Darke Reviews | John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Si vis pacem, para bellum. I actually have this on a whiteboard at my job. The Latin phrase translates basically to “If you want peace, prepare for war”; thus the title being Prepare for War. John Wick is one of those movies that kinda snuck in the backdoor back in 2014 with no one giving it much attention at the initial release. It came in second to Ouija by over $5 million, alright? It barely did better than a Brad Pitt movie (Fury) in it’s second week and Gone Girl in its 4th week and that had already made over $100 at that point. So yeah it’s safe to say John Wick was not exactly a popular film on it’s release weekend. It did however double its $20 million budget, but was pretty much gone in four weeks. It found life however in the after market and people realized what they were missing (but you know if more people read my reviews they would know to go see it!).   Two and a half years later John Wick: Chapter 2 doubled the domestic gross of it’s predecessor with $92 million; but also doubled the budget. $15 million more was thrown at the third chapter.

Did they prepare for war though?

The story was written by the original writer, Derek Kolstad, who literally just makes assassin projects, with his next two being a TV series for The Continental and Hitman. The screenplay then gets three additional writers, thus violating the writing rule of Darke. Marc Abrams (The Bernie Mac Show), Chris Collins (Sons of Anarchy, The Wire), and Shay Hatten in their first major writing project. I have to admit confusion here as one of the driving forces of a John Wick movie have been relatively simplistic plots that rely on a minimum of dialogue. This one is not that different in that regard. Kolstad was the sole story/screenplay credit on the last two so I cannot fathom what the others brought to the work.

The story is as simple as what’s on the tin and picks up where the last left off more or less. John having killed someone within the Continental has been declared Excommunicado by the surprisingly large network of assassins and support staff. He loses all rights to services and is now himself the hunted. What will he do? Where will he go?

That’s it. Even as we get a deeper look at the world of killers beneath the surface of our own, which is a lovely conceit still, there is a simplicity to it all. They do of course add layers and some complexity as we visit new locations and meet new personalities, but all of that is handled well by Stunt Performer turned director Chad Stahelski. As with the first two films having someone with his kind of experience in knowing what it takes to make a good shot for the camera (and guns) lets us really enjoy the kineticism of the fight sequences. Again this is no different, except now we have added animals to the stunts using horses and dogs – which anyone can tell you adds even more risk. You don’t want the animal getting hurt, the animal has to be trained, and you have to be careful the animal doesn’t hurt any of the performers when it’s all in camera like this. I am pleased to say the addition of the animals definitely added to the action.

We can talk about performances, but we are dealing with Keanu Reeves in the role that revitalized his career and the action movie industry. He gets to spend most of the time just being tired, broken, and still the Baba Yaga we know and love.  Ian McShane (please narrate my life) and Lance Reddick return as Winston and Charon of the Continental, with Laurence Fishburne also coming back to work with his friends from the Matrix.  Two of the new stand outs are of course Angelica Houston as The Director and Halle Berry reminding us she exists and has action chops. Asia Kate Dillon (Orange is the New Black, Billions) gives us to my knowledge our first Non-binary actor (pronouns are They/Them) with a major role in a major Hollywood production. They do exude a helluva presence on screen and I am interested to see them in more projects. A special call out to Yayan Ruhian (The Raid, The Raid 2) and Cecep Arif Rahman (The Raid 2) for one of the more memorable fight sequences and showing just how scary Silat can be as a martial art. The show stealer, that isn’t four legged, is absolutely Mark Dacascos (The Chairman of Iron Chef America, Brotherhood of the Wolf), who just is a joy to watch and clearly was having the time of his life as our John Wick antithesis for the film.

TL;DR?

John Wick is back. They were prepared. 11/10 would go into battle with the dogs from this movie. The movie runs a bit long at 2 hours and 10 minutes and at times feels it, it still turns out a solid bit of entertainment. Yes, this is still a world turned to eleven and no you cannot possibly be expected to take it seriously. That isn’t the point here. The point is to enjoy 2 hours and 10 minutes of Keanu Reeves moving from action set piece to action set piece and wondering how they will continue to ratchet it up as the movie goes on. For that it succeeds dramatically. I am confused by the number of writers still, but I got what I wanted from the movie and could still see every action piece and every stunt.

