AEOS Review: John Wick (2014)

I made a spontaneous trip to the theater to see John Wick (2014) last night, knowing very little going in, and only half-excited after viewing the trailer. Tom from Digital Shortbread probably offers a more knowledgeable review on the film than I can, but based off my somewhat limited viewing of action flicks and Keanu Reeves movies, here is my very subjective review on the film.

I’m not sure if I missed all the ads, or John Wick just sneaked up on me. I don’t recall seeing previews for the film before I saw any other movies in theater, so I imagine there wasn’t as much push for John Wick as previous other actions movies to have come out this year.

For those of you who don’t know what John Wick is about, the story can be summed up simply as a revenge action flick. John (Keanu Reeves) has lost everything important to him. The movie opens with us watching his wife’s life flash before his eyes, leading to her eventual death when the doctor pulled the plug. It’s not entirely explained how or why she died, but early on we get a glimpse of John’s vulnerable side as he’s deals with his wife’s passing. After her funeral, John arrives home and receives a dog: a final gift from his wife, with a letter, offering another life to help him cope with his grief.

What appears to be the next day, John is filling up his ’69 Mustang with gas at a station when Iosef (Alfie Allen) and a couple of his friends approach him, offering to buy his car. John refuses, and of course, that’s not the end of it. Later that evening, Iosef and his buddies break into John’s home, beat him up, murder his dog, and steal his car.

And then we’re on to act two of the film, which makes up the majority of the film’s 96-minute run-time.

I won’t mention any spoilers beyond that, because it’s for viewers to enjoy who haven’t seen the film yet. What I will say is that the film takes off with adrenaline, yet as viewers, we don’t feel out of breath. It’s not an original idea for a man to seek vengeance for that kind of act, or for us to see a new hero arise that was living “on the other side” for the past five years. But what we get out of John Wick is a hyper-violent revenge story that introduces the action prowess of Keanu Reeves to a new generation. Reeves is no stranger to the action genre, but John Wick might be his most successful action film since The Matrix (2000), if I dare cross a line in saying so. This isn’t the first time Reeves’s acrobatic skills have been on display, but it’s what he does with a gun that makes everyone keenly aware that his character is not to be dealt with. It is not simply a killing spree when John Wick enters the room. He knows how to make a gun dance, and the scenes where he is in action, killing all those who get in his way, is not just a killing: it’s an art.

Viggo (Michael Nyqvist), Iosef’s father, describes John Wick as “the man who takes care of the boogeyman.” It’s a funny title to hold, but Reeves is adept at playing a believably violent, revengeful man on the hunt. John Wick is certainly Reeves’s movie through and through. The choreographed fight scenes reminded of Jason Bourne in the Bourne series. The film is slickly edited thanks to Elísabet Ronalds’s handy work, who was able to make the action scenes even more interesting to watch on screen. It also seems possible to suggest that “John Wick” could become a action franchise name included with the likes of Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne if producers decide to turn it into a franchise.

My greatest fear in going in to see John Wick was that I’d see a stylistically-engaging film that was low on substance. The style was definitely present, but the movie did fail to offer a very memorable storyline. Despite that, I still really liked John Wick. Keanu Reeves carried the movie, and there were decent, though somewhat unmemorable performances by Willem Dafoe and Michael Nyqvist. I wish they would have given these guys more to do as they’re both talented actors, but the screenplay lacked the necessary pull to make these characters come alive on screen, even with the actors’s best efforts.

My desire is that producers bank off the critical success of John Wick and turn him into a franchise and build on his story, past the revenge aspect. Lurking behind the scenes is a compelling story that would probably clue us in on Wick’s past, before he was married, and about the world that involves a mysterious hotel with its own private club that deals only in gold coins and proffers a very generous compensation for its limited cliental.

While I really enjoyed John Wick, it did have its issues. Lack of originality is one of them, although despite its generic storyline, it seemed to successfully play the “typical action movie” stereotype and still be interesting. Tyler Bates composed the soundtrack, which while at times, felt like a hardcore gangster soundtrack, managed to work . . . although it was unsteady in parts, making you question exactly what type of movie John Wick really was.

