Tag Archives: Michael Nyqvist

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: Abduction (2011)

Taylor Lautner’s Abduction ought to come with vomit bags.  The concept is interesting and the action is actually pretty good, but this film contains romance and dialogue so cringeworthy that it would make even Stephenie Meyer blush.

Now, before you label me a Lautner ‘hater’, I’m not.  Far from it.  I’ve been ‘Team Jacob’ all the way throughout the Twilight fan wars and I’ve even singled him out as the star performer of the last two Twilight films.  However, I’m not sure if it’s because of the overall calibre of acting in Twilight (that made him stand out) or the poor writing in Abduction (that he couldn’t avoid) but Lautner isn’t very good here at all.  Physically, he is impressive and gets to show off his martial arts skills (did you know he was a former junior world champion?), but emotionally his repertoire is limited to not much more than blank faces and heavy breathing.

Let me back track a little.  Abduction is not that bad — if you can ignore the worst offending aspects.  It tells the story of Nathan (Lautner), an athletic (and unnaturally ripped — yes, he does have a couple of gratuitous topless scenes) teenager who has a seemingly normal life until he discovers a photo of a kid that looks curiously similar to him on a missing person’s website.  Nathan begins to question who he is, and before long the CIA and deadly assassins are after him as he tries to piece together the mystery of his life.  It’s a great premise and it’s not hard to understand why the spec (ie unsolicited) script written by Shawn Christensen was sold for $1 million after it started a bidding war.

The action scenes may be unrealistic (they’re all practically indestructible in hand-to-hand combat) but they are occasionally exciting.  Lautner looks comfortable running around and punching things like a young Jason Bourne (is it blasphemous to compare?) and the choreography is fairly solid.  It’s a few notches down fromn Taken territory (most films are) but by the current standards of action films Abduction holds its own.

Super cast as well.  Maria Bello is the mother and Sigourney Weaver is the shrink.  The always welcome Alfred Molina plays a CIA agent and the original Mikael Blomkvist from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Michael Nyqvist) is the big bad baddie.

Unfortunately, Abduction is an obvious Lautner vehicle co-produced by Lautner’s family’s production company, and as such, the filmmakers felt they had to work extra hard at appealing to Lautner’s fan base — ie, teenager girls living in the Twilight dream land.  This meant a corny, persistent romance between Nathan and his neighbour/childhood friend/destined love interest, Karen, played by Lily Collins (the daughter of music legend Phil).

Apart from a pair of crazy eyebrows, Collins doesn’t offer much by way of interest or excitement.  She’s merely there so girls can picture themselves in her place when Lautner goes mentally overprotective on her (like Edward and Bella) and so Lautner’s teenage character can save her from highly trained assassin baddies.  She’s a hopeless character and is cursed with some of the worst dialogue in the film.  I am not kidding when I say I was writhing in agony in my seat during a couple of their conversations and I had to look away during one of the worst make-out scenes of all time.

And don’t get me started on the inconsistencies and continuity errors.  If even I could spot them then surely everyone could (how hard is it to maintain a limp?).

At the end of the day, while Abduction isn’t a good movie, it achieves some of the goals it set out to achieve.  Lautner got to be the main guy and the guy who gets the girl for once, he got to show off his bod and his martial arts skills, and as far as action is concerned, the film is more than adequate.  It’s all the other crap that drags Abduction down.

2.25 stars out of 5

PS: Personally, I’m happy for Mr Lautner.  He seems like a good kid who worked his butt off after he was almost replaced on New Moon by this guy and soared to become one of the hottest stars in the world.

Movie Review: The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009)

After missing two preview screenings, I finally got a chance to catch The Girl Who Played with Fire, the second film in the hugely successful Millennium trilogy based on the books by the late Stieg Larsson.  This time, I went into the cinema not having read the book (which I have, but have been too busy to tackle), which got me a little excited because I had no idea what it was about.

At the end of the day, The Girl Who Played with Fire was okay.  It’s not as horrible as some reviewers say it is (like this one that gave it 0/5 stars), though it’s certainly not as good as some others say either (like Ebert, who gave it 3.5/4).  To me, even though it was adequate and engaging for the most part, it was still ultimately a disappointment.

The Girl Who Played with Fire takes begins shortly after the end of the first film, with the titular character, Lisbeth Salander (played once again in a brilliant performance by Noomi Rapace), on a ‘break’.  The man whose life she saved in the first film, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is back at Millennium magazine and looking into a potential article on the sex-trafficking trade in Sweden.  Like the first film, the two main characters carry the film despite leading separate paths, and to be honest, it was almost like watching two separate movies at times.

Also like the first film (and the book), this one is also what I would consider a ‘slow burn’.  Actually, the pace is probably even slower.  I don’t have a problem with that, but to me, the plot was not as exciting as what I had expected.  Instead of a slick detective adventure into the seedy underworld of sex-trafficking, The Girl Who Played with Fire is really a more personal tale about Salander’s past.  Even when there were murders and a couple of mysteries involved, it never escalated into the adrenaline-pumping thriller I hoped it would be.  It remained mildly interesting but the story simply plodded along with a few unsurprising twists and left me feeling a little empty by the end.  Don’t get me wrong, it is still an above-average thriller, but that’s all it is.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, but is it wrong to expect more out of a film based on the biggest selling books in the world right now?

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish name:  Män som hatar kvinnor or Men Who Hate Women) is a fantastic adaptation of the first book of the best-selling “Millennium Trilogy” by late Swedish author Stieg Larsson (see my book review here).

The film has a classic mystery suspense thriller plot.  It tells the story of a wealthy industrialist, Henrik Vanger, who is convinced that someone in his dysfunctional family killed his beloved niece more than 40 years ago.  In a final effort to solve the mystery, he hires Mikael Blomkvist, a recently disgraced journalist facing prison time for libel.  Running parallel to this storyline is the tale of the dangerous and vulnerable security specialist Lisbeth Salander, the titular character.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the type of film that will make you like the book more.  When I read the book, I wondered how the heck they would be able to fit the extremely long and complex novel into a single film.  But somehow, the screenplay by Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg managed to take the best of the book and squeeze it into the 152-minute running time.  All of the essential elements are there, including the key characters, almost all of the investigative events, and the majority of the subplots.  A few relationships and subplots may have missed the cut, but I think making things a little simpler actually helps the film.

One of my primary complaints with the novel was the amount of exposition — there were so many biographies and backstories that I felt it sagged the plot and the pace.  But the film version got around most of these problems without compromising the intelligent and complex storyline.  Sometimes a short scene or conversation, or even just a look, replaced pages and pages of exposition from the book.  A fantastic adaptation.

What really sets The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo apart from your average thriller is the main characters.  Of course, everyone talks about Salander, one of the most intriguing characters to be portrayed on screen in recent years, played perfectly by Noomi Rapace.  But I also think Blomkvist, played by veteran actor Michael Nyqvist, is a highly interesting character.  All the minor characters are well cast and well played too.  A high quality production whichever way I look at it.

A great start to the Millennium Trilogy.  I can’t wait to see the next two films.

4.5 stars out of 5