Movie Review: “John Wick”

Starring
Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe
Directors
David Leitch & Chad Stahelski

“John Wick” is loud, as in ‘bring earplugs’ loud. It is muscle cars at full throttle, hailstorms of bullets, and shattered glass. There is an offbeat humor to it that vaguely recalls the wave of post-Tarantino crime movies of the ‘90s, but the story is a bone-straight, and therefore dull, revenge thriller. It is blood, death, and noise. There is “Keanu’s best since ‘The Matrix’” talk circling around this film. The very fact that that may be true is damning with faint praise.

Keanu Reeves plays the title character, a retired hitman who has just buried his terminally ill wife. He runs across some Russian thugs, who admire his car. They ask how much he wants for it. John tells them it’s not for sale. Later that night, the thugs break into John’s house, beat him up, steal the keys, and murder his puppy, a parting gift from his wife. The lead thug Iosef (Alfie Allen) is the son of Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), the gangster John used to work for, and Viggo tells his son that he done screwed up good, as John’s nickname within the organization was The Boogeyman, and now The Boogeyman has lost literally everything that ever mattered to him.

If Wick worked for Iosef’s father, how is it that they have never met before, even accidentally? Even if Iosef doesn’t know of Wick, you have to think that Wick knows of Iosef, and might recognize his boss’ offspring when he sees them. It’s a lot to ask of the audience, and honestly, there is no movie otherwise. This is the part where Basil Exposition appears and tells us to just go with it. Yep, it’s that kind of movie.

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Blu Tuesday: Snowpiercer, Sex Tape and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Snowpiercer”

WHAT: The year is 2031 AD, and after a failed global-warming experiment has frozen the planet, killing off nearly all life in the process, the lucky few survivors live aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that perpetually travels around the globe. With a class system in place that divides the population by train car, lower-class passenger Curtis (Chris Evans) leads a rebellion against the oppressors in an attempt to take control of the engine and the fates of his fellow people.

WHY: Fans of Korean director Bong Joon-ho (“The Host”) have been awaiting his English-language debut for quite some time, and that wait was extended even longer when The Weinstein Company delayed its U.S. release over a dispute about the film’s original cut. In the end, Bong was successful in protecting his vision, which is a major victory for both the filmmaker and his would-be audience, especially for a movie as refreshingly unique as “Snowpiercer.” Though it’s not the sci-fi masterpiece that many have lauded it as, the film is one of the better post-apocalyptic thrillers in recent memory. A lot of that credit actually goes to the creators of the French graphic novel on which its based, but Bong brings plenty to the table as well, including some gorgeous visuals and the casting of frequent collaborator Song Kang-ho in a vital role. Chris Evans also turns in a solid performance as the de facto leader of the lower class rebels, while Tilda Swinton steals the show with an amusingly quirky turn as the right-hand woman of the train’s mysterious engineer. The blending of art house sensibilities with mainstream appeal makes for a really intriguing finished product, but the ending is so disappointing that it undermines the ambition and imagination of everything that precedes it.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by film critics like Scott Weinberg, James Rocchi and Jen Yamato, a documentary about the making of the movie, additional featurettes on the production process, an interview with Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, a behind-the-scenes look at the promotional tour, concept art galleries and an animated prologue.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Sex Tape”

WHAT: Desperate to add a little spice back into their life, married couple Jay (Jason Segel) and Annie (Cameron Diaz) decide to make a sex tape trying out every position from “The Joy of Sex.” But when they wake up the next day to discover that the video was accidentally uploaded to the iPads that Jay gifted to various family and friends, they go on a frantic search to track them all down before anyone has a chance to see it.

WHY:Sex Tape” is an infuriating movie to watch, especially if you don’t like characters that have no common sense. Despite being one giant commercial for the iPad (at one point, Segel’s character even declares how well constructed it is), it doesn’t understand the technology behind the device. Anyone with a basic knowledge of smartphones, tablets and the Cloud knows that Jay’s videos wouldn’t automatically sync to the other iPads unless they were still connected to his Apple account, but there’s absolutely no reason the recipients would do this, because it would essentially render their devices useless. Worse yet, the identity of the mysterious “villain” blackmailing Jay and Annie is an absolute joke, threatening them with putting the video on a popular internet porn site unless they pay a hefty bounty. Jay could just call the website and have them take it down, but they chose a much more excessive method because it seems funnier, even though it’s really not. Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel fail to display a fraction of the chemistry that they had in “Bad Teacher,” and although there are some amusing comments on parenthood in the opening act, once the hunt for the sex tape kicks into gear, the film nosedives quicker than a kamikaze fighter pilot.

EXTRAS: In addition to a selection of deleted scenes, alternate takes and bloopers, there’s a featurette on the chemistry between director Jake Kasdan and his two leads, as well as a discussion with psychotherapist Dr. Jenn Berman about the film.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Movie Review: “Fury”

Starring
Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena
Director
David Ayer

Dayid Ayer has always made macho movies; it’s evident even in his early screenplays for films like “The Fast and the Furious” and “Training Day.” But once he stepped behind the camera, Ayer’s proclivity for telling stories about manly men doing manly things became somewhat of a trademark for the filmmaker, one that he wears like a badge of honor in his latest movie, “Fury.” Although it’s nice to see Ayer taking a much-needed break from the crime thrillers that have dominated his career since the beginning, “Fury” also represents a more mature piece of work for him, showcasing his growth as a storyteller without abandoning the gritty style that sets the film apart from the countless others in the genre.