While John Wick is far from perfect, I had such a great time with it from beginning to end, that I am boldly giving it

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1/2 ON SCREEN.

 

(Sorry, Tom :-/)

*Note – I never totally figured out how to make “half an eye,” so I will be updating scores for previous movies I have reviewed to either slightly higher or lower, based off what I originally wanted to score them.

Now it’s your turn. What did you guys think of John Wick? Am I crazy for liking it as much as I did? Please share your thoughts below, because as always, I would love to know your thoughts.

AEOS Review: The Bourne Legacy

I haven’t reviewed a film in quite a while, but I have some free time right now, so I’m back to posting. Thanks for everyone’s patience! (I know all of you just missed me so much, ha!)

There haven’t been that many great films to review this month (see: last post), but The Bourne Legacy was one of those films I was looking forward to for one reason: Jeremy Renner. He arrives on the Hollywood scene in his early 40s, and he seems to be the “back-up plan” for all of these franchises that seem to bumble between furthering the franchise with yet another film, rebooting the franchise entirely, or recasting the series with Renner.

Renner first showed up in The Hurt Locker and did one heck of a job so I’m told, although I have yet to see that film. But I’ve witnessed him play an excellent supporting role in The TownMission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and The Avengers. Renner knows how to own the screen whether it’s a starring or supporting role, and I look forward to seeing more and more of him in the future!

Unfortunately, I did not dig The Bourne Legacy like I hoped to. I wouldn’t call Renner and Weisz’s performances saving graces since the film wasn’t that terrible, but the truth of the matter is that the film fell flat. It didn’t live up to the previous Bourne films, it lacked a great villain, it completely wasted Edward Norton’s talents, and Aaron Cross’s motivations were consumed solely with finding the “chems.”

Aside from the film’s notable issues, however, I found it to be an enjoyable action film. The lab scene where one of the workers goes on a killing spree was especially terrifying and shot in such a serious and subtle way, that it stood out as the best scene of the film for me.

Nothing about The Bourne Legacy especially grabbed my attention aside from the lab scene–the score lacked the excitement of the previous films, although the film did end with Moby’s Extreme Ways, which I appreciated. I tend to wonder whether there will be a fifth installment with the lackluster response both critics and audiences have given the film.

If you’d like to hear more of my banter on the film, please check out my movie buddy Ryan’s podcast on his site, The Matinee. I had the privilege of getting to guest on episode 66, where we talked not only about The Bourne Legacy, but in light of this interesting recast (Matt Damon to Jeremy Renner), also listed off each of our top 5 recasts in films. And not only to put in a plug for Ryan, but also just to say from my own perspective — Ryan runs a great site and is so up to date. He puts me to shame with how on top of things he is from writing posts, to seeing films, to recording podcasts. Please take the time to check out his site and specifically listen to episode 66 if you can spare the time! You won’t regret it.

What did you think of The Bourne Legacy? Did you like it more than I did? Do you think Jeremy Renner lived up to Matt Damon in the Bourne series? Do you think there will be a fifth Bourne film?

Week of Favorites: Actors

The great thing about film is that there are so many aspects to appreciate, favoring specific tracks on soundtracks to cinematographers to performances to directors. Another great part about film is that it’s always evolving, introducing new actors, rehashing old story plots, improving technology. There are always new and old films to watch and rewatch, new introductions to characters to be made, new soundtracks worth listening to, and so on.

After a stroke of writers’ block, I decided to get back to the basics and post my “Favorite Five” of various film categories each day this week, today starting with my five current favorite actors. While over time (and with more films to view), I’m sure my favorites will change over time, but for now, these are my five six favorites. Stay tuned for favorite actresses, films, and other favorite lists coming up this week.

6. James Franco

I’m of the belief that James Franco will become one of the best actors of the younger generations. He’s still only in his 30s, but he already has a rocking resume that boasts plenty of potential. He’s done everything successfully, from the big screen to the small screen to soaps to hosting the Oscars, and yet he pulls it all off with incredible charisma. I really enjoyed him playing the sharp, confused Harry Osborne in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, although I was especially blown away by his Oscar performance in 127 Hours. I still laugh at him in Never Been Kissed, watching the then-unfamous, unrecognized Franco spout off a couple forgettable one-liners in the background. Who would have figured him to have embodied James Dean only two years later? There’s loads more of positive things I could say about him, so I would direct you to my spotlight post on him here.

