Taken 3

taken

2014

20th Century Fox/EuropaCorp Distribution

Directed by Olivier Megaton

Produced by Luc Besson

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

TAKEN 3 is a perfect example of why I turn my hearing off when I hear whining about spoilers. If you’ve seen the trailers for it (and don’t you dare say that you haven’t) then you know that the murder of Famke Janssen’s character Lenore and the framing of her ex-husband Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) for that murder is what sets the plot in motion. That’s actually the only surprising thing that happens in TAKEN 3 and it was spoiled in the trailer. So don’t flood me with emails screaming; “Spoilers!” because not only TAKEN 3 but 90% of movie trailers are nothing but spoilers and if you’re going to gnash your teeth and wail about them, then direct the wailing and gnashing at the studios who put the trailers together.

Why did I lead off with that mini-editorial? Because the plot of TAKEN 3 is so slight and slim that I figured I have enough wordage to veer off into a digression and still have plenty of wordage left over. And it is a slim plot. Lenora is murdered, Bryan is framed and he spends most of the movie staying one step ahead of the LAPD, led by Inspector Dotzler (Forrest Whittaker) who mistakenly believes Bryan killed his ex-wife. The police are also keeping an eye on Bryan’s daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and Lenore’s husband, Stuart St. John (Dougray Scott) Kim of course knows that her father didn’t kill her mother and acts as Bryan’s inside man, keeping tabs on what the cops are doing. Bryan rounds up his three golf buddies for backup, all of whom we’ve seen in the previous two movies. All are ex-CIA Special Ops who now run their own security firm. So they have access to high-tech weaponry, computers and gadgets they are more than happy to loan out to Bryan. So it’s pretty clear that the LAPD is outmatched right from jump street.

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It’s not that TAKEN 3 is a bad movie. It’s professionally made and by this time Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace have got their characters down so well that they seem more than ever like father and daughter. And I liked that Lenore’s death has real resonance for the characters and they’re allowed to have moments of emotional impact as they deal with how she died. In most of these revenge driven thrillers, the poor dead soul whose demise is the reason for all the subsequent mayhem is totally forgotten about halfway through the movie. Not here. Both Bryan and Kim have moments separately and together where they get the chance to react to Lenore’s murder. As always, TAKEN 3, like it’s two older brothers benefits greatly from the performance of Liam Neeson. Getting an actor who actually can act was the smartest move of this franchise. He elevates the material and gives it more gravitas than such a thin story deserves.

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If there is one actual thing I didn’t like about the movie is that it takes place in Los Angeles. The first two “Taken” movies were filmed in France and Istanbul and for me, thrillers filmed in Europe seem to have extra weight to them, more meat on the bones.  Having this one filmed in L.A. just makes it look like another cookie-cutter action movie. For me, what made the “Taken” movies different from other action movies were their exotic locations and that in each movie there was somebody kidnapped that Bryan Mills had to rescue. Allegedly, Liam Neeson agreed to do TAKEN 3 only if there was no kidnapping involved. As a result what we’ve got is a pretty standard action movie that reminded me of half a dozen other movies. This is supposed to be the last “Taken” movie and on one hand that’s really a shame as TAKEN 3 ends the series on a definite whimper and not a bang. On the other hand, this frees up Liam Neeson to bring his Bryan Mills character to the next “Expendables” movie.

So should you see TAKEN 3? You won’t be wasting your time if you’ve got a couple hours to kill and can see this for matinee prices. But don’t feel you’ve got to rush out and see it. It’s always good to see Liam Neeson in action hero mode but TAKEN 3 can be enjoyed in your own home when it comes to Netflix if you prefer to wait.

