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

Shadow Review


Dir: Zhang Yimou

Starring: Chao Deng, Li Sun, Kai Zhang, Ryan Zheng, Qianyuan Wang, Jingchun Wang, Jun Hu, Xiaotong Guan, and Lei Wu

Director Zhang Yimou rose to international acclaim with the brilliant wuxia films (a genre of Chinese fiction where martial artist heroes interact with Ancient China) “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers”. The director’s big splash in America was supposed to be the epic heroes versus monster’s movie “The Great Wall”. The splash, unfortunately, was a misstep for the talented director who, with his earlier films, accomplished the often-difficult combination of crafting grand action fight scenes and detailed character development supported by exceptional performances. 

“Shadow” is Yimou’s newest film and it’s a welcome return to form for the director. The film is carefully crafted, with some exceptional fight choreography and action set pieces. It is sustained by an impressive design, one that the director has become a true auteur in the development of desaturated atmospheres and mesmerizing locales. These aspects are complimented nicely by some great performances, ones that make the slow and complicated courtroom-like drama sensibilities much more manageable than they otherwise might be.

Set during China’s Three Kingdom’s era, the King of Pei (Kai Zhang), an arrogant and pompous ruler, and his sister, Princess Qingping (Xiaotong Guan), rule a kingdom that has found peaceful times because of the cruel King’s policies. The Commander (Chao Deng) holds much of the admiration for finding this peace. However, the Commander has a secret shadow, an identical double that has been trained since childhood to take the place of the Commander in case something unfortunate should happen. Shifting influences and betrayal soon begin and spell disaster for the kingdom. 

Zhang Yimou has an impressive visual style, capable of combining meticulously crafted action scenes within a beautifully composed environments. “Shadow” is desaturated of color, the deep variations of grey, black, and blue take over and add an atmosphere that feels lonesome, one that feels steeped in an everlasting state of dread. It’s a nice design once the action settles into its superb spectacle; combinations of slow-motion acrobatics and swordplay mix with large droplets of rain and deep gushes of red blood unleashed amidst the battle. Yimou’s talents are on a full and impressive display in the final act of the film. 

The narrative is dense with plot devices that have subtleties intertwined within that aren’t always easy to make sense of. There are no straight forward answers to questions, motivations are blanketed in mystery, and conversation is filled with untrustworthiness. While it takes some time building towards the true purpose of why all the wheels are spinning, the performances from the cast make it completely interesting to watch. Chao Deng plays two characters within the film and does a fantastic job of displaying the melodrama of each, one that bleeds rage and another that controls the internal struggle. 

“Shadow” is a return to form for Zhang Yimou, an action film filled with moments of impressive violence and the stunning dance of combat. It’s so wonderfully composed that it feels more like a ballet than a fight. While the story wanders more often than it should, the grand style and careful structure of the characters make “Shadow” an entertaining and artistic action drama.

Monte’s Rating

4.00 out of 5.00