Tag Archives: Keanu Reeves

“John Wick: Chapter 2”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS MATT: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

If you’re looking for a super bloody bloodbath of bullet riddled violence, “John Wick: Chapter 2” isn’t going to disappoint. This testosterone-fueled, slightly reheated sequel to 2014’s grossly underrated revenge thriller “John Wick” is repetitive, noisy and lacks more than just the most basic of plots — but it’s still a winner as far as action films go.

Keanu Reeves is back as the title character, a legendary hit man who is once again forced out of retirement by a fellow member of an underground assassins’ guild. He’s bound by a blood oath to murder the mark but when he finishes the task, he finds himself with a price on his own head and a legion of professional killers vying to collect the bounty.

This is when we start to get assaulted with a nonstop rampage of violence and action, as Wick fights and shoots and kickboxes and stabs his way through baddie after baddie (including the welcome addition of Common as a tough and worthy adversary). Wick fights them on a train. He fights them on the streets of New York. He fights them on the rooftops of Rome. He fights them in the bathroom, at the office, in the middle of the park.

Luckily, director Chad Stahelski has a great eye for visually orchestrating action set pieces with breathtaking agility, keeping them reliably tight and interesting. What a pleasure to see confidently directed action scenes where you can actually tell what’s going on! Stahelski takes his time and lets the camera casually follow every bloodstained blow, every punch to the throat, every knife to the groin, and every pencil through the brain. It’s a beautiful slow dance of brutality.

The cinematography (by DP Dan Laustsen) is once again slick and glossy with a gorgeous opening car and motorcycle chase that features some stunning, applause-worthy stunt driving. The film is bright and polished with vivid pops of color. It looks damn amazing.

This sequel isn’t destined to be a classic, but it sure is satisfying on so many levels.

MATT SAYS:

“John Wick” was one of my favorite movies of 2014. A balls-to-the-wall revenge pic, it is easily one of the best action movies of the last 10 years, second only to both of the “Raid” movies and “Max Max: Fury Road.” “John Wick” was a breath of fresh air in American action cinema because it avoided the lazy man’s approach to modern action films, which involves fast-cutting sequences that make it difficult for the audience to tell what is happening, where.

But it wasn’t the action sequences alone that made “John Wick” a cut above; it was the story: a simple tale of revenge by John Wick (Keanu Reeves), a man of singular purpose and will killing all of the bad guys that wronged him. Sure, there were some interesting subplots (the most compelling one involving the Hotel Continental, a place catering to career criminals with its own code and sense of justice), but they didn’t get in the way of good, clean storytelling.

The problem with “John Wick: Chapter 2” is that it did get in its own way. Instead of telling a simple story involving characters with motives that are easy to understand, the sequel chose to up the plot complexity by a factor of ten. “JW2” delves deeply into the world of organized crime and its internal politics and rules. Instead of teasing interesting settings and places with a bare outline of detail, “JW2” has to explain everything. As a result, in the midst of the action we’re taught about criminal high councils and their internal politics; a shadowy underworld where homeless people are actually ruthless killers who rule the streets; a marker system where debts are owed and must be paid, with severe consequences for those who refuse to make good on them; and way too much detail about the aforementioned Hotel Continental. These details distract from the narrative and prevent the movie from reaching the level of greatness enjoyed by its predecessor.

Don’t get me wrong, however: I still liked it. True to the first film, the movie avoided fast-cutting. While some of the action sequences were a little too long and drawn out, they were still better than 98% modern Hollywood action fare. “JW2” introduced a compelling new adversary for Wick in the form of Cassian (Common), an assassin with skills and background to rival his own. And for all of the needless narrative, there were some highly inventive sequences that either showed me things I’ve never seen before (Cassian and Wick trying to kill one another in a crowded subway station), or improved upon classic ones (like a new take on a fight in a hall of mirrors). These scenes alone were well worth the price of admission, as was the opportunity to revisit some of the great characters we saw in the first film.

Did it leave me wanting more? Hell yes. But was it also a little disappointing? Also yes. I wanted to love it, but I didn’t.

“The Neon Demon”

LOUISA:  4 STARS  MATT: 4.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

What…did I….just watch?

Not for the uninitiated or those with weak stomachs, everyone’s favorite polarizing surrealist director Nicolas Winding Refn is back with the lurid, gory, sadistic, and horrifyingly beautiful “The Neon Demon.” This film makes a bold statement about the shallowness of Hollywood and the fashion industry in the most violent, brutal, bloody and disturbing way possible.