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108 Minutes

PG-13

 

Annie

annie

2014

Village Roadshow Pictures/Overbrook Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Will Gluck

Produced by Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Caleeb Pinkett, James Lassiter, Lawrence “Jay” Brown and Tyrone “Ty Ty” Smith

Screenplay by Will Gluck, Aline Brosh McKenna and Emma Thompson

Based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” by Harold Gray and the stage musical “Annie” by Thomas Meehan

So how did I end up seeing ANNIE you may well ask. Especially as I had no burning desire to see the movie in the first place. Having to listen to “It’s The Hard-Knock Life” for the past two weeks didn’t help either. Not that I don’t mind listening to Patricia sing. Not at all. She has a delightful singing voice. But hey, listening to to two weeks of anything puts a damper on my enthusiasm. But the real deal breaker was the name of Jamie Foxx’s character.

“What’s wrong with his name?” Patricia wanted to know.

“It ain’t Daddy Warbucks,” I replied. “And if it ain’t got Daddy Warbucks then it ain’t ANNIE far as I’m concerned.” What can I tell you? I’m a traditionalist. If I’m going to see a movie based on Little Orphan Annie, I want to see Daddy Warbucks as well as his loyal bodyguards Punjab and The Asp who were in the 1982 movie with Punjab played by the late great Geoffrey Holder. However, in our PC mad world today, I knew there was no chance those characters would be in the new movie. So I was prepared to be disappointed.

My interest was piqued by the very clever opening scene in a classroom which believe it or not, reminded me of the scene in “Django Unchained” where Jamie Foxx and Franco Nero meet briefly and there is a subtle passing of the torch. The same thing happens here where there is a subtle passing of the torch from the classic Little Orphan Annie to the Annie of the 21st Century (Quvenzhane Wallis) Things like that will earn my respect for the filmmakers and what they’re doing as they’re demonstrating their respect for what came before in their acknowledgment of the source material.

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Ten year old Annie Bennett is a foster child living in Harlem with four other foster children. Their foster parent Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) is a frustrated and bitter alcoholic who continually rebuffs Lou (David Zayas) the owner of the corner bodega who has a massive crush on her. Annie never gives up hope that her real parents will one day return for her and she spends her days singing and bringing good cheer to all. Her ability to brighten anyone’s day is put to the test when she meets Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) billionaire communications mogul. Stacks is running for mayor of New York but his disastrous campaign is in the toilet and about to be flushed for good. All that changes when he rescues Annie from being hit by a truck. Stacks’ campaign advisor Guy (Bobby Cannavale) sees this as the perfect opportunity to improve Stacks’ image with the people as he’s an unlikeable workaholic germophobe. Stacks’ assistant Grace Farrell (Rose Byrne) arraigns for Stacks to become Annie’s temporary guardian.

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Being no fool, Annie agrees to help improve Stacks’ chances of being elected mayor if his bodyguard Nash (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) will use the resources of Stacks’ communications empire to find her parents. Guy arranges all sorts of public outings for Annie and Stacks, making sure to take advantage of social media to turn Annie in a star and Stacks’ public image rapidly improve along with his chances of actually winning the election.

All this is well and good but slowly Annie, Stacks and Grace come to realize that maybe the family they all are looking for and desperately want is right in front of them. Stacks discovers that he and Annie have more in common than he would have believed. Meanwhile, behind his back, Guy hooks up with Miss Hannigan to concoct a scheme that will make the both of them very rich. But will also destroy the relationship and trust that has grown between Annie and Stacks.

ANNIE is not a movie made for cynics or for those of you who insist on your movies being dark, depressing and realistic. This is very much a Musical in the tradition of classic musicals. Even down to the fact that everybody in the movie understands that they live in a musical universe where it is normal for people to break out in song and dance to express how they feel. There’s never any doubt that there’s going to be a happy ending and no matter how bleak things seem, nobody stays worried for very long because there’s another song to cheer them up.

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From start to finish the movie is owned by Quvenzhane Wallis. She’s just as captivating here as she was in “Beasts of The Southern Wild” a movie I totally loathed but loved her performance. Her Annie is funny, twice as smart as any of the adults in her life, compassionate, loving, generous, gutsy and resourceful. In other words, she’s a movie kid. But Quvenzhane makes Annie believable. She never steps over the line and makes Annie an adult in a kid’s body. At the right times she reminds us that for all her smarts and confidence, Annie is still a kid. It’s a wonderful performance that is complimented well by Jamie Foxx’s performance. In between the songs Foxx shows us that in a lot of ways, Stacks is still a damaged kid himself.

