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Review – Movie – John Wick (Chapter 1)

Occasionally a movie comes along that’s just so simplistically perfect in what it’s trying to present.  Recently it seems there have been two such movies, and John Wick is one of them.  Where so many movies try to make everything a deep metaphor or some sort of social commentary on the world at large, John Wick gives us a straight forward tale of revenge, with hints at a deeper world beyond.

I feel like this layered simplicity is what really makes this film work.  That and the top notch action choreography.  This movie is loaded with shoot outs and guys getting shot and beat up, but it all works extremely well and flows along very well.  Everything is intense and tight and fast, but it manages to keep some level of gritty realism as our hero gets injured and tired and remembers to reload his gun from time to time.  The centerpiece moment is the fight in the middle of the film in The Red Circle Club, as John Wick, chases his target through a crowded night club battling henchmen all along the way.

But the action isn’t the meat of this film, and neither is it’s revenge based plot, the meat is the rich criminal underworld created as the film moves along.  Specifically, the way John Wick never stops to explain anything to us, but still presents everything in a way that’s clear as to how things work.  Take the Golden Coins we see several times in the movie.  They are simple gold coins, probably valuable in their own right, but they also seem to represent more than just a coin, favors perhaps.  A way of trading trust throughout this world of mobsters and assassins where everyone knows everyone else.  John has many of them, and spends several of them in clear logical ways that give us the idea of what they are without hand holding the viewer along.

There is also John Wick himself.  John is a retired hitman for some powerful criminal organization.  We never get to see John Wick in his “glory days”.  Instead, we get the feel of just how much of a bad ass John Wick is by the way other characters react to seeing him “back in action”.  The way his old boss has nothing more to say than “oh” when learning that his son has pissed of John Wick.  The way his colleagues immediately respect him and treat him highly.  Through the vague story of what length John went through to retire and get married in the first place.    And of course through how determined and skilled John is at dispatching dozens of grunts along the way despite being “retired” for some years.

It’s this little detail that helps keep the action flowing without stopping to get bogged down in the details while simultaneously not leaving tons of “well what the hell does that mean” moments.  It’s a fine line that other similar movies often fail at because they are too vague with the details or too talky about it.

The movie itself may not be quite for everyone, mostly because it’s pretty violent, though it’s also violent in a way that’s not overly gory.  Another nice point of this film, it would have been easy to get gratuitous with the violence, with constant blood splatters and whatnot, but the film avoids these cheap gimmicks which just helps push that subtle layer of realism that I mentioned earlier.

The bottom line is, this movie is pretty fantastic, especially if you are at all into action movies with excellent fight choreography.

Review – Movie – Speed Racer (2008)

The original Speed Racer anime series from the late 60s is one of the earliest Anime shows to be brought to the US.  Originally titles Mach GoGoGo in Japan, Speed Racer follows the exploits of Speed Racer (literally first name/last name) and his friends as they participate in races and adventures using the Mach 5 Super car.  Stylistically, especially at the time, it was quite unique, with it’s unique Japanese animation style and look.  Though live action adaptations of animated features don’t always work well, Speed Racer does it’s best to replicate the intense colorful style of the anime, and anime in general.

Fortunately for the movie, it’s the one thing that it succeeds at, and succeeds at very well.  The visuals of this entire film, from start to finish, are pretty incredible.  A lot of what makes it work where a lot of cartoon to live action fails is that it completely embraces it’s origin and never looks back.  There’s no out of place realism to the way the cars move and literally glide around the track, there’s no punches pulled on the stunts or action.  Even during the downtime off the track the sets are colorful and full of detail that’s both dense and simple at the same time, keeping with the base styling you’d likely see in an anime series.

Everything just meshes together to keep everything believable within he context of the fantastical race obsessed world presented to the viewer.  There are also a lot of interesting Transitions used almost constantly throughout the film that help push this effect even farther.  Overlays of announcers, and crowd watchers and other drivers sweep across the screen giving everything loads of atmosphere.

Visuals don’t really make a movie though, even a really pretty movie isn’t worth watching without some sort of plot.  The general plot is essentially Speed Racer and his crew working their way up through the racer ranks to become the best racer in the world.  Along the way there’s a few subplots involving Speed Racer’s brother who died in a race in the past, the mysterious Racer X and an evil corporation trying to use the race for nefarious purposes.  There isn’t a lot of depth to anything going on here, but it gets a little complicated and the film itself is pretty non stop in it’s pace which makes things feel a little messy at times.  It also makes the film feel a little long, but more because it’s kind of exhausting keeping up with the constant barrage of crazy visuals.

The cast also does a great job of selling the whole experience.  In the same vein as the visuals, the cast does a pretty good job of selling the idea of being cartoonish in nature.  John Goodman and Christina Ricci are both pretty good as Pops and Trixie as do the rest of the supporting cast.  Emile Hirsch as Speed does a nice job of selling the Speed’s obsessive racing desire and need to be good as well.  What really helps to is they all look the part.

