Tag: thriller


Review: John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

May 21, 2019

Keanu Reeves’ action franchise returns for its third instalment and this time it has Latin in the title.

What’s Going On?

Super-assassin John Wick has a $14,000,000 bounty placed on his head after breaking one of the cardinal rules of the Continental Hotel – no business is conducted on hotel grounds. As this is a hotel for assassins, “business” means killing people. In the world of this film, assassins lurk around every corner and John is set upon by an endless array of killers. Eager to get out from under this death sentence, John delves deeper into the mysterious world of assassins to find a solution to his problem.

Behind The Scenes

John Wick was directed by Chad Stahelski who, famously, before that film had been a stunt co-ordinator and as such was incredibly focused on the fight scenes. Stahelski stayed on to direct Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 and the fight scenes are still amazing, at times truly dazzling and clearly directed by a world-class expert. I am something of a connoisseur of good fight scenes and I still winced at how real some of the blows felt while marvelling at the technical capabilities of all involved.

In Front Of The Camera

Keanu Reeves obviously dominates the film as he plays John Wick and continues to bring an almost stoic sensibility to non-stop life and death fights. Alongside Reeves’ acting talent is sheer ability to be in this film, I am unaware exactly how much of Reeves’ fighting is done by a double but he certainly seems to be taking on a lot. Ian McShane reprises his role as Winston, manager of the Continental Hotel (the assassin hotel that has placed the bounty on Wick for breaking their rules) and with him also returns Lance Riddick as the ever helpful concierge, Charon. Lawrence Fishburne is also back as the unnamed Bowery King – the ruler of another mysterious group of criminals who pose as homeless New Yorkers. There are newcomers – the primary antagonist is the Adjuciator, a representative of the High Table, the rulers of this world of assassins played by Asia Kate Dillon, who not only wants Wick dead also wants New York shaken up a bit. Perhaps more important is the addition of Mark Dacascos, an assassin and sushi chef billed as someone actually capable of taking on John Wick. Real star power is brought by Oscar winner Halle Berry, who operates a similar hotel as that managed by Winston but in Casablanca. Angelica Houston pops up playing The Director, who doubles as ballet director and crimelord whose help John Wick seeks and provides a little more backstory to the character of John Wick.

Does It Work?

I consider John Wick a great action film, a twist on a simple revenge story, driven by Keanu Reeves’ performance and some of the best fight choreography ever. John Wick 2 was entertaining, and again, had amazing fight scenes, but it wasn’t quite the same and I feel much the same with John Wick 3. It’s certainly an enjoyable film and I was never bored but the more it’s delved into this world the less I get out of it. It somehow lacked the magic of the original and this might be as simple as I knew what to expect, whereas Chapter 1 was a surprise. I do think that there is a problem with John Wick’s motivation, in the first film it was revenge but in the other two there is something more complicated going on – debts owed, rules broken and the schemes of powerful people.

The more that is revealed about the Continental, the High Table, the Bowery and so on the more convoluted and less satisfying it becomes. The sheer number of assassins that exists not just in New York but seemingly any spot on the globe is astounding and stretches credulity. The thing that seems most unbelievable is that surely there aren’t this many assassinations to support such a huge number of assassins.

Whereas the first chapter was based entirely in New York, Chapter 2 took us to Rome and Chapter 3 continues with this international perspective. John Wick [Chapter 1] felt very contained, everything happened in a couple of days in a couple of locations but increasingly the franchise is eager to spread its wings. Doing this does allow for a bit of variety but personally, I would have preferred a more claustrophobic setting.

There was a cool touch in John Wick where after one fight scene early in the movie the police turn up. They know John who is, simply ask if he’s working again and then stay out of his way but you can’t help but think the level of carnage caused in this film would warrant some kind of police response. There are even suggestions of supernatural powers or mystical techniques possessed by some of the assassins, that to me, make John Wick’s phenomenal killing abilities less impressive.

Of course, John Wick was never supposed to be set in the real world, this hyper-violent world of secret assassins and globe-spanning criminal syndicates was supposed to be escapist fun but I think after the first film the balance between reality and fantasy has moved too far to the latter.

But really most of these complaints and minor gripes and is just what separates a good film from being a great film. If you enjoyed the previous John Wick films you will almost certainly love this. The fight scenes continue to offer something new, whether it’s drafting in Boban Marjanovic, a seven foot three inches tall basketball star, to serve as an early opponent or adding horses and dogs to the weapons John Wick utilises. While I feel the story has become a little bogged down with secret organisations the core of the film remains the same- John Wick having to fight a seemingly impossible number of people.