Cameron Diaz comes close to stealing the movie as Miss Hannigan. Her incarnation of the character is not as depraved or as insane as the Carol Burnett version. Diaz’s Miss Hannigan is more sad and pathetic and we never fear that the girls may very well come to harm at her hands. Unlike the Carol Burnett version who seemed as if she’d actually strangle one of the orphans in one of her drunken rampages. I’m glad that Rose Byrne is in a movie where she gets to use her own voice and doesn’t have to use an American accent. She and Quvenzhane have a nice number together; “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” It’s not a show stopping number like “It’s The Hard-Knock Life” or “Tomorrow”  but it is quite charming and cute.

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So should you see ANNIE? I say yes. I have a great affection for movies that are designed to do nothing but make you feel good and for two hours put a smile on your face. ANNIE does that. It’s not High Art or innovative filmmaking and it doesn’t have to be. It knows what kind of movie it is and its content to unashamedly be that kind of movie. It’s nothing but pure family entertainment and if that’s what you’re looking for then enjoy with my blessings.

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PG

118 Minutes

 

Top Five

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2014

Written and Directed by Chris Rock

Produced by Eli Bush, Barry Diller and Scott Rudin

IAC films/Scott Rudin Productions/Paramount Pictures

“Sometimes it’s just a movie”

“It’s never just a movie.”

Those lines of dialog are spoken by the two main characters in one of the first scenes of TOP FIVE: The first line is spoken by Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) a journalist from The New York Times who is assigned to interview the speaker of the second line; Andre Allen (Chris Rock). Andre is the hottest comedian in America, having made a fortune and success in film with his “Hammy The Bear” series in which he plays a cop in a bear suit. Andre is eager to break out of comedy and show what he can do as a dramatic actor. The same day he is being interviewed by Chelsea is also the day his new movie “Uprize” hits the theaters. It’s a movie about the Haitian Uprising and Andre has pinned all his hopes for his future career on this movie. At the same time he’s preparing for his wedding to Bravo’s reality TV star Eric Long (Gabrielle Union). It’s going to be quite a day. And thankfully for us, the audience it’s going to be a very funny and even thought provoking one as well.

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Those two lines are repeated a couple of times in the movie and I have to believe that as the writer of the movie Chris Rock wants them to stand out and not let us forget them as we watch TOP FIVE. Because yes, it is just a movie but at the same time it’s not just a movie. For 102 minutes Chris Rock makes us laugh until we pee in our pants, sure. But in the same movie he also has some extremely insightful and perceptive things to say about reality TV, addiction to not just alcohol but to fame, the joys and fears of being a celebrity, race, politics and relationships as well. Halfway through the movie it suddenly hit me what it reminded me of; Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories” which itself was influenced by Fellini’s “81/2.” Not a bad pedigree if you ask me.

And much like “Stardust Memories” even though there’s a lot of extremely funny scenes in TOP FIVE it can’t rightly be called a straight up and down comedy. There’s a lot of pathos and brutal honesty in scenes such as when Andre returns to his old neighborhood so that Chelsea can interview his ex-girlfriend (Sherri Shepherd) and some of his boys (one of them played by Tracy Morgan). They claim that Andre was a lot funnier when he was drunk or high and Andre is pretty much sure that they’re right. He quit drinking after a harrowing weekend in Houston with Jazzy Dee (Cedric The Entertainer) but the stress of the wedding and the movie opening is causing him to seriously think about throwing sobriety out of the window. It’s a concern to his faithful boyhood friend and now bodyguard Silk (J.B. Smoove) who is trying to bag himself a date with every full-figured woman he meets while keeping an eye on his boss.