The film’s strength is in its breathtaking visuals. Refn once again establishes himself as a true auteur at the top of the visionary food chain. Even if you are one of the many who see him as pompous and pretentious, there’s no denying that few have quite the mastery of the craft of the visual arts as he does. This film belongs in a modern art museum.

It doesn’t matter that there’s not much of a plot: teenage ingénue Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles to chase her dreams of becoming a model. She soon finds herself living in a sketchy motel with lecherous landlord Hank (Keanu Reeves) and surrounded by the seductive Ruby (Jena Malone), Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), a pack of shallow, jealous, beauty-obsessed women. It’s hard to evaluate the performances since most consist of nothing more than striking and holding a pose or staring longingly into a mirror, but I do think that Reeves has one of the greatest (if small) roles of his career.

There’s no escaping the true debate this movie presents: is this a shrewd feminist manifesto or is it grossly misogynistic? It’s taken me three days to reflect on this and I’ve decided that it sways towards the former rather than the latter.

First, the film celebrates the female form; the women in the film are beautiful set dressings, designed to be admired (and not treated solely as sexual objects). Yes, the women are one-dimensional but at the same time, that works as a harsh criticism of the narcissism that’s so prevalent in the fashion industry. Refn also artfully expresses the malice that is sometimes deeply hidden in the female psyche. The film is insightful too: women have a dark side and sometimes we do feel like we are in a girl-eat-girl world (a phrase that the film takes a bit too literally).

Refn’s hypnotic signature is all over this stylish, elegantly violent film. Cinematographer Natasha Braier adds a disturbing hallucinatory effect while Cliff Martinez lends a thumping, ear-splitting, ominous score that reflects the overall atmosphere of insanity.

As with the director’s other films (“Drive,” “Only God Forgives“), there are plenty of scenarios that seem to be present with the sole intent to shock, offend or disgust. (Do we really need an extended scene of lesbian necrophilia? I guess you can argue the point, but the scene goes on a bit too long to make it seem relevant to the plot or characters). The extreme last act feels more like a pointless gross-out than a thoughtful commentary think piece. I think this is a good place to mention that this film is a very, very hard ‘R’ rating; I am surprised it’s not NC-17.

“The Neon Demon” isn’t your run-of-the-mill art house film; it’s so far beyond the art house that it’s in another dimension.

MATT SAYS:

A teenage runaway from Sandusky, Ohio steps off a bus into the glittering lights of Hollywood. All of her friends back home tell her that she’s destined to be a star, and she believes them. But Hollywood does not bestow fame and fortune without a price. First it will take her innocence, then it will take all that remains.

So is the story of “The Neon Demon,” the new film by auteur Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive,” “Only God Forgives”). Elle Fanning is Jesse, the underage runaway that has been lured to Los Angeles by the whispered promises of becoming a famous model. She meets up with another innocent who was been lured to the city: photographer Dean (Karl Glusman), whose attempts at emulating the art he sees in Hollywood through pictures are met with sneering ridicule as “amateurish.” Dean hasn’t sold his soul, and those who have have nothing but contempt for him.

Jesse, on the other hand, makes the bargain readily: after being paraded before harshly appraising eyes and being judged a piece of meat worthy of notice, she willingly trades her virtue for empty glamour and attention. After having reborn on the runway, Jesse quickly learns that she has still not given enough: people continue to want more from her, and what they want she isn’t willing to give.

“The Neon Demon” is not for everyone. It’s not even for most. Even if you enjoyed “Drive,” you may find yourself frustrated and your patience tried by this movie. There is much to appreciate, but you will be challenged in doing so. In this film, Winding Refn has made an art piece that must be assessed, considered, and deconstructed. Those who are literal-minded will likely find their patience tried: the story isn’t about what’s happening on the surface, it’s about what’s happening underneath. You must watch, listen, and observe carefully.

One additional word of warning: “The Neon Demon” is highly disturbing and will upset many casual viewers. Apart from its gore and physical violence, the film pushes boundaries HARD. Terrible things are either shown or implied. I can’t for the life of me understand why the studio and theater chains thought that this was an appropriate film to release in nearly 800 theaters nationwide. One can imagine that of the few audience members who didn’t walk out during the first 20 minutes ran for the exits at its offscreen implication of child abuse.

If you’re still reading this review and haven’t been dissuaded yet, I recommend that you see this movie. It’s one of the most interesting discussion pieces in recent memory and it’s not one that I will soon forget.