Tag Archives: Keanu Reeves

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

I remember in 2014, I went into this Keanu Reeves movie that seemed to pop up out of nowhere. There was very little advertising and not even an announcement or trailer until just a month or two before it was released. It was called John Wick.

No one expected John Wick is tear it up at the box office, earning nearly US$90m worldwide on a US$20 million budget, and transforming Keanu into the best middle-aged action superstar since Liam Neeson in Taken. And for once, John Wick did not feel like just yet another movie trying to mimic Taken — it had its own story hook and visual style, inventive action sequences, and created its own mythology with the “Continental”, essentially an assassin hotel.

In all honesty, while I liked John Wick, I wasn’t quite as enamored with it as most others who thought it was one of the best action movies ever. I believe one of the reasons is because the film was already so hyped up by the time I got around to it. So this time, though I knew the reviews were great, I avoided trailers and reading about the movie, and went into John Wick 2 with tempered expectations.

And wow, I absolutely loved it!

Continuing on almost immediately from the end of the first film, the titular John Wick begins the story by trying to get his car back from a Russian mobster played by the awesome Peter Stromare. So it’s crazy action from the get-go and things only get more insane when Wick’s past comes back to haunt him. It’s a one-man-against-the-rest premise like Die Hard, except for John Wick, the dangers lurk wherever he is in the world.

John Wick 2 is still ultra-violent and super stylish, with loads of action that utilises minimal cuts and immersive camera work. At times it feels like you are watching the best adaptation of a first-person shooter (or over-the-shoulder) video game ever, and at others it’s as though you are watching a comic book come to life on the big screen. It is no wonder that director John Stahelski was hired to help out on the brilliant action sequences in Captain America: Civil War.

I used video games and comic books to describe the sensibilities of John Wick 2 because it’s the type of film you need to suspend a lot of disbelief. Apart from cranking the action and the stakes up to 11, the film also builds on the assassin mythology from its predecessor, extending beyond just the Continental to a whole world of assassin services. It’s fascinating and loads of fun, but only if you buy into. I compare it to the latest entries in the Fast & Furious franchise, in that if you don’t accept it for what it is, you’ll be rolling your eyes throughout the entire film, but if you do, you’ll have a whale of a time.

I was surprised just how much of the original cast returned, including the super assassin played by Common, the car repair dude played by John Leguizamo, and the friendly neighbourhood cop played by Thomas Sadoski, as well as the Continental’s Ian Mcshane and Lance Reddick. Notable newcomers are Riccardo Scamarcio and Aussie DJ Ruby Rose (who is just about everywhere these days), while those looking forward to a Matrix reunion between Keanu and Lawrence Fishburne will finally have their wish granted.

As for Keanu, he’s still Keanu. John Wick doesn’t have a lot of lines, but the lines he does have are delivered in the classic Keanu style — ie, pretty badly. Nonetheless, the physical stuff Keanu pulls off is absolutely astounding, and apparently the film went out of its way to ensure that the physics of the action is as close to reality as possible. It’s a strange form of surrealistic realism that works and makes John Wick the kind of unique universe I’d love to return to.

On the whole, even though it’s only February, I’ll be surprised if I end up watching a better pure action film than John Wick 2 this year. So if you’re old enough and can stomach the violence, do yourself a favour and check out a John Wick 2 with a big bag of popcorn.

4.5 stars out of 5

Knock Knock (2015)

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Knock Knock
Who’s there?
Keanu
Keanu who?
Keanu, who still can’t act!

Lame jokes aside, I was actually quite looking forward to Knock Knock, Keanu Reeves’ first film since the highly rated action flick John Wick. The two films could not be more different, however, as Knock Knock is more like John Dick.

Keanu plays Evan Webber, a happily married architect with a beautiful artist wife and two kids. On Father’s Day weekend, he is left all alone in their swanky house, and on a rainy evening two young and sexy girls (played by Lorenza Izzo, and Ana de Armas) knock on his door seeking assistance.

Given that this is Spoiler-Free Reviews, I won’t divulge more than that, though if you’ve seen the trailer or know that it’s directed and co-written by torture porn master Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever, and more recently The Green Inferno, also with Izzo), you’ll probably already know what happens next.

