Friday, May 24

The Perfection Review

The Perfection
Dir: Richard Shepard
Starring: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Alaina Huffman, and Steven Weber

Practice makes perfect. There are musicians who practice the most difficult musical compositions for their entire careers, all with the hope of achieving the perfect manipulation of notes. The amount of perseverance, motivation, and ambition needed to accomplish this feat of perfection is a mindset that many cannot, and will never, accomplish. 

Director Richard Shepard crafts a genre-bending tale of perfectionism, jealousy, and deep trauma with the “The Perfection”. Assisted by a wonderful performance from Allison Williams, this bizarre, engaging, yet also unfortunately flawed, horror/thriller/science fiction mashup is consistently operating at maximum capacity, even when there are moments that it should make room for something other than gratuitous spectacle. 

Charlotte (Allison Williams) is a former musical prodigy who had to leave a house for musicians, run by an eccentric and wealthy husband and wife (Steven Weber and Alaina Huffman), when her mother became ill. Charlotte, now older and no longer a revered musician, seeks out the new prodigy, Lizzie (Logan Browning), who is now the star pupil of Charlotte’s old school. The two women are drawn to each, and eventual take a journey together that begins to lead to sinister outcomes. 

The mystery presented “The Perfection” is a major piece of the fun; the design of the narrative utilizes more than a few fun devices that keep the viewer guessing about what is going on and where the film is leading, specifically the editing style and the manipulative nature of the character development are key elements. There is a Brian De Palma-esque quality to the structure of the film, with manipulation of time and detailed story perspectives, however this film doesn’t have the auteur’s sense of subtlety within the frame. 

The film isn’t too interested in balancing the different elements of tension and suspense. Instead, this film completely swings for the cinematic fence every time it steps to the plate. And, on a few occasions, the approach towards instituting a twist in the story feels so forcefully implied that it ultimately takes away from the dark and twisted fantasy horror story being told. Still, it’s refreshing to see the chances that this film is willing to take, especially in its push towards being its own unique and unexpected vision. 

One of the strongest links within “The Perfection” is the fascinating performance from Allison Williams, who is building a strong horror credential with this film and Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”. Ms. Williams has a way of being devious and delicate at the same time, of being a manipulator and the manipulated; her smile has a quality that is both naïve and sinister. Watching Ms. Williams build her character, amidst the twists and turns, is amusing throughout the entirety of the film. 

Elements pile one after another, building upon each other, and all leading towards a finale that seems impossible to conclude after all the genre manipulations being operated at every corner of the film. This makes it difficult to conclude this film, especially when the spectacle of everything is being pushed towards extraneous limits, and unfortunately the addition of a specific story device doesn’t help “The Perfection” find its place in the end. 

“The Perfection” is a nicely composed, sometimes bizarre and sometimes fascinating, genre mashup. With a great performance from Allison Williams it’s a pleasant surprise to see a film play with genre in such interesting ways, even when it doesn’t always work out like it should. Still, for those willing to take the strange journey being offered here, “The Perfection” is looking to stimulate all your horror senses. 

Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

Friday, May 17

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum Review

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Dir:Chad Stahelski
Starring:Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, and Anjelica Huston

There is a moment in John Woo’s seminal action classic, “The Killer”, when the movement of bodies amidst the barrage of bullets begins to find an unexpected rhythm, as if throughout the gratuitous violence there is a dance being organized. There is a moment in Lana and Lily Wachowski’s film “The Matrix” when the meticulously choreographed fight scenes begin to have an unanticipated elegance, a ballet of bodies dipping and dodging one another within the chaos of viciousness. It’s mayhem and carnage arranged with beautiful and artful composition. 

These pure, cinematic, adrenaline-fueled qualities are prominently on display in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”, the continuation of the lone assassin dressed in black hell bent for revenge. In true action movie sequel style, everything is amped up to the highest degree. However, where some movies lose track of how to handle the bigger and faster element of it all, “Chapter 3” somehow deftly handles the lofty expectations and crafts the one of the best action movies of the year. 

 John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is still out for vengeance, taking his unstoppable skillset to task against the bad guys that killed his puppy, then the organization that betrayed him, and now, in this third installment, it seems like Wick is out to fight the entire world. After being “excommunicado” from the assassin agency, known as the High Table, a 14-million-dollar bounty has been set for Wick’s life and every assassin in the world is provided the open opportunity. Hoping to find mercy from the leader of the High Table, John Wick travels across the globe to find atonement for his actions. 

