John Wick

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this movie. I wasn’t expecting much but it turned out to be a pretty solid action movie.

I think the main thing I liked is that it was completely devoid of exposition. Nobody said any stupid lines to explain the plot, or to verbalize what was about to happen on screen. Things just happened, things were the way they were because, well, that’s just the way they were. The very simple plot was allowed to play out pretty much the way you expected it to, without any major turns or reveals or twists.

John Wick is a master assassin who has been retired for five years but is pulled back into his old world to avenge the death of his dog. I won’t go into detail about the dog but they succinctly explain the motivation behind the dog in less time than it took for you to read this paragraph so far. As I mentioned earlier, no exposition. The dialog was mostly short and to the point, and very well written for a movie with such a huge body count. My favorite line in the whole movie explained Wick’s background, or position within the underworld, in about 5 seconds of dialog. No flashbacks. No montages. No long drawn out explanations. Just one line was all it took for me to believe that this was a man who was capable of going into night club and killing about 50 people while only taking a bullet or two and a small stabbing. Note that this wasn’t the case for my wife, she thought it was a little overboard. But I’m a dude and I’m wired to believe stupid shit. Ha ha.

The film had some obvious visual effects blood here and there, but I counted over 50 stunt players and around 35 people under the VFX heading in the credits, and that included all the td’s, IT guys and producers. Suffice it to say that there were a lot of practical stunts and effects.

John Wick gets a thumbs up. It did pretty well at the box office last weekend, especially considering the minimal advertising I’ve seen for it. I’m glad that something like this has found an audience and that we can have a little reprieve from the mindless, crappy action movies we’re usually fed (I’m looking at you, The Equalizer!) John Wick wasn’t particularly smart, but it was not dumb, it was concise, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Birdman

Birdman has received a bit of attention because of the gimmick they used in the way it was filmed. They strung together a series of very long takes strung together with hard to identify cuts, so that the entire movie seemed to be one long shot. The shots, however, transcended time and space by jumping ahead a day, or an hour or maybe even backward a bit, I don’t entirely remember.

Did it work? On a technical level, hell yeah it did. What they accomplished from a mechanical ‘this is how you make a movie’ level was astounding. It was a pleasure to watch and all the performers fit into the puzzle perfectly. The novelty of it all wore off pretty quickly and after a while it just became part of how the movie was presented and was not a distraction. It gave it a sort of fly on the wall quality where you felt you were in the middle of it all. Props to the cinematographer (Emmanuel Lubezki, who has Gravity and Children of Men to his credit) for choosing to use a steady-cam for a film that must have been shot mostly with handhelds. It gave it a smooth, flowing quality that you don’t normally get in modern day films where shaky-cam(tm) is the norm.

There should/will be a very interesting behind the scenes ‘making of’ featurette on the bluray when it comes out. So what was the problem?

Mostly character and story. The main character was a washed up actor (Michael Keaton) who played a big superhero in his past and was trying to wrestle himself away from that role by producing, directing and starring in a Broadway play. I guess I perhaps couldn’t identify with his character so the plot was a bit boring. I kinda didn’t care either way about whether he succeeded or failed.

He was also prone to flights of fancy that were typically played as reality, like when he points to a light and it turns off, or when he lifts a toolbox up and throws it against a wall without touching it. I’m not sure what this was trying to say about the character and it didn’t add much to the plot.

I will call out Ed Norton’s (I refuse to call him Edward) performance. He plays an asshole really well and knocked his role out of the park. He was the highlight of the film but unfortunately it was not enough to make the overall experience a winning one.

But, if you can get past the boring main character and plot, it’s almost worth seeing just for the technical achievement. I don’t know if it’ll win any awards next year, but it’ll certainly be talked about. If you’re at all interested in the craft of moviemaking, and seeing a singularly unique, unconventially made piece of art, it might be worth your time.

The Two Faces of January

Viggo! Viiiiigoooooo! Love me some Viggo, but no Viggo nuts in this one. Bummer!

The Two Faces of January is a noir set in 1960’s Greece. That doesn’t sound too appetizing but it almost worked.

The plot centers around Viggo’s character, an investment cheat that is on the run with his dame, to Greece then perhaps across Europe. They meet up with an American national who is acting as a tour guide with a penchant for swindle himself, albeit on a smaller scale than Viggo. Throw in an accidental (?) murder and you have yourself the outline for a pretty good story.

The problem I had with is was I thought Viggo’s reaction to the situation was unrealistic. He’s supposed to be a calm, cool and collected con man, yet in the face of one little murder he suddenly turns into a complete idiot. I had no faith that he could have pulled off the cheats the allude to him pulling off (in a timeline before the movie starts.)

Any time they group had to lay low for a few hours, he’d get drunk, get jealous of his wife, go into the town square and start fights, all while being the only six foot tall white guy in town who can’t speak Greek and whose picture is in the paper as a suspect for the murder. Okay, but that only happened once but he did many similar things that would have blown his cover instantly, outside the confines of a more realistic story.

Viggo is also portrayed as a raging drunk, and again, I’m not convinced someone that’s such a dysfunctional drunk could have pulled off a swindle that netted enough cash for the victims to send a P.I. to Greece to track him down.

I can understand that murder will put a bit of stress on a guy, but later on when he kills his wife (spoiler alert!) he seems much less distraught than when he killed the P.I. I also find it hard to believe that someone can fall apart to that extent in just a couple days.

My wife says I’m completely wrong, so the movie can be different things to different people. It wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, perhaps maybe overly long. I just thought they really pumped the flaws of Viggo’s character way off the charts, in severe disproportion compared to the other two people in the trio, and it made the proceedings much less believable.