Eli Roth movies never really have much plot or twists to spoil. They always have a fairly simply premise and then just loads of carnage, blood and guts. They can be terrifying, nauseating, or just plain annoying. Definitely an acquired taste, and I’m definitely not the target audience.

Knock Knock has a little more substance than his pure torture porn movies because the premise is such a intriguing one. To what extent can a man resist temptation? And how much should he pay for it? Roth develops it quite well too, with the early scenes setting up the dynamics of the happy family and laying the foundations of what is to come.

My main problem with the movie is that it’s just not scary at all. Hostel was a scarring visceral experience for me, but this one is very tame by comparison. I suppose you could call it “satirical” horror/thrille or a black comedyr, though I didn’t find it particularly funny either. And if you’re looking forward to seeing some sexy time, don’t get your hopes up too much as there’s not a whole lot to see. Despite interesting progressions and an overall sense of uneasiness, I just didn’t feel anything for the characters or their predicaments. The gaps in logic and the stupid responses of the characters didn’t help either.

And I love Keanu — he’s truly the best — but even after all these years he still…can’t act. I’m sorry but it’s true. In the right roles, he can blend into the story; in Knock Knock, where he needs to show real emotion and spew out impactful dialogue, he’s still too “whoa”. He’s too much of a dude. He’s still Ted “Theodore” Logan. If the intention was to make me laugh, it succeeded.

The result is an erotic satirical thriller/horror that’s more campy than scary or funny or sexy. There is also a little too much repetition in the scenarios and tactics to keep the plot rolling along smoothly. And yet, there is something about Knock Knock that makes it a strangely alluring and watchable movie, pushing it in the direction of the “guilty pleasure” category. It might be the sleazy premise, or the outrageous insanity of it all. Or maybe it’s just Keanu. Whatever it is, I can’t say I wasn’t entertained.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: John Wick (2014)

JW

Keanu’s back! And this time, instead of Japanese demons, he’s taking on a whole army of Russian gangsters with 46 less ronin by his side.

Ted “Theodore” Logan doesn’t make a lot of films these days, so when he does I always get a little excited. After last year’s disappointing 47 Ronin, he’s back this time as the titular character in John Wick, a depressed former assassin who goes on a revenge rampage after Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), the son of the original Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), makes the mistake of messing with the wrong dude.

It sounds kinda stupid and it is, but John Wick has been a surprising hit thanks to the excellent direction of Chad Stahelski in his feature debut. The stylistic action is what sets film apart from others of the same genre, and it’s arguably the most exciting action flick in terms of gunfire and physical combat since Taken

Keanu doesn’t have a lot of expressions, and that’s perfect as Wick, a no non-sense killer and a quick, smooth and relentless one-man wrecking crew. There’s something almost mechanical in the way he beats down his opponents, and he always makes sure the job is complete with an extra bullet or two where it counts. The action sequences are long, often brutal, and extremely well choreographed, and Stahelski spares our eyes by keeping the camera steady and the rapid cuts to a minimum.

The other successful aspect of John Wick is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but not so unseriously that it destroys the mood. The film is admittedly dark and full of death, but it’s also littered with tongue-in-cheek jokes about the assassin “industry” or “fraternity.”  There’s a code of conduct and assassins have to abide by it or face the consequences of the wider community. The film is filled with these straight-faced gags, such as a hotel that caters especially to assassins, a dedicated mop-up crew, and so forth. I also noticed there was a nice little cameo from The Newsroom‘s Thomas Sadoski which I found to be quite fun.

In addition to Keanu’s typical Keanu performance, the rest of the cast also do a fine job in their respective roles. Nyqvist milks his charm to provide us with a villain who might not be much of an opponent for Wick if they met in a dark alley, but one who knows what he is up against and remains relatively calm amid the chaos. Alfie Allen is also terrific as a spineless little twat who has less balls than his character on Game of Thrones, while Adrianne Palicki is convicing as a female assassin who’s not afraid to bend the rules. Rounding out the cast are the likes of Bridget Moynahan, Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo and Lance Reddick, each of whom have small but key roles.