As Andre and Chelsea go through the day with Andre preparing for the wedding and doing interviews for the movie, they talk about their lives, their families and what exactly it is that they’re doing with their lives and why. It’s serious stuff, yeah, but there are some downright goofy moments that have you gasping with laughing such as the bachelor party where Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler and Jerry Seinfeld give Andre marriage advice. Or Chelsea explaining her boyfriend Brad and his sexual preferences.

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It’s refreshing to be able to say that I truly didn’t think that there’s a single bad performance in the movie. Maybe it’s because most of the cast members are only on screen for a few minutes at a time and so were able to give their best, which they certainly did. Chris Rock certainly put together a diverse and eclectic cast. Besides those I’ve already named you also have Luis Guzman, Opie and Anthony, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe (who shows here as she did in “Tower Heist” that she has a definite talent for comedy) Ben Vereen and Kevin Hart. And there’s a really surprising cameo that takes place in a jail cell that is not only downright surrealistic but for me, was the biggest laugh in the movie.

So should you see TOP FIVE? Without a doubt, Yes. It’s vulgar, it’s gross at times (watch out for that scene in Houston) and it shifts back and forth between comedy and drama with no warning at all and may make you wonder at times as if you should be laughing at what you’re laughing at. But it also manages to be a psychological study of a talented man still trying to figure out what he wants his life to be and a really interesting romantic story as well. Not many people can claim to be able to look at their own public image and explore it objectively but I think that’s exactly what Chris Rock is doing in TOP FIVE and he does it very well. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what he does next. Go see and enjoy with my blessing.

Rated R: And that R rating ain’t just for show. There’s drug and alcohol use, male and female nudity, fairly explicit sex and raw language. This is most definitely NOT for the kids so if you’re going to go see it, stop being cheap and spring for a babysitter. Leave the kids at home. And if you’ve got sensitive ears and eyes you yourself may want to give this a pass.

102 Minutes

Big Hero 6

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2014

Walt Disney Pictures/Walt Disney Animation Studios/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams

Produced by Roy Conli and John Lasseter

Screenplay by Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson and Jordan Roberts

Based on “Big Hero 6” by Man of Action

The funny thing is that Patricia and I weren’t planning on seeing BIG HERO 6 today. Our initial movie of choice was “Nightcrawler.” But in between the time we made that decision and when we actually got on the road to head for the movie theater a couple of things happened. Nothing major or life threatening, I assure you. But it was a couple of things that indeed were bummers and kinda put a hurt on the good mood we were in. So instead of “Nightcrawler” I suggested we go see BIG HERO 6 instead as I figured that a light-hearted, family friendly superhero movie would do much more to lighten our mood than a dark and nourish crime drama.

Now I’m not going to say that we came out of the theater holding hands singing “A Whole New World” but I’d have to say we made a good choice in seeing BIG HERO 6. It’s bright, colorful and most of all, fun to watch. Yes, it does have some heavy moments of darkness but it makes sure to balance them with moments of triumph and joy.

In the futuristic city of San Fransokyo, Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a 14 year old whose brain power is off the chart. He’s already graduated high school and makes money hustling suckers in underground robot fights, beating larger and fiercer robots with his rather goofy looking littler robot. Hiro’s older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) who is even more brilliant than Hiro, takes him to The Institute of Technology to show him how his intellect can be used in more productive ways. Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell) is Tadashi’s mentor and offers Hiro a challenge to come study at the Institute.

Hiro also meets Tadashi’s friends: Fred (T.J. Miller) who plays the Institute’s mascot. GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung) a hyperathletic adrenaline junkie whose specialty is electromagnetic energy that she’s applying to building better and faster bicycles. Wasabi (Damon Wayans, Jr.) is a laser expert who despite his hulking appearance is actually quite gentle and slightly on the neurotic side. Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is a chemical genius in the tradition of great old school mad scientists.

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Hiro does indeed apply to the school, presenting his latest and greatest invention: microbots. They’re hordes of tiny robots that can link together to create anything the user can imagine, thanks to a mental link via a headband. Hiro is admitted to the Institute but his achievement is blackened by an unexpected tragedy. One that he chooses to deal with by secluding himself from Tadashi’s friends and his Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) Hiro’s interest in life is reawakened by two major events. The first is his discovering his brother’s greatest invention: Baymax (Scott Adsit) an inflatable healthcare robot who immediately adopts Hiro as his patient.

