Movie Review: “John Wick: Chapter 2”

Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Riccardo Scamarcio, Laurence Fishburne, Common, Ruby Rose, Lance Reddick
Chad Stahelski

The first “John Wick” was a pleasant surprise that seemed to come out of nowhere in late 2014, simultaneously reviving the B-movie action flick and Keanu Reeves’ faltering career with its stylized, no-holds-barred violence. Though the film was admittedly flawed, it knew exactly what it wanted to be and made no apologies for it, and that’s an attitude that its sequel, helmed by one half of the original directing team, Chad Stahelski, proudly embraces again. Opening with not one but two action sequences to let you know that it means business, “John Wick: Chapter 2” doubles down on everything that made the first movie so enjoyable – including a higher body count and headshots galore – resulting in the rare sequel that’s bigger and better as well.

After settling his score with the Russian mobsters who killed his puppy and stole his car, John Wick (Reeves) wants nothing more than to return to his quiet, peaceful life of retirement alongside his new canine companion. However, it doesn’t take long before he’s once again dragged back into the baroque underground world of assassins by an old acquaintance named Santino Marchesi (Riccardo Scamarcio), a bratty Italian crime boss who’s come to collect a blood debt from Wick that he’s honor-bound to obey or be marked for death. Santino wants him to eliminate his sister so that he can take over her seat on the assassins guild’s high council, but after Wick is caught in the act and a $7 million bounty is placed on his head, every hitman in town – including a pair of bodyguards (Common and Ruby Rose) who work for opposing sides of the Marchesi family – comes gunning for him.

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Movie Review: “John Wick”

Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe
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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Movie Review: “47 Ronin”

Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Todanabu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Carl Rinsch

If you’re too late to get under the mistletoe and need to take your mind off the credit card bills you’ve racked up, director Carl Rinsch’s “47 Ronin” is sure to remind you what Christmas is all about: love, deception, swords, CG and, of course, ritual suicide. The deception comes in before you even step into the theater with the posters and trailers leading you to believe that Keanu Reeves is the star, but I guess that’s another story.

“47 Ronin” is based on a legend of 47 rogue samurai who avenge their fallen master. In this version, the story begins as a tween half-breed demon Kai (and he’s often reminded of it) is found fleeing from an unknown force in the forest. Despite his assistant Oishi’s (Hiroyuki Sanada) insistence on killing the exhausted Kai, Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) brings him back to the village. Although Asano treats Kai (played as an adult by Reeves) with respect, the rest of the village treats him like a second-class citizen.

Kai’s humble life of servitude (and secretly sharing glances with Asano’s daughter Mika, played by Kou Shibasaki) is interrupted when Shogun Tsunayoshi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and his delegation come to visit. He brings with him the maniacal Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), who, along with a beautiful witch (Rinko Kikuchi), concoct a scheme to trick Asano into attacking an unarmed Kira, a crime punishable by execution or a more honorable ritual suicide called seppuku. Adding insult to injury, the Shogun allows Mika a year of mourning, at which time she must marry Kira.

No sooner does the Shogun leave town does Kira makes his presence known by banishing the samurai, selling Kai into slavery and setting out to mentally and physically destroy Oishi. Before you can say “Didn’t this happen in ‘300‘?” Oishi sets out to get the old band of samurai back together for one last battle to avenge his fallen master and free Mika from Kira’s clutches. He’s outnumbered, outgunned… I mean, outsworded, and his only chance is reuniting with the man he looked down upon, Kai.

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Movie Review: “Man of Tai Chi”

Tiger Hu Chen, Keanu Reeves, Karen Mok, Simon Yam
Keanu Reeves

Nearly 15 years after kicking digital behind in “The Matrix,” Keanu Reeves puts on the director hat to introduce the next generation to a new way of viewing martial arts that goes beyond standard chop-socky fare in “Man of Tai Chi.”

If the first rule of Fight Club is not to talk about Fight Club, then the second rule is not to disobey the boss, as an unwitting fighter discovers in the opening scene. When the fighter refuses to take Donaka Mark (Reeves) literally after being told to finish off his opponent, the warrior loses more than his employee parking.

Chen Lin-Hu (Tiger Chen) is an overworked delivery driver (think FedEx on mopeds). When he’s not delivering parcels in the congested streets of Beijing, young Chen is spending time at Master Yang’s (Yu Hai) Tai Chi temple. Chen has all the moves, but he’s unfocused, believing power over spiritual balance is the way to excel, and more importantly, win fame through the nationally televised martial arts tournament. It’s not long before Mark catches wind of Chen’s fighting prowess and tries to bring him into the fold. Chen initially resists the promise of money and fame to be part of Mark’s underground fighting ring, but when situations threaten the temple, Chen gives in. As his victories begin to pile up, all the rage Chen’s been holding back begins to surface, prompting him to team up with an ambitious detective named Suen Jing-Si (Karen Mok) to bring down the elusive Donaka Mark before Chen’s next fight is his last.

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5 Ways Movie Stars Make Money Between Films

Most movie stars like to take breaks between big films, but they don’t necessarily want to stop making money. Check out these five ways movie stars make money between films.

Working as Musicians

Creative types often use their off time pursuing other crafts, such as visual art or music. Keanu Reeves played bass in a band called Dogstar until the Matrix Trilogy hurtled him into a new level of celebrity. Donald Glover, who acts in movies as well as the television series Community, spends quite a bit of time pursuing his career as a rapper under the pseudonym Childish Gambino. By all accounts, Glover is considerably better at his musical craft than Reeves.

Inventing New Technologies

Few actors have successful careers as inventors. 1930’s film star Hedy Lamarr, however, had a flair for mathematics that made her an outstanding inventor as well as an actress. In fact, Lamarr co-created a technology that made it nearly impossible for enemy armies to jam radio communications from US soldiers. The military didn’t fully understand the importance of her invention, but her frequency-hopping, spread-spectrum patent played an instrumental role in developing Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth.

Endorsing Products

Jenna Fischer, who has performed in hit comedies such as Blades of Glory and Hall Pass, made some extra cash by endorsing Proactiv products in 2010. While endorsing products like Proactiv’s dark spot corrector, she also won a Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance on The Office. That must have been a busy year!

Appearing in Foreign Commercials

A lot of actors don’t want to appear in commercials because they worry the work might tarnish their reputations. When they’re away from home, though, many of them will appear in commercials for extra cash. Jennifer Aniston appeared in a German Heineken commercial. Leonardo DiCaprio starred in a TV ad for an Italian telephone company. One of the weirdest examples, though, comes from Nicholas Cage, who played himself in a commercial for a Japanese gaming device. In the ad, he becomes crazed by blonde triplets, jumps on top of his car while yelling “fever!”, and speeds off without warning.

Investing in Businesses

Movie stars have a lot of money, so they are key targets for any entrepreneur who needs startup capital. Planet Hollywood is probably the most popular example of this. Without investments and endorsements from Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s unlikely that this chain would have become as popular.

Ashton Kutcher has invested his money in companies that seem much hipper by today’s standards. Some of his investments include Foursquare and Spotify. He also bought into Skype before it became popular. Even if he hadn’t gotten rich off his romantic comedies, that well-timed investment would have made him extremely wealthy.

Actors have to do more than just sit around looking attractive when they’re between films. What other celebrities have you seen participating in side projects?