American actors as the cast are mostly from Down Under.

The cinematography set in Queensland Australia is quite beautiful, I think the filmmakers did a good job in creating a realistic-looking dystopian future (albeit it takes place only 10 years from now) that feels eerie and sinister. I also appreciate the small details like the lack of reflection of Edward in his car’s rear view mirror and how his house and car are styled to be sunlight-proof. Not bad for only the second feature film from Aussies Michael and Peter Spierig, known as the Spierig Brothers.

This dystopian horror thriller is definitely worth a rent if you’re looking for a novelty twist in a classic genre. I find the whole social satire idea more arresting than I expected. Strangely enough, at times I find myself rooting for some of the vampires, as just like in the human world, corporate greed abounds and the strong prey on the weak. After watching this, it actually makes me think about our own society and the idea of how a limited supply of precious resources does to people. I mean, just look at what happens with the gas shortage post Hurricane Sandy!

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Thoughts on this movie? Those who’ve seen this one, curious to hear what you think.