The biggest plus in the film is certainly Mark Dacascos. In the two previous chapters, there was no one who, individually, was thought to be John Wick’s equal when it came to killing people. There wasn’t one bad guy for him to fight there would be a couple of dozen. Of course, John Wick still has to fight through dozens of opponents but it all leads to a showdown with Dacascos.

Overall this is a very enjoyable action film that doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first instalment but compared to other franchises on their second sequel this is amazing stuff.

Verdict 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

John Wick 3 (Official Trailer)

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Review: Await Further Instructions

March 22, 2019

A claustrophobic horror thriller centred around a bitterly divided family.

What’s Going On?

Nick brings his girlfriend, Annji, back to his family home for Christmas after an absence of several years. It is not long before the tensions in the family boil over, particularly the racism directed towards Annji. After making the decision to leave Nick and Annji find out they are trapped in the house by metal shutters placed there by some outside power. Their only outlet to the outside world is through the television broadcasting instructions on what they should do. The already fractured family are put through increasingly intense dramas that only brings out the worst in them.

Behind The Scenes

The film is directed by Johnny Kevorkian and written by Gavin Williams and this is probably their biggest project to date. The film certainly has it’s interesting moments but neither the direction or the writing particularly stand out.

In Front Of The Camera

The main actors are Sam Gittins (Nick), Neerja Naik (Annji) and Grant Masters (Tony, Nick’s father) and they are all asked to a lot but don’t manage to pull it off. Of the three Naik’s performance is the best as she tries to withstand a familiar line of abuse, ranging from unpleasant comments about immigrants to vicious slurs yet not lose her temper. Gittins plays the dependable boyfriend and (as well as Naik) the voice of reason to the encroaching madness. Masters isn’t quite believable as the ringleader of what happens and fails to convincingly portray a normal man who goes too far.

The most recognisable member of the cast will probably be David Bradley best known as either Filch from the Harry Potter films or Walder Frey from Games of Thrones. Bradley plays Granddad – the family member who never even tries to welcome Annji or moderate his behaviour at all.

Does It Work?

The film starts off with an interesting premise of a family, already on edge, being pushed further by the horrendous circumstances. Often films where people are trapped together in a small space they start as friends or strangers but before any of the horror starts there are clear dividing lines in the group. It’s hard to not think that this is a post-Brexit film; the issues of immigration and race are specifically brought up, with each side thinking the other is utterly ridiculous and completely to blame. The first half of the film definitely works better and Abigail Cruttenden plays the mother desperately trying to reconcile the different elements of her family and maintain the peace quite well.

When they wake up on Christmas day and realise they are trapped these fault lines only harden. Tony tries to take control of the situation but that is limited to blindly following the instructions via the television, trying to disguise his blind obedience as sensible and practical behaviour.

There are a few cliches that get wheeled out and when things start getting out of hand it’s not a surprise when the most obviously unpleasant character is the first to suffer. Then there is the presence of Nick’s sister, Kate, heavily pregnant, used as justification by her husband for his behaviour and, of course, making her incredibly vulnerable.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks is that the slip from imprisonment and mild paranoia to outright violence and worse is incredibly quick. It is only hours before all manner of terrible things are being done and even with their existing problems, it’s hard to reconcile such extreme behaviour with their circumstances. Even families that don’t get along will have their limits and most people place their family’s wellbeing as the centre of their world.

What the film reminded me of most was an episode of Black Mirror, or probably more accurately, a sub-Black Mirror inspired show. The film comments on hysteria, the power of media, the fear of the Other but without any subtlety or particular originality. The film also reminded me of one of the most infamous experiments in all of psychology – Stanley Milgram’s study on obedience. Participants were asked to give electric shocks to a person every time they got a question wrong, increasing the voltage with each wrong answer. Most participants carried on past the point their victim begged them to stop with one of the researchers telling the participant they must continue. Importantly no one was actually harmed in the experiment but people thought they were harming people. The film is partially a study on obedience to authority; obeying the government, obeying your father, obeying those with power over you. Each character responds differently to these different authorities and this is one of the film’s most successful aspects.

As the film nears the end and the madness is ramped up even further the bizarreness of the ending does not feel justified. I can go along with all manner of oddness if I feel it has been earned or handled in an interesting way but it just felt silly – the worst thing that can happen to a horror film.

