IR Film Review: JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM [Summit/Lionsgate]

John Wick is a product of his environment yet his choices in terms of his future seem to take on a certain level of vigilante mysticism with a certain lack of logic. The difference between Wick and Neo in many instances is that Wick doesn’t know when he is out of gas…or when to doubt. There is no stopping. The fantastic aspect is that Keanu Reeves is up for anything. This is him through and through in these scenes. While there might be some face replacement, this is mostly all him. Very few people can do this and Keanu is getting older but this demands respect. At one point, even though the film is playing with this idea, his adversaries could have already killed him if they didn’t have as much respect for him as they do. Some of the action scenes including ones with knives and dogs are undeniably thrilling at times. And the film does understand that guns aren’t the “be-all-end-all” is normal circumstance. But at times, one is taken out of the movie because of a certain suspension of disbelief. For instance, there is a gunfight in a horse stable in Manhattan (which is unusual anyway) but when the guns seem to go off there is no response from the horses which causes a break in the world. Hence the viewer can start looking at all of the muzzle flashes being replacements. It takes out some of the visceral nature of the scenes.

It seems more and more with these movies that they are simply just trying to set up the next big set piece to see how far they can push it. But as a result, it feels a little more empty. The first John Wick had itself in play because it was using the Keanu idea and the aspect of the dog with this new world. Interestingly enough, after seeing “Destination Wedding” of all things, there is definitely a growth in the acting department with Keanu. But with this, it all becomes an exercise but weirdly enough it feels like an exceptionally produced TV show at times with the story structure simply allied in place to make it to the next week. Now that said, there is no way some of this action could be done on TV. New York keeps looking more neon coated and wet than ever before so it serves the noir texture. And when Keanu says “I need guns. Lots of guns”, there is no  denying the pop culture impact of the original Matrix as in that one line. But the first “Matrix” knew its rules and never broke them (at least in the first film).

The movie jumps a little bit because of this but the aspect that makes the best impression is Halle Berry as a former foe/ally/manager of Wick. This is the coolest we have seen Berry in a while. It reminds one of her films like “Swordfish”. She is bad ass, she is doing the action and, in a scene in the study, she acts the hell out of it, almost overly so. That dynamic offers a bit more to the progression but like all things it is brief. Angelica Huston adds a bit of intrigue and beauty in a role suited to her that gives poise, grace and a bit of darkness. Mark Dacascos as Zero, a frenemy of sorts is also quite good but the tone of play in his performance is both interesting and yet out of  character. “John Wick: Chapter III – Parabellum” will no doubt thrill audiences and perhaps bait a third one but the elegance of the original is, in a certain way, lost. The problem, like “The Matrix” is that you don’t want the mythic to become rote. But it also doesn’t need to move to melodrama. And that is one thing John Wick will never bow to.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

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IR Interview: Kenneth Branagh For “All Is True” [Sony Pictures Classics]

IR Film Review: POKEMON – DETECTIVE PIKACHU [Warner Brothers]

Heading into “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” without a necessary knowledge of the world at all doesn’t take away from its enjoyment as its metaphoric parallels definitely key into many universal themes. Going into the film with no true ideal beyond the fact that Ryan Reynolds was playing said Pikachu gave an interesting structure but not decidedly so. Justice Smith in the initial viewing does bear an undeniable resemblance to Will Smith who he is indeed not related to but this is only a compliment since the acting chops are there, though his technique needs to fall away since the inherent charisma shines through. It also makes the eventual resolution play quite well. While the reasoning of the Pokemon makes sense, it is only in later scenes including with a newspaper intern and her pokemon: a very nervous duck that it indeed registers almost as an Id of the person it connects with. This allows many of the scenes to work quite well. Reynolds did motion capture but was not on set per se but it is quite intensive how well it is created to make it feel that way. Pikachu is inherently Reynolds persona but it would have been nearly impossible to make it work in the room simply because of the size of the character.

Backing away from the technical though, a lot of the scenes feel organic while others are implemented for maximum FX effect. The ending is decidedly overwrought but the break in and escape from a facility from its trajectory to overall impact actually gives a true conception of the world, heart and all. It is in that moment that the Pokemon universe, even to the untrained, feels symbiotic. Reynolds slightly off-cut humor, which still stays inside PG bounds, works well though it would be interesting to perceive how much was improvised or actually recorded before the film shot. Justice’s reactions are fairly believable but it is interesting to debate what came first: Reynold’s performance or his. Reynolds also offers a bit of drama at one point which sometimes he downplays because there is a small divide between snarky and melodrama. Nevertheless the inherent themes of the film ring true even if the ending battle (despite having a hark back to the original 1989 “Batman” film) feels slightly empty. That said, “Detective Pikachu” plays the gamut of a complete story within the Pokemon gumshoe genre while still appealing to a multi-national and generational audience.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: THE HUSTLE [MGM]

The motivation of “The Hustle” is based in the texture of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” which was a film in the late 80s starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin. While the tropes it played are a little out of date and less politically correct now, the re-imagining from the point-of-view of female grifters is a sound one. Spearheaded likely by Rebel Wilson against the foil of the more sophisticated Anne Hathaway, the aspect of one upping keys in the play but the tonal element is tricky. Wilson flails a lot in her performance whereas some comediennes can make it a little more fluid. She seems like she is trying too hard. But then again there is a small texture of that in Anne’s performance though when she gets frustrated with Rebel’s less accomplished con woman is when her true acting shines.

The key in this kind of comedy is obviously the heart and how it shines through without being too melodramatic. To Rebel’s credit, this starts to shine towards the end of the film simply because of the progression of story. The contrast though is too stark. Hathaway is good at this and gets to show her continual mastery of accents but it never rises truly to the level it could. This might inherently also be the fault of the directing. The film, despite being entertaining at times, feels slightly scattershot despite the beautiful surroundings. Hathaway’s employees truly get the performances right which is more a European structure of comedy in the fact that it is slightly underplayed but with a definite hit. This is where the diverge lies. The eventual revolution in a mark is expected but plays almost against the realization because it skirts the idea of the status quo. That said, “The Hustle” doesn’t necessarily want to be anything more but, as it is, it does its job plainly.

C-

By Tim Wassberg