The Fury of John Wick

Fury and John Wick are currently playing in theaters

John Wick

 

John Wick (2014) – Rated 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) – Rated 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.

Hercules Schmercules

I recently had a day at the movies. You should go catch Snowpiercer but here are a few notes on Hercules. Hercules is currently playing in theaters.

Hercules

 

Hercules (2014) – Rated PG-13

Having endured his legendary twelve labors, Hercules, the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace and his daughter seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord.

Once again we have multiple projects on the exact same topic. Last year, it was an assault on the White House. Previous years have seen competing versions of Snow White to the pairing of Valmont/Dangerous Liaisons. This year, Hercules is our whipping boy.

Renny Harlin rushed his “The Legend of Hercules” out at the beginning of the year. I haven’t seen it but by all accounts it is pretty awful. It stars Kellan Lutz and straight-to-DVD action hero Scott Adkins. The Legend of Hercules was dumped into the graveyard of bad movies aka January.

We’re well into July which used to be prime blockbuster territory but now that the blockbusters are all scheduled for May with a few June holdovers, July has become a testing ground for movies that have summer appeal but we don’t think are going to be blockbusters. In this summer heat haze, Brett Ratner brings us Hercules.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is certainly physically like I would picture the mythical Hercules, way better than a model and sparkly vampire. His sense of humor would also seem to lend itself to a lighthearted approach to the material.

I suppose the most unfortunate part of Hercules is that Ratner and the writers can’t seem to figure out what they want the movie to be. This Hercules is adapted from the Radical comic of the same name by Steve Moore. I have not read the comic so I cannot comment on that but Evan Spiliotopoulos and first time film scriptwriter Ryan Condal did the adaptation. This is Spiliotopoulos’ first screenplay in five years. Before that he did treatments of the direct-to-DVD sequels for Tinkerbell, Lion King, Tarzan, Cinderella, and Jungle Book.

If you are looking for a Steve Reeves peplum romp, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a CGI monster heavy fantasy, look elsewhere. Hercules patterns itself as a cross between the Kevin Sorbo series (Hercules as more of an adventurer than a demigod) and The Magnificent Seven (themselves based on The Seven Samurai).

Hercules leads a team of mercenaries, each with their own specialty (female archer – how original, feral hand axe fighter, seer with a staff, man with knives, etc.) while Herc carries a large styrofoam club. The villains of Hercules are ridiculously underdeveloped. The movie could actually have used to be a bit longer but Ratner wanted to keep things breezy. Hercules runs a scant hour and thirty-eight minutes long.

I guess I should be glad that they kept CGI to a minimum as the scene with the snakes is laughably bad as are some of the fire effects late in the film. The Nemean Lion and monstrous boar, shown briefly in flashback/storytelling mode, looked good though.

The movie plays out a little darker than Johnson’s preferred acting style. He is still fun to watch as are Ian McShane and Ingrid Bolso Berdal as teammates. John Hurt effortlessly steals the show as Lord Cotys. The movie seems tailor-made for a series of adventures featuring Hercules and friends.

The movie isn’t terrible but I can really only recommend it for fans of The Rock.

 

44 Inch Chest

Okay the mediocrity of yesterday’s Dead Cert left me with an urge for a good British gangster flick. 44 Inch Chest is currently available on instant Netflix.

44 Inch Chest (2009) – Rated R

“After his wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), cheats on him, gangster Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) gets his revenge by enlisting his underworld pals to kidnap her hunky French lover (Melvil Poupaud) in the feature debut of director Malcolm Venville. Top British actors, including Ian McShane, John Hurt and Tom Wilkinson, round out the cast of the crime thriller, penned by the screenwriters of another memorable Winstone vehicle, Sexy Beast.”

“Love’s hard work, hard graft. Love can be murder. Love is watching what she wants to watch on the telly, taking her the papers and a cup of tea on a Sunday morning in bed and inquiring to how she might be feeling, “You all right, Liz?” whilst plumping up her pillows. “

Warning: When this says it is rated R for strong language, they mean it. According to imdb, the F bomb is dropped 162 times in this movie and that isn’t the worst of the language. I’ve never heard the C bomb dropped so often in any movie but it means a lot less in Britain than it does here in the States.

Well I liked the British B-list class of actors in Dead Cert. Steven Berkoff and Dave Legeno from that film also appear in this but 44 Inch Chest has much bigger names to throw around. Ian McShane (a favorite of mine since Deadwood), John Hurt (ditto but since Alien), Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins), and Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones) all star here. They are all here to backup Ray Winstone as cuckolded gangster Colin.

The film opens brilliantly with Colin (Ray Winstone) lying amid the wreckage of his living room with the strains of “Without You” playing over the stereo. Most of the rest of the film is just Colin in a room with his mates and Loverboy (I like that we never know his name).

I really don’t mind language. Actually I love language, harsh or otherwise. I don’t use harsh language much myself – I dropped something yesterday, accidentally said ‘crap’ and had it repeated immediately by my two-year-old granddaughter. Whoops! South Park: The Movie used the volume of harsh language to humorous effect. The HBO series Deadwood used harsh language lyrically in a splendid combination of cursing, historical slang, and poetry.

Unfortunately 44 Inch Chest simply throws in language willy-nilly. It is important to throw in enough language to show how salty these friends are, particularly John Hurt’s misogynist character. Sadly they often go over the line into self-parody.

In spite of the nice cast, the movie goes nowhere for the first two acts. The third act has a few interesting revelations but is not terribly well-handled.

Be aware that in spite of the Netflix description, this is by no means a crime thriller. It is meant to be an introspective character study of Colin with some window dressing. It is mildly interesting but could have been really good with a better director and screenwriter.

People Watch: Derek Lea who plays Bumface is normally a stuntman and has worked on Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator, Troy and many others,