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The second event is Hiro learning that his microbots, which he had thought destroyed are being used by a mysterious man in a kabuki mask. The masked man has some sort of vendetta against Krei Tech, a technological company experimenting with teleportation. Hiro upgrades Baymax with battle armor and a memory chip that teaches Baymax karate and goes after the masked man. His first attempt fails miserably but after upgrading GoGo, Wasabi, Honey and Fred to give them superpowers based on their areas of technical expertise, the six of them become a superhero team determined to find out who the masked man is and why he’s bent on destroying Krei Tech.

big-hero-6-team-disney-1024x576BIG HERO 6 is an origin story, yes, but I wasn’t bored because this is a team I’m not familiar with and characters I don’t know. Even though it’s based on a Marvel comic book (and so I suppose it can be considered part of the MCU) the characters in the movie differ greatly from the ones in the comic.  And it’s not a terribly complicated origin story at that. I wish we had time to get to know more about the other characters but this movie is all about Hiro and Baymax and their relationship. Not that that’s a bad thing. Baymax is a wonderful character whose motivation stems from his being programmed to help others and if healing Hiro of his psychological wounds means that Baymax must allow himself to be weaponized into a high-flying, rocket-fist powered fighting machine, then that’s what he’ll do. But after going through all the trouble of creating such interesting and visually striking characters such as GoGo, Wasabi, Honey and Fred, I did want to see and know them better. We do get to find out something truly surprising about Fred that gets the biggest laugh in the movie and like any other Marvel movie, you’ve got to wait until after the end credits for it. But it’s worth it, trust me.

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The animation in BIG HERO 6 is nothing less than amazing. Maybe it’s because I don’t go out of my way to see a lot of computer generated animated movies and so I’m not jaded by the movement and detail. It’s still magical to me to simply look at. And it’s helped immensely by the kind of superhero story I love: the characters become superheroes because they honestly want to help people and make the world a better place. And if they can have some fun while doing it, why not? No, BIG HERO 6 is no “Guardians of The Galaxy,” the other big Marvel movie of 2014 and it wisely doesn’t try to be. It’s got its own brand of superhero fun. One well worth seeing. Enjoy.

102 Minutes

Rated PG

 

Interstellar

interstellar-movie-poster   2014

Syncopy/Lynda Obst Productions/Legendary Pictures/Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros.

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Produced by Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan and Lynda Obst

Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan

You know how I’m always BMWing about how most Science Fiction Movies made in recent years really aren’t Science Fiction Movies? That they’re actually Action or Horror movies in disguise and that the Science Fiction elements are just there to provide an excuse for bigger guns and bigger explosions? Well, you won’t make that mistake with INTERSTELLAR. From start to finish this is a Science Fiction Movie that isn’t interested in trying to give movie goers a rollercoaster ride. And for those movie fans who constant mantra is “When I go see a movie I just want to turn off my brain” you need to maybe go see “Big Hero 6” then. INTERSTELLAR is a movie made to engage the intellect and make you think. If you turn off your brain when you see this movie then you’ve wasted your money. Now, that’s not to say it’s all that good either but nobody can say that Nolan and his crew didn’t go all out to try and give us a “2001: A Space Odyssey” for this generation.

