Copyright

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

John Wick

John Wick is a lean story about a mob enforcer who has retired but is brought back into the life when some miscreants beat him up, steal his car, and kill his dog. He then seeks revenge on those who commit these crimes against him.

I love how the story just starts. There is no voiceover. You learn everything you need to know about Wick from both his actions and how other people in the movie talk about him/react to him. The action sequences are equally lean; they feel real, violent, and believable. I was most impressed with how quickly Wick dispatches most of those who get in his way; he shoots nearly every person twice, once wherever and once in the head to make sure they are dead (like a real mob assassin would). Very few individual fights with people last for longer than 10 seconds and the longest fight sequences with multiple people usually don't last longer than a minute or two.

I was similarly impressed with the fact that nearly every stunt was a practical effect. This puts you so much more into the movie than seeing a ton of CGI people and effects (see my recent review of the Hobbit movies).

Another thing that surprised me was the fact the love story is entirely implied; Wick's wife is dead from the outset and you see his love and interest for her in the opening series of flashbacks and in his watching of the video of her on his phone (and, partly, in how the mob leaders talk about him leaving due to the love of a woman). It gives you enough backstory without needing any of it really in the story.

Keanu Reeves, not a favorite actor of mine, is surprisingly good and effective in this role. He is completely believable and at no time did I fall back on saying any of his Bill and Ted or Matrix catch phrases (which I usually do when watching him on screen). It's like this role was tailored to make the most out of him as an actor and action star.

Lastly, the run time is near perfection. At 95 minutes of movie (plus 6 minutes of credits), you don't feel antsy or like the movie is overly long. First act simply introduces the main characters and sets up the plot. The second act brings the main characters together and starts the action. The third act finishes the action and provides a brief denouement. Slam bam, thank you maam.

Is this film art or Oscar-worthy? Of course not. But it is a slick, lean, quality action film with a believable plot and really well-done action sequences. The main character is both likeable and well-defined. As an action movie I'd rate this an A-.

Addendum (May 4, 2015):

Just announced: http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2015/05/04/keanu-reeves-is-back-lionsgate-announces-john-wick-2/

The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies

I previously reviewed the first Hobbit movie here. I skipped reviewing the second one altogether. This review will focus on the third film, but is really a summation of all three movies.

As I said before, these movies are bloated and a little boring. Pretty much every scene with Orlando Bloom bogs down the story and brings the movie to a grinding halt. His "action" sequences are universally ludicrous and mostly done with quite-obvious CGI. I know that Elves are supposed to be special, but a humanoid body simply can't do some of what the CGI has his doing.

Throwing the love story between the elf and the dwarf in also bogged the story down. I guess they didn't trust the source material, beloved by both men and women for decades, to draw women in and had to put something 'lovey' in for the 'girls.' When will people learn that women will watch a movie regardless of whether or not it has a love interest in it if the movie is good. That's most women's major criteria for a movie.

The second movie was mostly "lucky escapes" and a bunch of dialogue to move the plot along. This movie's plot, therefore, goes like this: the battle at Lake Town between the Dragon and Bard the Bowman, Thorin wandering around being swayed by all the gold, battle to save Gandalf from Sauron, Thorin acting like a jerk, the Elves arriving and picking a fight, Thorin acting like a fool, the extra Dwarves arriving and picking a fight, Thorin continuing to act like a fool, the Orks, Goblins, and Bats arriving and starting the war, Thorin finally wising up and joining the war, and then the war, with a brief goodbye by Bilbo. There is more battle and "action" sequences in this movie, more destruction and battle porn, than in Man of Steel, I think!