My only glaring flaw is that the first one shone for the raw amount of practical. As the stunts ratchet, they did hit some of the CG and compositing a bit harder than I like and my eyes were easily able to pick out more than a few. Granted safety first, but if it’s going to have to be that digital, look for a different stunt.

Should I see it?

You’re invested already. So yes.

Would you see it again?

Officially the answer is yes, but the likelihood of it happening is low.

Will you buy it?

Absolutely. No regrets on that front.

Are the dogs adorable?

They are the bestest boys. Would pet. Would also likely lose a hand.

 

Wrapping up I had two new Dark Princesses tonight with me and I enjoyed the movie and it was very cathartic after a rough week. It’s that kind of movie and I am glad for it.

 

Next week: Brightburn and Aladdin. I am honestly not sure which I will see first.

 

WAIT! before you go – what’s a Dark Princess?

If you join me for the movies. You are a Dark Princess. Male or Female. Those are the rules. Those are the results of the vote on the AmusedintheDark Facebook page.

My original two Dark Princesses might get special titles, I haven’t decided yet.

 

Welcome to the Continental.

Darke Reviews | Constantine (2005)

So it is fortuitous that this review was requested. I had been wondering what I would review for todays post and this works out perfectly as the TV series just premiered friday as well. I am going on record saying when I first heard of this film – I refused to see it. Absolutely, Selene as my witness refused to even consider seeing this film due to the casting of Keanu Reeves as the titular character. I was a minor fan of the comic book character having enjoyed him in The Books of Magic and various other appearances with DC/Vertigo characters I knew and loved. I knew certain things of him were absolute.

  • Blonde.
  • Welsh/British
  • Chain Smoking
  • Bi Sexual
  • Witty

Of Keanu’s things he can do in a film to portray the character, chain smoke. He technically could be bisexual, but the film didn’t address it. We saw the british accent once…yeah and it was laughable. This was one of the worst possible castings I have ever come across. I was resolute in my not seeing of this film until I was one day – almost literally – tied down and forced to watch it on DVD.

So how does it do once I take off the glasses of raw seething hatred?

Let’s take a poke at the director a moment. This was his first feature film. He had just come from being a music video director and went right into this. Since then he has given us I Am Legend (I’ll review that some other time when I am feeling the need to cut myself and do that instead), Water for Elephants ( I have no comment on this, I haven’t seen it), and The Hunger Games Catching Fire. Ok, so its clear he has evolved, but did he do a bad job here? Honestly – no. He does a good job of getting performances out of his actors and controls the shot in rather inspiring ways at times. He lets angles distort our perceptions and appropriately uses colour and the visual effects to maximum effect.  There are a lot of good decisions here that show serious potential and I can see how he eventually directed Hunger Games. I can also sense a lot of studio interference.

When we talk about story we have characters created by Jamie Delano and Garth Ennis for the original comic and a story by Kevin Brodbin for this. Brodbin never got much work. He did the 1996 Seagal movie the Glimmer Man, this, and the woefully underrated Mindhunters in 2004. He took a stab at the screenplay and an additional writer was brought in to fix it up if I had to guess based on the second credit of Frank Cappello.  I can’t imagine why he was brought in having really only done Suburban Commando before. Yet by their writing powers combined they actually nailed the essence of Constantine and the hidden world within our own. The movie probably has one of the best representations of a world within a world that normal people don’t or can’t see. I could watch this, The Craft, and Mortal Instruments and they almost fit seamlessly.