After a rolling start, the film moves at such a frantic pace that you don’t really notice its flaws all that much, except when it resorts to the old cliche where the “bad guy” has the “good guy” right where he wants him but instead of killing him on the spot decides to tie him up and give him every possible opportunity to escape. With its style, tone and gaps in logic, John Wick feels almost like a graphic novel adaptation, except it’s not, though I hear there might be opportunities to spin this first film into a franchise of some sort.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed John Wick a lot. I also think it’s a victim of its own hype. It’s the type of film that I didn’t expect to be any good, but because the reviews were so positive, I ended up having unrealistic expectations. It is what it is — a really well-executed, exciting, stylistic, and not-too-serious action flick with near-non-existent plot and not much substance. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: 47 Ronin (2013) (2D)

47_Ronin_poster

Every Keanu Reeves movie can be summed up with one word: “whoa.” Unfortunately, his latest, 47 Ronin, is not a good “whoa.” It’s not a horrible “whoa” either. On the one hand it wasn’t as rubbish as expected, though on the other it lacked the excitement of the crazy samurai action I had looked forward to.

I’ve been a fan of Keanu since the Paul Abdul Rush, Rush days — actually, even before that, back to the Bill & Ted era (“Socrates!”), but these days all the news we get from him are from people posting videos of him giving up his seat on the subway.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqyIaNWP0T0

Anyway, while Keanu has been in movies in recent years, none of them high-profile since the 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. That alone was reason to get me excited about 47 Ronin, supposedly based on a Japanese legend (one I didn’t know about until the credits rolled). If you’ve seen the trailers, however, you’ll know this film is set firmly in fantasy land, with witchcraft, mystical creatures and demons all part of the norm in its world.

Keanu plays Kai, a mysterious half-breed (half British, half Japanese) who was discovered in the woods and raised by Lord Asano, who has a whole bunch of samurai under his command. While he is a master swordsman who can duel with the best of them, Kai is not officially a samurai and is looked down upon by the samurai in town. One day a powerful Shogun arrives in town with Lord Kira, an evil dude with ambitions of ruling all of Japan. Kira is aided by a witch played by Rinko Kikuchi (last seen in Pacific Rimwho is so obviously a demon because of her different-colored eyes and demonic behaviour.

Anyway, yada yada yada, and Kai and the samurai are left without a master, thus rendering them ronin (ie, samurai without a master). The rest of the story is how they, led by Oishi (played by The Wolverine and The Last Samurai’s Hiroyuki Sanada) set about plotting their revenge. And there is a love story somewhere in there, with Lord Asano’s daughter Mika, who is in love with Kai, betrothed to Lord Kira.

The thing with 47 Ronin is that its silliness is only matched by how seriously it takes itself. There are almost no jokes in this movie, and all the laughs are unintentional, with the biggest ones coming from Rinko Kikuchi’s over-the-top performance as the witch. When there are colourful giant monsters roaming the land for no reason, a whole clan of monks who look like Voldemort living in the woods and massive samurai dudes with no face and act like robots, you would think they might have a bit of fun with it. But no. Instead, 47 Samurai is as straight as they come, which makes a lot of the drama hard to engage and difficult to swallow.

Speaking of drama, there was way too much of it in proportion to the action. I had expected 47 Ronin to about a bunch of badasses who travel the land doing justice against demons or whatever, but there was a lot of poorly executed “character development” which was completely pointless for a film like this. As a result, large portions of the film have little action and are focused on the limp romance and a long arc where the samurai trying to find swords — which is moronic considering Kai had just been to a place where he was shot at by GUNS! Hello? How about getting some of those instead?

Another struggle I had was listening to the Japanese actors trying to speak in English. It’s not that I had problems understanding what they said, but it was so obviously a struggle for some of them that it felt awkward sitting through. I guess at the end of the day it’s easier to make 50 Japanese actors speak English than trying to get Keanu to speak in Japanese. The special effects were also just OK in my opinion, a little fake in some areas though not to the point there it became a distraction.

For all its faults, 47 Ronin is passably entertaining for its 119-minute running time, which is actually more than I anticipated. There are a few solid action and battle scenes (though fewer than I expected) and some cool ideas and creatures that fans of feudal Japan and samurai manga/video games should enjoy. It’s just a shame that the script and direction sapped all the fun or adventure out of it, effectively wasting the interesting premise and potential for genuine excitement and thrills. They may have had the basic concept pointed in the right direction, but in the end, 47 Ronin fell well off the mark.

2.75 stars out of 5

PS: I didn’t even know this was available in 3D.