The movie takes place in April 1945, and while World War II has all but ended, the fanatical German resistance continues to fight, forcing women and children to pick up arms and hanging those who refuse. The U.S. military is suffering as well, but with an end in sight, they make their final push through Germany to wipe out the remaining Nazis. At the front of the lines is Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), a seasoned tank veteran who’s been fighting with the same crew – including Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) – since North Africa. But when their assistant driver is killed, clerk typist Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is ordered to replace him, despite having no experience on the battlefield, let alone inside a tank.

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Movie Review: “Men, Women & Children”

Starring
Adam Sandler, Rosemarie DeWitt, Jennifer Garner, Kaitlyn Dever, Ansel Elgort, Olivia Crocicchia, Judy Greer, Dean Norris, Elena Kampouris
Director
Jason Reitman

It’s never fun seeing a filmmaker you enjoy stuck in a rut, but that’s exactly what seems to have happened with Jason Reitman, who tainted his near-flawless body of work with last year’s soapy romance “Labor Day.” And though his latest movie isn’t nearly as bad, it’s a fairly mediocre drama that doesn’t completely succeed in its attempt to be a merciless social commentary on communication in the digital age. “Men, Women & Children” might as well have come with the subtitle, “Or Why the Internet is Really Bad,” because that’s pretty much the message that Reitman is preaching. Is it a little heavy-handed, melodramatic and obvious at times? Sure, but it also features some great performances and an intriguing multi-story narrative that doesn’t pull any punches in its denunciation of the internet.

Adam Sandler stars as Don Truby, a middle-aged schlub whose sex life with his wife Helen (Rosemary DeWitt) is so non-existent that he’s resorted to watching porn on his teenage son’s computer. Bored with the lack of excitement in his marriage, Don hires an escort from an online service, totally unaware that Helen is using a website for married people seeking affairs to have one of her own. Their son Chris (Travis Tope), meanwhile, has become so desensitized from watching porn at a young age that he’s unable to perform when he hooks up with sexpot cheerleader Hannah (Olivia Crocicchia), whose own mother (Judy Greer) has been enabling the wannabe actress by posting provocative photos of Hannah on her modeling website. And the worst part is that she doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong.

The other kids at school are just as messed up. Fellow cheerleader Allison (Elena Kampouris) has resorted to anorexia in an attempt to win the affections of the school hunk, while star quarterback Tim (Ansel Elgort) has been taking his mother’s recent abandonment so hard that he’s quit the football team and rechanneled that energy into playing an online role-playing game. Having lost most of his friends as a result of that decision, Tim forms a bond with shy girl Brandy Beltmeyer, whose mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner) is so obsessed about the potential dangers of the internet that she monitors all of Brandy’s online activity and tracks her every movement with her phone. So when Patricia discovers that Brandy has been secretly hanging out with a boy, she doesn’t think twice about the ramifications of her constant meddling.

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Movie Review: “The Book of Life”

Starring
Channing Tatum, Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, Ice Cube, Christina Applegate
Director
Jorge R. Gutierrez

Does Pixar have a spy within its ranks? In 2008, the studio announced a project titled “Newt,” which involved two amphibians that were the last of their kind on Earth. Three years later, 20th Century Fox released “Rio,” which featured two birds that are the last of their kind. (Pixar scrapped “Newt” in 2010, citing an inability to get the story right, while acknowledging that Fox was going to beat them to the market.) Shortly after Lee Unkrich won an Oscar for directing “Toy Story 3,” Pixar announced that his next project would be about the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Cut to the present, where Fox once again beats Pixar to the market with the similarly themed “The Book of Life.” Don’t be surprised if Pixar is more tight-lipped in the future when it comes to non-sequel projects.

Of the two ‘stolen Pixar’ movies, “The Book of Life” is hands down the better movie. The animation is spectacular (executive producer Guillermo Del Toro’s influence, for sure), the story is breezy but smart (well, smart-ish), and it teaches valuable lessons about family, honor and being true to oneself. It also raises the stakes on pop music drop-ins (having a character sing a modern-day pop song in an out-of-context time period) by having the guts to use a Radiohead song. The movie gets a star for that moment alone.

A group of children are taken to a museum, and their tour guide Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) tells them the story of La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered, agreeing to a wager with Xibalba (Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten. The wager concerns best friends Manolo and Joaquin, and which one of them will win the heart of their friend Maria. Maria is sent to Spain to study, and when she returns years later, Manolo (Diego Luna) is a bullfighter who’d rather be a musician, and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) is a brave, powerful soldier. Xibalba, who has already interfered with the bet, senses that Manolo has the upper hand, and begins a chain of events that will send Manolo searching both netherworlds for Maria (Zoe Saldana), where he will learn a lot about his family history, and therefore himself, than he ever knew.

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