Ok, now this is where we usually talk about cast. I will get to Keanu last. We have a young Shia LaBeouf, mostly being Shia, but not entirely terribad. Moving on. Djimon Hounsou plays Papa Midnite, a noted character in the Vertigo verse and he nails it with all of his usual charm and screen presence. He has weight and lets it go full throttle for this film. Rachel Weisz (The Mummy) is our catalyst as a LA Cop with a british accent, possibly adding to my fury at Keanu, since they were able to obviously get someone from the UK into the film. While some of these cast members are interesting and do their best, nothing really compares to these two: Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare. Swinton (Narnia, Snowpiercer, Only Lovers Left Alive) is Gabriel, the archangel. She uses her vaguely androgynous looks to maximum effect and is both beautiful and offputting as an angel might be. She has some of the best dialogue in the film and devours scenery like someone coming off of a fasting. Peter Stormare as Lucifer? One of *the* best performances of this character I have ever seen. Talk about scenery chewing, nothing compares to this, nothing in this film anyway. Overall, he is up there against Viggo Mortensen in the Prophecy for raw creepy pasta levels.

The visual effects in the film are remarkable strong for 2005 as well. Only one real effect is an absolute fail with the bug guy on Figueroa, aside from that there is a definite elegance on how they choose to evoke effects. The fire looks good from the Dragons Breath. The wings of demons flying by windows look good. The make up effects are *really* good, but of course they came from Stan Winston Studios and had bloody Ve “Face Off” Neill as make up department head. Even their vision of hell and the demons is not something I’ve quite seen before. Even the flying tracking shots, while a mix of cg and real work fairly well.

Now on to Keanu. Whew. I didn’t hate it. There I said it. I Didn’t hate it. While he still lacks most of Constantines charm and wit I blame that on script as much as acting. He still isn’t John Constantine, but he is the american cousin if he had one. He gets the sarcasm, the nihilism, and the chain smoking down. He gets people around him, friends, dying as par for the course, but the reality is he isn’t a bad Constantine. He isn’t great, but I will admit he got as close as the script, the studio, and his talent could allow. That of course is the downside, he isn’t great and was limited by his talent. Keanu is not charming. He doesn’t really have much in the way of charisma, even in John Wick he isn’t charismatic or charming but fun. Here we are missing some of the fun, and all of the charm.

TL;DR time.

From a purely comic book loyalty standpoint, they got a good Constantine story here. It fits, but they fubar’d the casting so badly that it was nearly unwatchable by the fanbase that could have supported the movie. If you take off those fandom goggles and just watch the film as an adaptation of John Constantine Hellblazer, then …and only then you might enjoy the film.

It is a better film than most give it credit for and Keanu is its greatest strength and weakness. He does pretty damn well for the role, but misses it just enough that it doesnt work. I do think people should give it a shot, but for the love of all that is holy in your life do not compare it to the source material. Consider it instead a Supernatural Mystery with Religious overtones.

So do I regret not seeing it in theatres? No. I think I would have hated it out of hand and never given it a shot for a decent review, coming back later I think I can be honest in saying Constantine: Not too bad actually.

 

 

Darke Reviews – John Wick (2014)

There are some who are saying this is Keanu’s best movie since The Matrix. I am not sure I can agree with that sentiment. While he was not the Constantine we wanted…he actually did a good (if Americanized) take on our favourite snarky demon binder. I will acknowledge that The Day the Earth Stood still remake is garbage. I do think his directorial role and acting in Man of Tai Chi were pretty good. I also think that 47 Ronin was pretty good as well and that he did a good job in the role. I have heard people diss that particular film because he doesn’t look asian enough. I should take a moment to remind everyone he is of Hawaiian, British, Chinese, and Portuguese ancestry. If there was someone who was qualified to play a mixed race individual in such a film – I think he is among the list.

So, no I cannot agree that this is his best movie since the Matrix, but …well lets talk about it a moment shall we?