Often with adaptations such as this there are “changes” done to modernize things or make them more hip.  Or worse, the actors chosen look nothing like their original counter parts.  A lot of what makes Speed Racer’s style work is that it sticks close to it’s roots.  Sure, there’s a “new” Mach 6 race car, but the traditional Mach 5 is plenty present in this film and the new car does a good job of keeping the spirit of the Mach 5 without going overboard in it’s redesign.

Speed Racer isn’t a movie that’s going to win any awards for depth, though it’s definitely a technically impressive film.  It’s almost too visually busy at times honestly.  It’s still worth checking out if you can handle the predictably simple plot that holds it all together.

Review – Movie – Xmen Origins: Wolverine

You know what’s quickly starting to become a ridiculously overplayed part of the X-Men Cinematic Universe?  The origin story of Wolverine.  I mean, ok, I get that he is a big part of the X-Men universe, and he’s been in every X-men movie so far except for Deadpool.  His origin was sort of touched on in X-men 1, X-men 2 went into much more detail as they return to Alkali Lake, Wolverine Origins gives us the details and events actually surrounding one origin of the event, Days of Future’s Past touches on it a bit with Stryker, we see it again, sort of, in Apocalypse.

How many times do we need to see this?  It’s honestly not even super interesting.  Maybe the upcoming Logan movie can give us a retelling of it with X-23 instead!  It’s also kind of fishy and questionable about how much this film is still considered “canon”.  Probably not a lot other than maybe the general idea.  Obviously the events of the Adamantium infusion are different, since they show up in a different film which occurs later.  Probably the most glaring part of out of canon is the Deadpool movie, which gives Deadpool a proper origin.  The Deadpool film does make some reference to Wade Wilson’s time doing wetworks ops though, depicted in the early part of this film, and Ryan Reynolds plays Deadpool in both films.

Speaking of Deadpool, the biggest travesty of this film, is the butchering of Deadpool.  I mean, ok, I “get” reimagining characters for the big screen.  Not every character will be identical to their comic counter part, some may be quite different.  There is a difference though between reimagining, and more or less name slapping a popular name on a nobody that has nothing to do with the character.  Not to get too many spoilers here, but the creepy shirtless mute with Wolverine Claw style swords that shows up in this movie, isn’t Deadpool, in any way shape or form.

The other big offender here is the special effects, in particular, just how god awful they get throughout the film, especially later with Wolverine’s Adamantium claws.  Considering this is like 90% of the identity of this character, the CGI is incredibly poorly done.  The lighting is all off, and often they don’t properly match his arms and hands properly, especially during movement.

There is some pretty decent Wolverine action in this film, and a lot of interesting appearances by other mutants such as The Blog, and Gambit.  Gambit’s almost wasted however.  He shows up kind of randomly when he does pop up and despite dropping Wolverine off to his final confrontation, he doesn’t actually participate in the battle.

There is also a subplot involving Sabertooth and Wolverine being brothers at odds.  As in literal blood related brothers.  The opening montage shows them working together through several wars, and eventually during a special operation involving Deadpool, a skinny Blob and some other mutants, they have a falling out as Sabertooth starts to get too violent for Wolverine to handle.  This whole plot point is honestly, a little awkward.  Wolverine and Sabertooth have always had a confrontational sort of two sides of the same coin relationship, but they were never brothers.  It’s a little bit of a weird change that doesn’t really serve a huge purpose.  The implication before this revelation was they simply lived in the same household, one a servant family to the other, this kinship would have served just fine as a catalyst for their later adventures, especially coupled with their shared “problem” of being mutants.

Generally speaking, there are just soooo many flaws in this movie, both large and small, that really kind of ruin it.  If you pretend Deadpool is just some sort of unnamed Super mutant and can forget about how ugly Wolverine’s claws look during many scenes, its not an awful movie, but at this point it’s also pretty much non-canon to the Xmen universe, so it’s probably not really worth bothering with.

Review – Movie – 10 Cloverfield Lane

What an interesting psychological thrill ride here in 10 Cloverfield Lane.  The tagline “Monsters Come in Many Forms” is also a very appropriate descriptor, as there are monsters who are not monsters and monsters who are not monsters who are monsters.  There’s also a tiny cast, there’s only three actors involved in most of the movie, a fourth for a few minutes and a fifth who is only a very brief voice (Bradley Cooper, incidentally).

The core of the movie revolves around Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is involved in an accident and wakes up locked in a bunker with Howard Shambler (John Goodman) and Emmitt DeWitt (John Gallagher Jr.).  According to Howard, he rescued Michelle after her accident and brought her to his underground bunker to save her from an unknown catastrophic event that has made the world above uninhabitable.  Emmitt also showed up at the bunker, having helped Howard build the place previously and this knowing of it’s existence when things in the world started to fall apart.  Howard isn’t sure if it’s aliens or nuclear fallout or just invading armies, but he knows things are not safe up above.

As the plot rolls on, things end up possibly not being too safe inside the bunker either, and is the outside world actually a radioactive alien infested dead zone?  Twists and turns to keep you guessing all the way to the end here.  The real flaw of the movie is that it’s the “Spiritual Successor” to the movie Cloverfield, and so if you know anything about Cloverfield, you kind of already have some idea of some of the truths this movie tries so hard to keep a secret.