Overall Await Further Instructions is not a good film, despite a good beginning and an intriguing idea of bringing the division of the country into one home. I would say in its defence that I was never bored and did want to see where it was going and how it would all end, but I could already sense that the ending would not be able to tie up the loose ends sufficiently let alone deal with some of the bigger plotholes.

Verdict 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)


Review: Widows

November 14, 2018

In Widows, Steve McQueen puts together an amazing ensemble cast for a thrilling crime drama.

What’s Going On?

I have always thought of Steve McQueen as an ambitious and confident director and not just because of his films, this a man who shares the name of a Hollywood legend and was not worried about permanently being called The Other Steve McQueen. McQueen’s latest film starts with the viewer being introduced to each member of a crew who is about to undertake a daring robbery lead by Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson). The brief glimpse into each of their family lives before the heist shows a not entirely sympathetic group of people. Things do not go to plan and Rawlings and the entire team are killed by the police. That is still just the beginning as the film is not really about Rawlings and his crew but the people they leave behind.

Viola Davis star’s as Veronica, Rawlings’ widow, who while still reeling from the death of her husband is visited by the criminals who were robbed and even though the money was destroyed they expect Veronica to pay it back.  The one thing of real value Rawlings left Veronica was his notebook on all his planned heists and with that Veronica plans to steal the money she needs, bringing in the other widows from the gang.

There is an ongoing B plot of an upcoming election for alderman between Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) and Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry), Mulligan being the son of the previous alderman and part of a political dynasty that has controlled the politics of the area for generations and Manning the very criminal who threatens Veronica. But while Manning may be the more obvious criminal it becomes very clear that Mulligan and his family are far from innocent.

Behind The Scenes

Steve McQueen is known for serious weighty dramas, 12 Years A Slave winning the Best Picture Oscar in 2014, and so Widows does feel like quite a departure. When watching the trailer my first thought was “I just have to see a Steve McQueen heist film” just to see what he would come up with. Widows is based on a Linda La Plate British TV show from the 1980s and while I hadn’t heard of it does seem to be well-regarded. Gillian Flynn, of Gone Girl fame, wrote the screenplay and the pair of McQueen and Flynn sets expectations high.

In Front Of The Camera

The cast McQueen has put together is amazing, casting great actors like Jacki Weaver, Liam Neeson and Robert Duvall in relatively small roles. The key trio of Veronica, Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) as the eponymous Widows hold the film together well with each of them adding immensely to the story, each with their own struggles and reasons for getting involved. Viola Davis is very convincing as a woman who had nothing to do with her husband’s criminal enterprises but rather than giving up or running wants to take back control of her life. Elizabeth Debicki stands out for the transformation her character goes on finding previously untapped reserves of strength. Michelle Rodriguez plays a little against type, being the most hesitant but also with the most to lose. Importantly, none of the women are ignorant of their husbands’ careers, even if not active participants.

Does It Work?

The film is very enjoyable with great performances all round and the two plots dovetail neatly in the conclusion. The film is suffused with the grim reality for all those within it and even Mulligan’s much more prosperous family are shown to be very much entangled in dark goings-on. Each of the three widows convincingly portrays women who are in dire straits and are willing to risk prison or even death to give themselves a chance.

McQueen is a brilliant director and easily handles the large cast and the quick plot developments easily. There are moments of real tension, particularly around Daniel Kaluuya who plays Manning’s brutal but keen on self-improvement enforcer. For a film that starts with the fiery death of four characters, there isn’t a great deal of violence in the film with just a few brutal and short scenes containing most of it. McQueen also gets as much tension out of the corrupt political machinations as the gunfights.

It is debatable if there are any “good guys” in this film. Even though you are rooting for Veronica and her team they are not entirely innocent and when faced with difficult times are happy enough planning an armed robbery and I think this is an intentional choice by McQueen. The political struggle of two different types of criminal – the gang leader Manning and the white collar corruption of Mulligan – supports the idea that everyone is involved in crime, to some degree, importantly the widows’ solution to their problem is more crime.

There is a running theme that it’s very hard to find people to trust. Family, what is normally the strongest of bonds between people, is shown to be unreliable and being close to someone brings trouble. Alice’s mother, played by Jacki Weaver, is shown to be far from the nurturing and supportive figure a mother usually is. Much of the same is also true of romantic relationships and there is a feeling that the best way to get through life is to rely on no one but yourself.

The film is an engaging drama with good performances from all the cast and I thoroughly enjoyed it, however, I am not sure how long it will linger in my mind and if it’s a film that I would want to come back to. Certainly, it is more entertaining and well made than similar films but considering the calibre of the people involved I was hoping for something better, something that would be a real classic.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)