Sometime in the near future the Earth has apparently become one big dust bowl. Corn seems to be the only thing that will grow (one nice visual gag has a family sitting down to eat a meal where the half dozen dishes are all made from corn) and soon Earth will be unable to feed humans at all. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot/engineer who is now a farmer. He hates farming but Earth needs farmers more than it needs pilots. That is until Cooper finds a secret NASA installation led by an old mentor of his, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) Brand tells Cooper that they’ve discovered a wormhole orbiting Saturn. NASA’s scientists believe that extra-dimensional aliens have deliberately placed the wormhole there for them to find new worlds that humanity can live on (then wouldn’t it make sense to have placed the wormhole closer?) and they need Cooper to pilot an experimental spacecraft through the wormhole. On the other side are potentially habitable planets that are being surveyed by members of The Lazarus Mission. It will be the duty of Cooper and his team to confirm the viability of those planets. interstellar-movie-still-013-1500x1000 This news doesn’t sit well with Cooper’s daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) as time will move differently for the explorers than it will on Earth. But Cooper has his duty and so he leaves Earth with his intrepid team. Professor Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway), a respected scientist in her own right. Physicist Dr. Romilly (David Gyasi) geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley) and the multi-purpose artificially intelligent robots TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) and CASE (voiced by Josh Stewart) Their quest will take them to a strange new galaxy with worlds both weird and wonderful. But just as much as there is to marvel at, there is also death and despair. The quest to save humanity will not be an easy one and there must be sacrifices to insure that future.

INTERSTELLLAR is not going to be a movie for everybody. It doesn’t have fistfights every few minutes or spaceship chases/battles. The conflicts here are mostly cerebral and fought between intellect vs. emotion. That will cause some to perceive INTERSTELLAR as slow moving and I have to admit I was one of them. This also isn’t a movie that’s going to take the time to explain everything to you. You’ll just have to take a lot of the science on faith and that’s okay by me. As long as the characters sound like they know what they’re talking about, that’s good enough for me.

But INTERSTELLAR is not all about the hard science and grandeur of space. The heart of the story is the relationship between Cooper and Murphy and how it binds them despite the gulf of space and time separating them. And the acting of Matthew McConaughey and Mackenzie Foy convinced me of the depth of their relationship. Once Jessica Chastain takes over as an older Murphy there’s more intensity to the character but I think I preferred Mackenzie Foy’s characterization. Anne Hathaway and John Lithgow along with two actors that really surprised me when they popped up (Topher Grace and Casey Affleck) provide their usual solid work in supporting roles. interstellar-movie-still-007-1500x1000 What didn’t I like about the movie? Despite the fact that the Earth is dying, nobody seems to really be all that upset about it. Matter of fact, everybody seems to have accepted it really well. And we’re really not shown much of a disaster outside of a few dust storms. Despite all the family drama going on, the movie never engaged me on an emotional level. It’s a visual feast, especially if you see it in IMAX as I did but emotionally I just couldn’t get invested in the characters and the often dull dialog they had to work with. The third act just didn’t feel right to me as there were just too many things happening that seemed pulled out of a hat and for a movie that up until then had prided itself on its hard science it suddenly took a left turn into the kind of time travelling jiggery-pokery “Star Trek: Voyager” used to resolve it’s stories. But it’s ambitious and I always respect a filmmaker who goes out on a limb to do something different and give us a personal vision. It’s not my favorite Nolan movie (that honor goes to “Inception” which for me so far is his best movie) but it is worth seeing just on the basis of its spectacle and grandiose desire to be a movie with more of a purpose than just selling popcorn. interstellar-black_-hole_-interstellar-is-the-best-movie-of-2014 165 Minutes Rated PG-13

John Wick

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2014

Lionsgate/Entertainment One Films/Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by Chad Stahelski

Produced by Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch and Eva Longoria

Written by Derek Kolstad

Those of you who are dog lovers should be advised that there is a fairly graphic murder of a dog in JOHN WICK. I feel obligated to mention this because while many of you have no problem going to see a movie where human beings are machine gunned to pieces, stabbed, blown-up, incinerated and otherwise killed in all sorts of horrible ways, you would have a stroke right there in the theater seeing a dog get killed on screen.  But you should also know that the title character more than gets revenge for the murder for his dog. Does he ever. JOHN WICK has one of the highest body counts I’ve seen in an action movie recently. In fact, considering all the property damage, killings and general mayhem John Wick (Keanu Reeves) commits during the course of the movie you kinda understand how one of the bad guys feels when he screams out just before taking a bullet in the forehead; “It was just a @#$%^& DOG!”