5. Tom Cruise

Coming in at my number 5 slot is none other than Tom Cruise. He may not be the most popular person in real life, but on screen, he’s one of my favorites. I tend to lean more toward his 90s or early 2000s films, such as A Few Good MenVanilla Sky, and my favorite of his, Jerry McGuire. He also established himself through the Mission Impossible franchise, his latest film hitting theaters only in December of last year. He’s versatile enough to be playing action hero or dramatic lead, and he brings an intensity to each role that he plays. I found him unusually funny in Interview with the Vampire, easily outdoing his popular co-star Brad Pitt. Although Risky Business wasn’t my favorite film, I still appreciated Cruise’s hilarious performance back when he was younger. The guy ceases to age physically, as Richard Roeper tweeted during the Oscars that Cruise has aged at least 3 years in the past 30.

4. Matt Damon

Matt Damon is another hard hitter, although he’s often overlooked for George Clooney or Brad Pitt. While both the latter are good actors in their own ways, there’s this drama and insight that I see more in Damon. He embodied a newer, more interesting, James Bond-like character as Jason Bourne in the Bourne series, but he really won me over with his stunning and moving performance in Good Will Hunting. He’s transitioned from action star to more fatherly roles in his more recent films, and he balances them well. He works well as both a supporting and leading man in film, and I’m excited to see what else he has up his sleeve.

3. Will Smith

Part of me leans toward Smith because I grew up watching Fresh Prince and I dug his humor. He lights up the screen in whatever film he’s in. Smith either fights off the bad guys or moves you to tears. He also does a nice job of staying out of the limelight despite being married to an incredible actress and raising two kids that are turning in careers of their own. Since 2005, Smith has acted as producer for all of the films he’s collaborated with. My favorite films of his are currently Hitch and The Pursuit of Happyness. Will Smith is one of the few actors who seem to hold a strong grip on comedy, action, and drama films, making him one of the more flexible actors in Hollywood today. I don’t care much for the Men in Black franchise, but I look forward to him taking on newer projects in the future.

2. Jim Carrey

One of my favorite actors of all time is Jim Carrey. He tends to play character actors in most of humorous roles, but he’s also created new funny guys such as Bruce Almighty. Carrey is probably known best for his funniest films: Liar Liar, Dumb and Dumber, or The Cable Guy. It’s often said that comedic actors struggle to cross over into drama; that may be true, but Carrey would be an exception. From Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to The Truman Show to The Majestic to The Number 23, Carrey could be considered a dramatic actor every bit as much of a comedic one. He’s turned in multiple performances that make you question how someone can so effectively walk the line between comedy and drama and come out as successful as he has on both ends.

1. Tom Hanks

When I was thinking through some of my favorite actors, Tom Hanks was the first to come to mind. I grew up watching him in Big and Turner and Hooch and Sleepless in Seattle, and I loved how he was really the everyman in his films. I’ve always found Hanks to be a relatable guy in most of the roles he embodied, and that’s what always attracted me to his films. He’s won two Oscars and I wouldn’t be surprised if he weren’t through with winning big awards yet. He’s starred in some of the most memorable films, from Forrest Gump to The Green Mile to Philadelphia to one of my favorite films of his, Saving Private Ryan. He seems to have done a little bit of everything, from voicing the iconic animated character Woody in the incredibly successful Pixar franchise Toy Story, to working with CGI animation in The Polar Express, to bringing The Da Vinci Code books to life, to playing a man stuck in an airport in The Terminal. Hanks is one of those actors who will do most anything, even gaining a significant amount of weight, acting against himself, and talking to a volleyball in my favorite film of his, Cast Away.

Who are your favorite actors? What makes them so good to you? Who holds your top spot?

The 5 Worst Movies I Saw in 2011

While unfortunately, I can’t include the latest Twilight, Nic Cage’s most recent debacle Trespass, or the Adam Sandler slip-up Jack and Jill because I didn’t bother seeing any one of those, there were five shining, terrible gems that worked hard to make this list.