I don’t normally talk about producers, but as the credits began to roll, I saw a name that certainly left me with a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment – Eva Longoria. I have no idea how or why she became a producer on this film, but there we go. Ok, on to the writing and direction. The directors, thats right plural, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski have never directed a film before in their lives (at least according to IMDB). May not be impressive, but oh wait – with an average of 76 Stunt, Stunt Coordinator, or action choreographer credits between them they might know a thing or two about a good action film. They’ve worked on The Wolverine, Man of Tai Chi, Hunger Games, Tron: Legacy, 300, and V for Vendetta. Stahelski  was even a stunt double for Keanu in Constantine and The Matrix. Leitch has been a stunt double for Brad Pitt and Jean Claude Van-Damme. Again I say, they may know a thing or two about how to handle action sequences. Apparently along the way with the dozens of directors they worked with they picked up a few tricks. Not only is the action in the film fantastic (more later) but the direction clearly was as well. It just worked. They sold me. I bought it. Yes, I was laughing at how ridiculous some of it was, but it was the RIGHT kind of ridiculous.

Granted, some of that goes to the script by relative first time writer, Derek Kolstad. He has done nothing I know, but actually can write a very tight, well paced action movie. Yes, the line from the trailer is difficult to take with a straight face, but it is entirely out of context. In the context of the scene where it is delivered, the ridiculousness of it is toned down from a mild 11 to only about a 7. The dialogue that is left beyond that is entertaining as is the character reactions as written. Between directors and writers, where the Equalizer was a good drama with some action, this is a good action with….um…Good Action! Sure there are bits where they slow down and let you catch your breath and all of them work. There is a magnificently beautiful Dante and Greek Mythology subtext woven through the film as well. Well played sir. Well played.

The story, by the by, is that of John Wick (surprise!) a retired contractor whose wife just died. During an impulsive and botched robbery the last thing keeping him out of the darkness is taken from him. He re enters the world he left behind for his wife and meets all his old colleagues who react with varying degrees of joy and fear for the return of the Boogeyman. Sorry, he isn’t the boogeyman, he is who you send to scare the boogeyman. It works. Everyone sells it. You can’t help but enjoy the ride.

Of course the cast is important to make this work. Reeves does give one of his more memorable performances in this genre and it is far less subdued that you might believe. His take on a retired Contractor is really well done and often reminds me of Mel Gibson in Payback. Willem Dafoe is as awesome as you could imagine him being as a fellow contractor. Adrianne Palicki also is believable as a contractor, but doesn’t have as much time for me to say if I like her performance. I am not a Palicki fan thus far, but she wasn’t bad here. John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, and Lance Reddick mangle the scenery as usual. Reddick is the perfect gentleman and still manages to have all the weight he needs. McShane is…McShane. This is a compliment for him as I just love watching him on screen. Poor Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy) does appear to be starting to get typecast as a putz, though his Russian wasn’t bad, he was playing the Russian Mob version of Theon (not Reek). Michael Nyqvist (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) dives into his role as the patriarch of a crime family and is a pure joy to watch.

From a purely technical aspect, I want to praise Jonathan Sela. He is the cinematographer on the film and knows what a Steady Cam is. The beautiful action that was crafted by the directors? You can see it. You see every movement. Every action is watchable. Everything is taken into consideration. How much ammo he carries. Gun control. Reloading time. The number of shots to kill someone properly. Pure efficient motion. Nothing is wasted and for that, even if to a certain point the action scenes get a touch repetitive, they work. We need more action like this. We need this going forward.

TL;DR

If you like action, please see John Wick. Seriously. All the action that Equalizer was missing was here. The movie only slows down long enough for a laugh or to catch a breath before moving to the next beat. I know they are promising a 90 minute car chase with the new Mad Max; well this is a 90 minute stunt show. It works and deserves to be watched.

Should you take it seriously? NO! Not even. Sit back, keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times, and enjoy the ride.

I sure did.

Darke Reviews | 47 Ronin (2013)

The other day I did a review on a movie where the trailer made the movie look so good and compelling that I had no choice really but to see it. This one, the trailer actually made it look fairly horrible. It told you truly nothing about the tonal quality of the film and focused on a 300-esque glitz and “Oh Shiny” factor. It focused on creatures and magic that left me confused as to what I was going to get aside from Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan in Japan. Now that I have seen the film I have this to say.

The trailer failed spectacularly.

