The Fury of John Wick

Fury and John Wick are currently playing in theaters

John Wick

 

John Wick (2014) РRated R

An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him.

My wife and I often use Keanu Reeves as a yardstick for casting. Keanu appears to mostly have one “Speed” of acting. He is quite good at anything requiring posing (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Speed, The Matrix) but umm less so when heavy acting is required.

I was not expecting much at all from first-time directors and producers, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. They both have extensive backgrounds as stuntmen and second unit directors. This includes heavy work with Keanu on Constantine, Man of Tai Chi, and the Matrix movies.

In spite of having stuntmen as directors, John Wick is a little heavy on CGI, particularly for the blood. CGI, in general, has come a long way but blood and fire effects still need work and tend to pull one out of the immersion.

The plot is quite overwrought. John Wick loses the love of his life, the woman he gave up being an assassin for but that’s okay because just after she dies, he receives a puppy as a present so he still has something to love. That is besides his incredible house and awesome muscle car. It is not long before the villains steal the dog, trash the car, and kill the house or something along those lines.

Having written all of that, one would expect the film to bomb. Thankfully, John Wick is quite good. Keanu is definitely in his element here. He looks good in action, strikes nice poses, and has some good one-liners.

Being professional stuntmen, Leitch and Stahelski have a healthy respect and good eye for action scenes. To their credit, they eschew the use of jumpcuts and jitter camera. These simple choices make the action a lot of fun.

Most of the characters are not developed but merely various archetypes. That said, one character in particular is simply wonderful. That is The Continental Hotel. This is a hotel that caters specifically to criminals and where guests are not allowed to harm each other. Lance Reddick (The Wire, Fringe) plays the hotel manager to perfection.

If you like action movies, go see John Wick.

Fury

 

Fury (2014) РRated R

April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy commands a Sherman tank and his five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Out-numbered, out-gunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.”

Well I suppose we haven’t had a World War II movie since Monuments Men. Monuments Men was an excellent idea that was hampered by a rather haphazard and somewhat indifferent execution.

That pretty much sums up Fury as well. The attempt to convey the realities of tank warfare in World War II is fairly successful but the dramatic story of the five man crew is pretty pedestrian and pedantic (alliteration for the win).

Brad Pitt is Wardaddy is the battle-wise tank commander. A nearly unrecognizable Shia LaBeouf is Bible, the religious member of the crew. Jon Bernthal is Coon Ass, our beast of a crewmember (honestly, with as on the nose as the script is, I expected his nickname to be ‘beast’ or ‘animal’). Michael Pena is Gordo, our token minority. Finally, Logan Lerman plays our fresh, idealistic recruit, Norman.

The combat scenes are fresh and interesting. They try to showcase all the different aspects of tank combat. Not only are there many different Sherman tanks on display but they actually have a Tiger I tank, a first for a Hollywood production.

Obviously, Fury does not hold a candle to Saving Private Ryan as Fury’s characters don’t really gel as characters but if you want to see some Tank combat, Fury will fit the bill.

Sabotage & Arnold Schwarzenegger

 

 

Conan the Barbarian

 

I like Arnold Schwarzenegger as a star. I grew up with him as Conan the Barbarian, one of the best fantasy movies we had in the pre-Peter Jackson era. He was so iconic as Conan that he revisited it two years later in Conan the Destroyer. This version was toned down for the kiddies and mixed with a fair amount of Dungeons & Dragons but still very Arnold. He essentially reprised the role the following year as Kalidor in Red Sonja.

The Terminator

He IS the Terminator. Another iconic role that played to his strengths, the first two are in my favorite films list and the third is at least fun. Predator is another of my favorite films and Schwarzenegger leads a testosterone-heavy cast being stalked by an alien predator. True Lies reteamed him with James Cameron to great effect.

In the 90s, his films became very hit or miss and gradually began to decline in quality and box office receipts. I was looking forward to his return to movies after his detour into politics.

He did nice cameos in the first two Expendables movies. I really looked forward to his return to a starring role in The Last Stand. It was directed by Kim Jee-woon, whose The Good, The Bad, The Weird was a wonderful homage to American Westerns. Sadly while it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t very good either.

His next shot was co-starring with Expendables star Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan. If you thought The Last Stand was ludicrous, Escape Plan takes it to another level. This brings us to his latest film, Sabotage.

Sabotage

 

Sabotage (2014) – Rated R

Members of an elite DEA task force find themselves being taken down one by one after they rob a drug cartel safe house.”

One Line Review: A world of no or, as they would say, “#%$# my $@%#, #%$^*&^%^$#@”

This time Arnold turned to writer/director David Ayer for a comeback role. David Ayer penned U-571 which, apart from the grievous insult of changing the British heroes who pulled off the actual mission into Americans, was a pretty entertaining World War II saga. He went on to write Training Day which was a gritty and wonderful tale of police corruption. Ayer apparently found that to be his niche and wrote Dark Blue and S.W.A.T. before wiritng and directing Harsh Times and End of Watch.

David Ayer writes, directs, and produces Sabotage so the ummm sabotage to this movie must be laid at his feet. I remember when dropping the F bomb was shocking. Apparently it is so commonplace now that David Ayer replaced the epithet indicating sexual congress with several indicating the act of fellatio. He was so enamored of this that I think at least a half dozen characters in Sabotage use it. I felt like it was on an audio loop.

Ayer assembled a good action cast to back up Schwarzenegger. Sam Worthington (whose leading man career never took off in spite of Avatar, Terminator Salvation, and Clash of the Titans), Josh Holloway (Lost), Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Terrence Howard (Iron Man), and Max Martini (Pacific Rim) all try to out-macho each other as DEA agents. They are out-machoed by Mireille Enos (The Killing) as Lizzy and Olivia Williams (Dollhouse) as Caroline.

The characters are all cardboard cutouts. Poor Mireille Enos must have been told to act something the opposite of her character in the killing. Her portrayal of an addicted DEA agent is so over the top, it doesn’t just verge on parody, it revels in it. Still at least she seems to be having fun, Terrence Howard just seems embarrassed to be in the movie.

I have heard this movie described as an action version of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians (aka And Then There Were None). The truth is that it is more like a bad slasher film until the killer is revealed. The movie is filled with an unreal amount of nonsense and just about the worst dialogue I have ever had to sit through.

There is a big climactic fight/chase scene that should end the movie. Unfortunately Ayer wants to wrap up the loose ends so Sabotage limps on for another quarter hour or so after the end for another action scene and ending. This final ending is just awful and I don’t mean full of awe. No spoilers but this is the most disappointing ending I have seen since Return of the King decided to have about seven different endings.