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But it wasn’t “just a dog.” That’s the point. It was the last gift given to John by his late wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan) as a way to help him cope with his grief. She knew she was dying from cancer and arraigned to have the dog delivered to him after she was gone. The dog, named Daisy is a victim of a home invasion committed by Iosef Tarasov, (Alfie Allen) would be Russian gangster. John had an altercation with Iosef at a gas station earlier as Iosef wanted to buy John’s vintage 1969 Mustang. Iosef and his two cohorts break into John’s house, steal his car and kill Daisy.

Turns out that John Wick is well known to Iosef’s daddy, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) who is a Real Russian gangster. In fact, he’s the head of the New York branch of the Russian Mafia and he tells his idiot son that he wouldn’t be where he was if it wasn’t for the lethal abilities of John Wick. “You make him sound like The Boogeyman,” Iosef sneers.

“He’s not,” his father replies. “He’s the guy you send to kill The Boogeyman.”

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Viggo tries to talk John out of killing his son but he might as well try to reason with a tsunami. John proceeds to tear through Viggo’s men with a frightening, cold-blooded precision, upping the stakes of the game until Viggo has no choice place a $2 million bounty on John’s head. A bounty that attracts the attention of two of his old friends: Marcus (Willem Dafoe) and Perkins (Adrianne Palicki) assassins whose skills are just about equal to John Wick’s…

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Besides the high-octane shootouts and truly suspenseful hand-to-hand combats, JOHN WICK really delightedly me with its suggestion of a larger world outside of the movie that we were watching. A world where professional assassins and contact killers operate under an extraordinary code of rules that if broken mean instant death. Krugerrands in this world aren’t just gold coins. They’re mystical talismans that open secret doors and act as passports and letters of transit. One of the most fascinating concepts in the movie is The Continental, a New York hotel that apparently caters only to assassins. Owned by Winston (Ian McShane) and managed by Charon (Lance Reddick) The Continental is fascinating enough to deserve a movie of its own.

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Besides the actors already mentioned we’re also got John Leguizamo, Dean Winters, Clarke Peters, Kevin Nash and David Patrick Kelly showing up in what are essentially glorified cameos with the exception of Winters, who plays Viggo’s right hand man and gets more mileage out of a running gag about his inability to understand Russian than the gag deserves but he makes the payoff worth it. And I like Keanu Reeves a lot as an action star. Always have. I really don’t understand the hate for him as he’s always impressed me as a guy who has no pretentions about what he does. He makes movies for a living and he does it the best he can. And he does a great job here. He understands that in an action movie it’s his job to be the calm center and let the action revolve around him and that’s just what he does.

JOHN WICK is the latest entry in what I perceive as a return to the 1980’s Action Movie. We’ve had a lot of them lately. The “Taken” movies. The “Expendables” movies. The “Raid” movies and there’s a handful of others such as Sylvester Stallone in “Bullet In The Head” and Keven Costner in“Three Days To Kill.” Like those films, JOHN WICK is a B-Movie with an A-Movie budget and cast and it worked for me. It’s got a basic plot that’s just enough to get the movie going and once it does it served up enough full tilt boogie action to satisfy the action junkie in me. It’s stylish and just a little bit surreal. Highly Recommended.

101 Minutes

Rated R

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare

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1991

New Line Cinema

Directed by Rachel Talalay

Produced by Michael De Luca, Michael N. Knue, Robert Shaye and Aron Warner

Screenplay by Michael De Luca

Based on a story by Rachel Talalay

Based on character created by Wes Craven

By the time we get to FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE, Freddy Krueger has been around for eight years now and he’s simply no longer scary at all. How could he be? By this time Freddy has appeared in rap/music videos, hosted his own horror anthology TV show and his face appears on lunch boxes, kid’s pajamas (which shows you how loopy merchandising can get since Freddy Krueger is a killer of children) T-shirts, coffee mugs, shot glasses, tote bags, bumper stickers, oven mitts in the shape of his famous bladed glove…I think you get the point. By 1991 Freddy Krueger has been marketed up the yin yang and Robert Englund is appearing on award shows and talks shows as Freddy joking and clowning, breakdancing and riding skateboards. So when you no longer take a horror icon seriously anymore, what’s left to do? Turn him into a live action cartoon, that’s what.