Even the After Earth trailer made that film look more interesting until the directors name showed up. The last time (I recall) a trailer completely misrepresenting a movie this horrifically was the movie Lord Of War with Nicholas “Not the Bees” Cage. That movie was sold as a high comedic center piece with crazy eyes. Instead it was a twisted black/dark drama. with 47 Ronin we were offered as a I mentioned magic and monsters, bad CG work and oversaturated color palettes starring Keanu Reeves as an oddly white samurai. What I got was something else.

First time director, Carl Rinsch, with writers Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious 5 and 6, Wanted), Hossein Amini (Drive), and Walter Hamada (producer on the Conjuring) bring us a high concept mythological retelling of the story of 47 Ronin in the Tokugawa Era Japan. While the visuals are close in many respects (too many) to 300, the style of the story is closer to Clash of the Titans or and hear me out here, Dracula.

They took an event from Japanese history, which is legend and hazy at best to the true events, and elevated it to a truly legendary quality. I cannot say they were successful 100% of the time, but they should not be asked to commit seppuku for the attempt. Thats the comparison. When taking a true event and adding a twist to it, inserting a world where witch craft, Tengu and dragons not only exist but are believed in by the people. While the trailers showed those elements they failed in letting us know they were but backdrop to a far more interesting film about Bushido and Revenge.

For his part Reeves as a half breed named Kai, does well. He is not a nail in the coffin and the personality (or lack of) that he is often criticized for is a strength in this movie. He is reserved is his emotions and when he acts it is with commitment and intention, as a Samurai should. While I try to remain spoiler free I feel the need to throw a trivial one. Kai is not Samurai. As is appropriate for the period a half-breed like him is considerably lesser and is treated as such.

That is one of the truly major successes of the film. It captured as much as it could of what western historians have let us know of “true” feudal japan. I am not an expert by any respects. I have read the Book of Five Rings, and played some relatively well respected games around it. That’s really it, but from that I did observe some things that I have found to be culturally appropriate throughout the film, including Reeves portrayal of what he is. Granted the mystic elements throw some of it out the window and the dialogue isn’t always great but there is a lot of attention to detail.

The costuming and make up are amazingly well done and appear to be period appropriate from hair and make up to the shoes. The fight sequences while cut a little quickly are at least watchable through a lack of noticeable shaky cam. When the production team decided to go practical with the effects they looked rather good with the Tengu monk being one of the most nuanced make up of its kind. I do find that the computer enhancements were a bit much for it and took away some of the beauty of the application.

The movie is not however flawless. It is quite good, better than I thought so that might be why I am able to keep talking about it, but far from flawless. The Hollywood need to oversaturate the colors is getting nearly old as Shaky cam and I will not miss it if it goes tomorrow. The script at times and the lines some are forced to read is painful and comes off ridiculous or awkward when heard. It makes sense for what they are doing, it just doesn’t sound right is all. There are elements in the graphics that of course do take away and the CG while detailed still isn’t clean against a real set and real actors.

The acting is either appropriately reserved or so far over the top to nearly be comical. If it was intended this way then it succeeded, if not well….had they given Tadanobu Asano (Hogun in Thor) a mustache to twirl as Lord Kira I wouldn’t have blinked. Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) as the Witch is nearly delightful in how over the top she is. I wish they had done more with her as it feels some of her screen time or plotlines were cut from the film. All of the Samurai themselves are fine, if not a bit of a stereo type, nothing to really write home about. They met expectations.

Time for yours? TL:DR

47 Ronin is better than it has rights to be. It’s not a great film but it was an entertaining one and certainly in the good category. It fails in marketing end to end so you can’t judge this by what you’ve seen so far. A little Japanese education does go a long way in appreciating some of the nuances of the film and the details that went into it.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this one for most people.

It’s good enough just not most folks cup of tea. If you do see it, I’d recommend matinee at best and avoid the extra cost of 3D, the animation will make your eyes bleed. It can safely be Cheap Seated, Netflixed or Redboxed without much in the way of disappointment.

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As a very geeky aside, I now want to play Legend of the Five Rings again as this movie fits perfectly in that world.