There are so many individual and group battle moments that I was looking at my watch, taking bathroom breaks, and getting antsy for the movie to wrap it all up. It is so bloated that it becomes cringe-inducing at times. Even the least jaded movie watcher, I presume, would be yelling at the screen the obviousness of the battle scenes, what was going to happen, and when. The battle between Thorin and Azog is particularly grueling; it goes on way too long, has way too many segments, and the big "surprise, Azog is still alive and you have to finally kill him" moment was so telegraphed ahead of time that there is no jump scare or surprise in evidence. Something else that didn't help this movie was having all the villains as CGI. Unlike the LotR movies, where many of the battle sequences were shot with actual people in ork and goblin makeup and prosthetics, this movie had them all CGI'd (whether actual people with CGI elements or simply all motion-captured CGI (like Gollum was), I don't know-- but it little matters). The over-use of CGI took me right out of the action because it didn't look real. The battle in LotR where Boromir gives his life trying to protect the Hobbits was much more meaningful and interesting because real people were dressed as orks and goblins; it felt real and not the least bit "cartoony." The battles here all felt like a cartoon world.

Aside: Another really ludicrous moment is when someone mentions that there are about a 100 goblins coming and two Dwarfs stay behind to take them. This pretty much means that the Dwarves consider 50:1 odds quite in line with their capabilities. And you know that the Elves consider themselves at least equally capable of combat to the Dwarves. Which means that Azog did not bring nearly enough goblins, orks, or bats to the fray, as he has at least 113 dwarves and 100 elves, plus a smattering of men to wade through. It appears he only brought a few hundred. At a minimum of 50:1 odds, however, Azog should have brought at least in the vicinity of 12,500 warriors.

Peter Jackson and company (as there were four people listed as the screenwriters for this movie) also reused a bunch of dialogue from LotR movies so that the audience could have multiple "see how it ties together" or "oh, he said that in the LotR movies!" moments. They become ludicrous because they indicate that no one grew, got smarter, or learned from their mistakes in these films when, 60 years later, the same things happen to them in LotR! It's exactly like forcing Rd-D2 and C3PO into the Star Wars 1-3 and even making one of them built by Anakin, yet we know that the droids were never recognized by Vader later in movies 4-6. It's head scratching.

Now, don't get me wrong -- each individual scene was well crafted and generally well done. The actors (except for Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, and Lee Pace; all actors I generally enjoy, but who provided very wooden, rote readings of their lines (it likely didn't help that each was also CGI'd so that their faces looked 'ageless')) generally did a very serviceable job.

I definitely think this movie is the BEST of the three Hobbit movies, and it isn't even close. I grade it a C+

Aside: I look forward to some enterprising Netizen taking all three films and editing out all the bloat into one movie that sticks with the story of The Hobbit, rather than having all that added Silmarillion and other stuff added in. With the job that Jackson did in directing it, it will probably make for a very entertaining and well-done movie!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Another Break

Once again, I haven't been writing as often. The world is in such a state that I sit down to write a blog and then something else happens and I'm left speechless or dumbfounded again. I have probably sat down to write a blog at least 10-12 times since the last missive, only to be unable to focus on any one topic long enough to get my opinions out! There is just so, so much right now.