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Peter Jackson wrote an unused screenplay for this movie in which Freddy Krueger was now perceived by teenagers as not being a threat at all and treated as a joke. In fact, his script had kids taking sleeping pills just so they could go into the dreamworld and beat up on Freddy. That would certainly have been better than what we got in FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE which for most of its running time is more Looney Tunes than Wes Craven.

Set ten years after the end of the previous film, we’re told that Freddy Krueger has killed off every last child and teenager in Springwood, Ohio and the remaining adults who still live there have pretty much gone insane from grief. Let’s face it, that’s a pretty depressing opening for the movie as what’s happened is that clearly Freddy has won. None of the battles, sacrifices and deaths of the characters in the previous movies have meant a thing because ultimately, Freddy got what he wanted. But now he needs to get out of Springwood and he needs one more very special child to do so. That child just may be John Doe (Shon Greenblatt) who wakes up in a youth shelter with nothing but caffeine pills and an old newspaper clipping of a missing woman named Loretta Krueger.

John comes under the care of case worker Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane) and dream specialist Doc (Yaphet Kotto) who also work with other troubled teens such as Carlos (Ricky Dean Logan) who was physically abused by his mother so badly he lost his hearing one one ear. Spencer ( Breckin Meyer) is a pothead. Mainly to piss off her control freak father. Tracy (Lezlie Deane) uses boxing and martial arts as a way of controlling the rage stemming from the sexual abuse she suffered at her father’s hands. Maggie herself has her own issues in the form of recurring nightmares about Springwood and that, along the article John Doe suggests to her that they should take a trip to the town to get some answers for both their problems. Carlos, Spencer and Tracy hide in the back of the van and all of them end up in Springwood where Freddy awaits with the secret of who the final Springwood child is and reveals his master plan to escape Springwood and kill more children because as he puts it in the movie’s only chilling line: “Every town has an Elm Street…”

This is the one that everybody remembers mainly because of the cameo appearances by Elinor Donahue, Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper (as Freddy Krueger’s abusive stepdad) Tom Arnold and Roseanne Barr (who are billed in this movie…no lie…as ‘Mr. and Mrs. Tom Arnold’) and it’s a shame because Lisa Zane’s (Billy’s older sister) performance is really good and deserves to have a better movie to be in. She, Yaphet Kotto and Robert Englund are really the only performances to watch out for as they commit to the material and give it all it’s worth. Even though here Freddy Krueger is definitely a cartoon character (the scene where he kills Spencer by video game is cringe worthy) Robert Englund is obviously trying his best to work with what he’s got.

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But it’s scenes like this and where he shows up as The Wicked Witch of The West that neutralizes the good ones such as where he replaces Carlos’ hearing aid with one that amplifies his hearing to the the point where the dropping of a handful of nails sounds to poor Carlos like explosions going off in his head. That’s the old sadistic Freddy we used to know and love at work there. Or the one where Carlos is dreaming he’s opening up a road map and it keeps on opening and opening and opening until he’s suffocating from the road map filling up the entire back of the van.

And it’s surprising to me that Rachel Talalay directed this one in such a slapdash silly manner as she’s been associated with every “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie from the beginning as a producer. One would think that she would know the character inside and out and come up with a truly knockout “last movie” in the series. But she obviously was more interested in the getting to the 3D sequence that is the climax of the movie complete with “dream demons” that supposedly explain Freddy’s supernatural powers and were undoubtedly pulled outta the same hat George Lucas got his “midichlorians” to explain The Force.

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FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE is the one movie I would truly point at as being the real clunker of the series. I can only recommend it being watched if you’ve already watched all the other movies in the series already. Fortunately, despite the title, it wasn’t the last and the next two Freddy Kreuger movies would more than make up for this one.

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89 Minutes

Rated R