The whole cast does an exceptional job here, especially John Goodman, who does a great job with being slightly slow and a little creepy while doing his best to just be the savior he thinks he is to Emmitt and Michelle.  It’s clear he’s not quite right in the head right from the start, just how not right is part of what keeps you wondering the whole time of his true motivations.

It’s a pretty good movie that I enjoyed a lot more than I expected.  It’s not quite a horror movie, more suspense, though it felt like it was somewhat billed as a horror film.  It’s also relatively clean with it’s PG-13 rating.

Spoiler-tastic thoughts beyond so be warned… (more…)

Review – Movie – xXx (2002)

Around the same era that Vin Diesel started making his mark as a tough guy Street Racer in The Fast and the Furious, he starred in a similar movie called xXx, or Triple X.  It’s similar in that Vin Diesel plays the same sort of underground tough guy bad ass character and both films are sort of designed for the X-treme audience.  xXx take this whole concept to the X-treme level though.

Aside from general tone and Vin Diesel’s character, xXx and Fast and the Furious don’t share a whole lot else in common.  At it’s core, xXx is essentially a Bond film.  In fact there is really very little that would need to be changed, including dialogue, to make this a bond film, aside from swapping Vin Diesel’s Xander Cage for Pierce Brosnan in a suit.    I suppose the early 30 minutes or so where Xander Cage gets recruited would need to be reworked a bit, simply because James Bond is already a secret agent, but you get the idea.

The core plot boils down to, the government is too out of touch to infiltrate a terror organization, Anarchy 99, of young Ukrainian punks, so they need to recruit their own younger hip tough guy to go and extract some intel.  Of course, this leads to Vin Diesel’s character getting too involved and he ends up saving the day.

This is definitely a film full of some pretty cringy bits, though mostly because it’s very much a film of the early 2000s.  Heck, Xander Cage’s nickname is “Triple X”, because of his three strikes criminal record, but also because it looks XTREME.   This is all demonstrated early on in the film as Xander steals a sports car and runs it off a bridge while video taping a statement about how the owner, an unpopular politician is a dick.  This basic concept seems kind of whatever these days but something to consider, this movie came out 3 years before Youtube was a thing.  This is pre internet video activism.

Xander Cage is then recruited by Samuel L. Jackson, as “government handler guy” though not before running him through several tests.  There are bits in the Colombia scenes that feel really out of place in the flow, since it’s really obviously just an excuse to throw some stunt bike work in, but otherwise it’s all pretty alright.  It seems a little ridiculous that the government would throw some random punks into the middle of a warzone with no training though.  Not to mention the incompetence in how the diner was staged.

Xander heads off to his mission, still without any training, though he does get some gadgets from this movie’s Q to help him out in a pinch.  One thing I will give this movie props for is that he uses most of the gadgets he is given, and none of them feel ridiculously situational, as seems to happen a lot in James Bond.

Eventually the necessary data is gathered but not before Xander falls for Yelena, the girlfriend of our villain.  Where would out X-treme James Bond be without an X-treme Bond Girl after all.  This becomes Xander’s driving force for the second half of the film, as the government wants to extract him, but he believe Yelena is good and wants to save her first.

During the extraction attempt we learn of the true plans of Anarchy 99, to launch an unmanned mini sub filled with deadly bio toxin filled missiles.  The ideas is to wipe out the world governments and cause Anarchy.  It’s once again, very James Bond in nature.

Eventually we learn, to not a lot of surprise, that Yelena is also an undercover agent, and Xander teams up with the Ukraine police to raid the compound of Anarchy 99.  Not before we get another really out of place X-treme sports sequence though, as Xander uses his mad Snowboarding skills to cause an avalanche and cut off communications to the compound.  It’s kind of funny considering part of the theme of this movie is the whole X-treme sports X-games motif, but anytime that element shows up, it doesn’t fit the movie plot very well and feels tacked on.

During the raid and final sequences, we get some good bits that help sell Xander’s character, which I really enjoyed.  He hasn’t had to do a lot of actual spy/soldier work yet, though he kind of boasts about how he’s this great whatever and plays plenty of video games.  Yet, he almost gets killed by not knowing how to work his machine gun (saved by Yolena, the real spy), and later only manages to kill Yorgi, the leader of Anarchy 99 when he takes time to actually aim his gun instead of shooting wildly.  He also has no idea how to use his recently acquired weaponized super car, though as pointed out in the film, nothing it’s equipped with is actually very useful to their situation.

During the final sequence, Xander and Yelena chase down the submarine in that super car, though Xander still gets to do some clever X-treme sports tricks to finish off the submarine.

Despite the grungy loudness of the film, it flows pretty well and is pretty believable in what it’s attempting to accomplish.  The dialogue has some cheesy bits, and everyone’s Russian accents get a little old after a while, but xXx is a decent action flick.  If you’re a fan of Brosnan era Bond or The Fast and the Furious, this movie is a decent blend of those concepts that makes it work.  It’s not high film, but it’s not god awful schlock either.