  • Regarding the cops shooting people: This is not an easy case. Until you've been in the dark, responding to a potentially violent situation, with unknown factors, and a bunch of fear and adrenalin pumping through your veins, you have no idea what it is like for a policeman to intervene in any situation. Do they make mistakes? Of course they do. Do they then regret it and do something (potentially illegal) to make it right, either for themselves or those affected -- quite possibly. They are human.
  • Regarding people being shot by cops: In each case of a police shooting someone (mostly, it seems, black people this time around), the videos I saw showed those people to be acting belligerently, responding with violent comments or aggressive actions when asked to do something by the police, and a bunch of passers by who watched and filmed rather than intervening, resolving, or helping the situation. 
    • When my wife and I were driving to PA from Montreal a few years ago, our vehicle and another one were pulled over by the same cop for speeding. My wife and I sat calmly in our vehicle waiting for the cop to get to us. We kept our hands visible and we spoke in a calm manner with the cop. The other couple were making fast movement, talking back to the cop, getting out of the vehicle and walking up aggressively to the cop as he spoke with us. And, gee, we got off relatively easy, he put our over the speed limit number down to something that would give us the smallest fine possible, and he sent us on our way with a nice anecdote. They got to stay with the cop for much longer, got a bigger fine, and pissed off the cop with their actions. I wouldn't be surprised if he added a few miles to the speed he estimated they were traveling just to give them the biggest fine possible. Moral to this story: HOW YOU ACT TO AUTHORITY FIGURES MATTERS.
  • Regarding cops being shot randomly: When, at any point in history, has violence being met with more violence solved the problem? People taking it upon themselves to shoot random cops as they sit in their cruisers or walk their beat will just make the cops more jumpy when they have to respond to any calls, making the likelihood of another accident or brutality issue to happen. Why can't the calmer heads prevail?
  • Regarding Extremists shooting the Charlie Hebdo staff: The Koran does not actually prohibit depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. Just like the Old Testament and Bible (from which the Koran is derived, of course), the Koran prohibits worshipping false idols. This has been stretched to mean images of the prophet in recent times, but originally did not. I mean, there are a bunch of paintings specifically depicting the Prophet Mohommed that have been done throughout history and hang in various museums and are on walls of holy places. This is just a case of Extremists who want to make someone pay for their lot in life and have chosen Islam as their focal point.
  • Regarding judging all Muslims based on extremists: Fox news correspondents have once again been really maligning the Muslim religion and showing their ignorance. I know, I know, big surprise. My response, similar to many others, is this: We don't judge all Christians based on the actions of the KKK, white supremacists, the Spanish Inquisition, or the actions of those who went to the Holy Lands during the Crusades, so why do they judge all Muslims based on the actions of a very, very small minority of those claiming to be Muslim? (And, to boot, of radical sects of Islam that ignore whole swathes of the Koran in order to preach the hate and violence these groups espouse.)
    • Why does Fox News refuse to admit that the majority of Muslim groups denounce these extremists? Their commentators specifically ask that question and then refuse to show or admit that there are dozens of groups with official statements that denounce these acts. Fox News refuses to show the outreach of these Muslim groups as they try to show the other (majority) side of the issue. Yet Fox News refuses to provide fair and balanced reporting when it comes to this. Why?
  • Regarding Republicans taking control of both houses of Congress: For the last six years, the Republicans have gone out of their way to block as much legislation as they could, including their own legislature that the Democrats/President happened to agree with, in order to make this current President look weak and ineffectual. The end result was that the economy has improved, jobs are way up, and the country's standing among the world has improved greatly. The Republicans then told Americans that the President sucked and that they, the least effective Congress in history with an approval rating of 13% should be re-elected. The Democrats, rather than telling the American people the real story, showing the job growth, stability in the economy, and how much their policies had worked, bought into what the Republicans were selling, did not want to be associated with the President, and ran confusing, scared re-election/election campaigns with no focus. In the absence of truth, the American people bought it as well and re-elected/elected the Republicans and gave them control of both houses! What should have been a slam dunk for the Democrats became a solid win for the Republicans. How did that happen?
    • As an aside: Why do the Republicans think that the Democrats, now in the same position they were just a few years ago, won't do the exact same things to them that the Repubs did to the Democrats and filibuster and block everything possible? It worked for the Republicans, so why not do it right back at them? I would bet that is what the minority whip is telling everyone. The biggest thing the Repubs need to prove is that they can govern... well, don't let them. Block everything.
What a lot of these issues have in common is a totally all or nothing view of the world. Why must a select few take this all or nothing stance and then espouse it from the rooftops? How do so many of the disaffected glom onto these idiots and join their cause? Whether it is politics or violence, we should be looking for the calmer voices and helping them to prevail. We need to think and act for ourselves, rather than listen to what the select few say. We need to think before we act. We need to research to help us think. We need to be smarter about everything.