5. Abduction/ The Hangover Pt. 2

Two movies tie for this spot because while both had their entertaining moments, both were pretty bad. Abduction had as many laughable moments as the second Hangover, while Taylor Lautner tried far too hard to be a young Jason Bourne. I will admit that some of the fight sequences were impressive on Lautner’s end, but between the over-dramatic dialogue and failed attempt to issue a sort of suspense that wasn’t quickly followed by a laugh, the script, Lautner, and the poorly used supporting cast made this movie all the more a mess and even painful to watch at times.

The Hangover Pt. 2 reigns as the biggest disappointment for a sequel for me.  Director Todd Philips took the formula that made the original a great hit and decided to repeat it action for action rather than employ any form of originality in this movie. For having such a hilarious leading cast under his belt, Philips really blew this great opportunity to make a hilarious sequel.

4) Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher was just a bad movie. It’s a great example of how to bring movie-goers in on opening weekend, and then allow bad word-of-mouth to drive any other potential viewers away. From the looks of the trailer, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake, and Cameron Diaz were going to make us crack up throughout the movie. I can’t recall laughing one time the entire movie. Every one of Segel’s few scenes were shown in the trailer, leaving no possibility of surprise or laughs. Diaz played an entirely unlikable character that never felt like bringing you over to her side the entirety of the movie.

3) Transformers: Dark of the Moon

I'm as scared as Shia in this picture.

This was the movie I wasted the most money on in 2011. Michael Bay successfully made one of the worst movies of the year without batting an eye. Shia Labeouf must have been coming off his latest run-in with the police or argument with a random bar-hopper, because his bad attitude was the only visible emotion he displayed on screen throughout the long, laborious three hour-length movie–1 1/2 hours too long. Then, in steps Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, the Victoria’s Secret model that has never acted before, and lets us know within five minutes that that‘s the case. I had to even laugh at Bay’s attempt at jabbing Megan Fox with a line from one of the characters that was something like, “I HATED your old girlfriend. She’s so *insert negative remark here*. Scene after scene of unexplained phenomena continued while I stepped out of the theater to get a break from the madness and go to the bathroom.

2) The Green Hornet

Luckily, the movie theater’s credit card machines were down and I was able to see this movie for free, because only my time was wasted in this case. Perhaps some of the failure of this movie is due to it not finding it’s direction under Marvel, which has made many successful action/superhero movies. Seth Rogen blows in this movie more than other flops he has turned in year after year. Christopher Waltz fills the role of the worst villain I have ever seen in a movie. I have no clue what Cameron Diaz was doing in this movie, because she didn’t fit at all, and the bromanship between Rogen and Jay Chou quickly plummeted as they both attempted to over-induce the audience with their version of being dramatic. James Franco made an odd, but interesting cameo in the beginning, and he is the luckiest of them all because he got killed off so early. I wish Rogen and Chou would have followed in his footsteps, or better yet, not made this horrible movie.

1) Beastly

Beastly holds the number spot for worst movie I saw in 2011, because I couldn’t think of any other movie that was as bad as this one. There are so many problems with this movie, I don’t even know where to begin. Writer-director Daniel Barnz wrote one of the worst screenplays to make it on the big screen. It has to be the poorest attempt at taking a story/movie gem like Beauty and the Beast and trying to make a spiff off it. While Vanessa Hudgens could be a believable Beauty, every last one of her lines were oozing with sap, refusing to let her portray a normal, actual person who talks like a normal, actual person. Alex Pettyfer plays the “beast” character, that instead of losing his six-pack, gains a new set of tattoos and goes bald. “Pretty gruesome,” his character refers to his new look, but Hudgens declares that she’s seen worse, and now we all know that somehow in this pile of sloppy, self-indulgent, pretentious script, Beauty will wind up with the Beast. Which leads me to question many of the movie’s plotholes: Why would her father allow a complete stranger to hole her up in a house? Why does Pettyfer think gifts such as a designer purse  or wearing a mask will “woo” a girl downstairs? Which leads me to the biggest question of sorts, why did I sit through this entire movie? Or even more so, how did I not vomit throughout the movie?

What were the worst movies you saw in 2011? Did you like any of the ones that I couldn’t stand, or would you put them on your worst list too?