John Wick

October 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen
Directed by: Chad Stahelski (debut)
Written by: Derek Kolstad (“The Package”)

In the early stages of “John Wick,” screenwriter Derek Kolstad decides to create motivation for Wick’s revenge in a way that might be upsetting to many filmgoers. It is a bold sequence that is equal parts brutal and an effective piece of table setting. It’s unfortunate that rest of the film can’t quite live up to its establishment.

After the loss of his wife, being assaulted and robbed of his car, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) decides to return to the assassin life that he once led to exact revenge. As he faces the dozens of men out to get him, he must navigate who he can trust and find a way to take down the people who hurt him the most.

In what many are calling a return to form, Reeves embraces the action star role with aplomb. It isn’t an acting performance to write home about by any stretch, but in this recent renaissance of 50-plus year old action heroes, Reeves is good fit. An issue that “John Wick” has that it shares with many other films is a complete lack of development for any character other than the protagonist. Sure, there are a few solid moments from character actors like Ian McShane, but characters like fellow assassin Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) serve such little purpose and the films villain, Viggo Tarasov is not only typical, but made even more plain by a particularly hammy performance from Michael Nyqvist.

One thing “John Wick” does well is initial world building, where everyone knows everyone and there are codes of ethics and appropriate ways of behaving. While the development is done nicely, it is the further execution that often comes off as hokey. The one element of the film that “John Wick” seems to be proud of is its usage of stylized action sequences, be it in the form of hand-to-hand combat or the far more frequent gunfight, some of which are quite cool and slick. The problem lies in the fact that by the time the middle of the film rolls around, the motivation has run dry, the narrative has gone generic, and a once promising first act is squandered, leaving only empty action that we have seen a million times.

In its defense, “John Wick” is a film that unquestionably knows exactly what it is. It uses humor and graphic violence to embrace its B-movie sensibilities and wears it as a badge of honor. While this might make for a few fun moments, it doesn’t make for a good film. After a well-executed set-up, anything unique or higher-level gets lost in a blaze of bullets.

Red Dawn

November 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Adrianne Palicki
Directed by: Dan Bradley (debut)
Written by: Carl Ellsworth (“Last House on the Left”) and Jeremy Passmore (debut)

The 1984 version of “Red Dawn” had real-world fears in its corner to bolster its believability. The story of a ragtag posse of teens and young adults fighting back against an invading army comprised of Soviets, Cubans, and Nicaraguans benefited from the unpredictability of Cold War politics, from the notion that World War III could break out at any time for any reason. While it’s a little more difficult to buy into a group of mildly-trained high schoolers beating back even the most incompetent modern army, the film drops enough references to guerrillas and minutemen to lend the idea a little more credibility.

None of that is intended to convince anyone that the original “Red Dawn” is a good movie. It’s not. Its sloppy, jingoistic, and filled with some of the wimpiest explosions committed to film. But like lots of relics of the ’80s, it’s remembered fondly by people who were kids when they saw the movie for the first time. And, as is the fate of all nostalgic properties,”Red Dawn” was tapped for a modern remake.

The grammar of those modern remakes is followed closely by this new take on “Red Dawn.” Bigger, slicker action and special effects? Check. Impossibly attractive, ethnically-diverse cast? Double check. Serious scene from the original re-purposed and played for laughs this time around? Triple check. The basic plot remains the same: small town brothers Jed (Chris Hemsworth) and Matt Eckert (Josh Peck) narrowly escape a foreign invasion on American soil by North Korean forces. With the help of fellow classmates (including Josh Hutcherson of “The Hunger Games” and Adrianne Palicki of TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) and Jed’s military training, the group, dubbed the Wolverines after the mascot of their local high school, is able to seriously disrupt enemy operations armed with little more than shotguns and hunting rifles. Their revolution inevitably attracts the attention of the North Korean command, who double down on their efforts to squash the Wolverines.

Along with being yet another unnecessary remake, this modern take on “Red Dawn” runs into new problems, chiefly the conflict with the changing face of warfare. The original took place during the waning years of the Cold War, when the idea of a ground war had not yet given way to the smart bomb and guided missile combat that has defined combat since the first Gulf War. Setting the story in 2012 (or 2010, as the film has sit completed on the shelf for two years while MGM worked its way through bankruptcy) and ignoring things like remote-operated drones and the fact that the North Korean military can’t, by all accounts, tell its ass from a hole in the ground adds strain to a film already trying too hard to one-up its inspiration. Throw in plot holes like a super-weapon that knocks out all electronics except for the ones integral to the plot and behind-the-scenes issues like hastily changing the enemy from China to North Korea (by way of digitally altering flags and just re-dubbing the Chinese actors with Korean dialogue because who will notice that?) and “Red Dawn” ends up as another mess that should have never made it out of the Cold War.