One of the downfalls with modern action films exists within the design of the action. Some directors will shoot with a realistic camera perspective, one that shakes and jolts in discombobulating ways with every punch and kick. Other directors will overedit scenes, cutting at moments to hide the fact that the actors in the movies just don’t know how to sell a fight. The great Jackie Chan, an action actor/stuntman who meticulously choreographed all his own fight scenes, has discussed this concept of fight scene composition at great length, specifically how the modern action movie falters in the design of human combat.

“John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”, in the first 10 minutes, has one of the most exhilarating and impressively composed fight scenes seen in some time…inside a quiet library and with the utilization of a book as a weapon! Add a chase scene with motorcycles and horses with homage to “The French Connection”, ingeniously orchestrated gun combat involving two Belgian Malinois dogs, and the superb casting of the underappreciated Mark Dacascos of the 90’s action film “Only the Strong”, and “John Wick: Chapter 3” is doing everything at its highest quality. 

Director Chad Stahelski, who started his career as a stunt coordinator and stunt double for Keanu Reeves, deserves much of the appreciation for the great structure of action seen throughout this film. The hand-to-hand combat is often times shot with a wide-angle lens, showing all the movements within the frame so that the viewer gets all the visual information they need to distinguish characters and see the ferocity of the hits. 

Keanu Reeves should also be praised for his performance throughout this series. With a quiet and calm demeanor, Mr. Reeves’ John Wick feels like a faster, more agile version of Clint Eastwood’s Blondie character from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. Plus, take a moment to search for YouTube videos of Keanu Reeves training with real weapons for this film, it’s absolutely amazing. This type of training provides a foundation for making the physical movements of the character have purpose and reason, all adding to making the many fantastic elements throughout this film somehow seem reasonable and realistic. 

“John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” is not the strongest version of the story told within the series, but it is the best composed in terms of action set pieces of all the films. It’s brutal, bloody, barbaric action composed with so much artful attention that it’s impossible to look away. Prepare for a war of the senses in the best way possible.  

Monte’s Rating
4.25 out of 5.00

Friday, May 10

Pokémon Detective Pikachu Review

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Dir: Rob Letterman

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Chris Geere, Bill Nighy, and Ken Watanabe

Remember the 1988 film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” which paired a down-on-his-luck gumshoe and an anxious animated rabbit named Roger? At the time of the release, this was a cutting-edge combination of movie magic, placing real actors with animated characters and bringing the animation studio giants together where Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse could share the same frame, where Donald Duck and Daffy Duck could perform skydive hijinks. But one element that is often overlooked is that the film pieces together a nice homage to the detective tales and film noir styles of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Adding a mature element to the world of cartoons.

“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” takes much of its influence from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, bringing the iconic Japanese “Pocket Monsters” together for their own brand recognition praise with a film that is mostly fan service, framed within a flimsy neo-noir detective story. 

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) lives in a world where Pokémon and humans live peacefully with one another, some becoming connected enough to create an inseparable bond. When Tim’s father Harry goes mysteriously missing, Tim returns to Ryme City to investigate his father’s disappearance. Helping Tim with his search is Harry’s Pokémon, Detective Pikachu, who has suffered amnesia after an accident. The two encounter more sinister plans involving the Pokémon, leading them to a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse. 

The cute star of the film is Detective Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds); for those unfamiliar with this property, Pikachu is a small yellow critter who conjures electricity as a defense mechanism. Ryan Reynolds is a good choice to voice this character, his charm and quick wit provide the tiny animated character with cuteness that distracts from some of the issues with the story. Justice Smith, who had a nice turn in the Netflix series “The Get Down”, tries to keep up with the disorganized plot but his character seems lost amidst everything happening. It’s unfortunate because at the core of this story is a relationship, the bond between a boy and his pet. As the film develops, when it’s not random action scenes or detective story clichés, Pikachu and Tim have nice chemistry and offer some minor moments where you can see Tim regain his love for his childhood that ended too early.  

Amongst the many forms the franchise brand has taken in multimedia avenues, the film is based on the video game and the pacing of the story resembles the structure of those video games. One clue leads to a mission which leads to another adventure, the story moments don’t tie together so well when this logic is translated to the cinema but there are enough fan moments to distract from this absence of plot structure. 

“Pokémon Detective Pikachu” never completely commits to the mystery story it’s trying to tell, it seems more concerned with offering fun moments and fan appreciation. You don’t have to be a fan of the Pokémon to find the easy-going fun trying to be had here, but if you do like those “Pocket Monsters” it may be easier to overlook the glaring issues with this detective yarn. 

Monte’s Rating

2.00 out of 5.00