Saturday, 11 April 2015


Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen
Writer: Derek Kolstad
Director: Chad Stahelski

Retired hitman and titular character John Wick (Reeves) is drawn back into his previous lifestyle after the son (Allen) of his ex-boss Viggo Tarasov (Nyqvist) brutally attacks Wick in his home, steals his Mustang and kills his dog. Sounds like a tenuous excuse for an enormous body count? Well, Wick loves his car - I mean he really, really, REALLY loves his car - and the dog was a present from his wife which arrived at his door shortly after his wife tragically passed away. Everything he valued has been taken from him and now he means to take his revenge.

Meanwhile, Nyqvist has to stop Wick from taking out his son, regardless of how much an idiot his offspring has been. After a dozen of his guys head to Wick's place and fail to take out their target (all of them becoming extremely dead in the process), Wick checks into the Hotel Continental, owned by assassin-friendly Winston (Ian McShane). The Continental is like a UN building for hired killers and within its walls they are safe from others, which gives Wick time to plot his next moves.

Directed by stunt performer and co-ordinator Stahelski the flimsy story is nothing more than a glorious excuse for a series of inventive, beautifully choreographed, balletic action scenes. Reeves shoots, punches, kicks, stabs and throws the bad guys in breathless, brilliantly crafted sequences which fans of the genre will absolutely love. Yes, this is very, very violent stuff but it's also so implausible that you'll be allowing yourself quite a few giggles at the sheer audacity of it all.

For a film that's so much fun, it's good to see that the cast seems to be enjoying themselves to the full as well. Reeves is well suited to the main role, handling the stunts with aplomb and not walking into the scenery when he has to act, whilst Nyqvist makes a smart, menacing bad guy. The supporting cast is right on the money too. In addition to McShane, Adrianne Palicki hits the target as convincingly twisted fellow assassin Ms. Perkins, Willem Dafoe makes a brief but telling contribution as an old associate of Wick's and Lance Reddick steals every scene he's in as the unfailingly polite and efficient manager of the Hotel Continental. Also, it's great to see David Patrick Kelly (from, amongst other things, Commando, in which Schwarzenegger lies about killing him last) in an all-too-brief appearance as a clean-up expert who makes sure the pools of blood and the bodies vanish after guys like Wick ply their trade.

At just over an hour and forty minutes, John Wick the movie is very much the John Wick the character. It knows what it has to do, it gets in there, it does the job as quickly and efficiently as it can and then it gets out of there. For action movie addicts it's a bonafide treat and although the film doesn't especially lend itself to a sequel I'd be surprised if we've seen the last of John Wick.

Monday, 6 April 2015


Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jason Statham
Writer: Chris Morgan
Director: James Wan

Long-delayed due to the tragic death of Paul Walker, the seventh instalment of the rubber-burning franchise finally screeches on to the screen. This picks up where the last movie left off, with "legitimate English bad ass" Deckard Shaw (Statham) vowing to take care of the people who left his little brother Owen (Luke Evans) seriously injured. After visiting said brother in a hospital and instructing them in no uncertain terms to look after him, he then proceeds to destroy most of the place (???) and heads to Tokyo where he disposes of street racer Han in a repeat of the end of the previous movie to bring everything up to date. We're just after Tokyo Drift, which takes place after Fasts 4, 5 and 6, even though Tokyo Drift was number 3. Get it? No? Doesn't matter.

Anyway, one suspicious package delivery later which almost blows up Dom (Diesel), Brian (Walker), franchise spare part Mia (Jordana Brewster) and their kid, it's time to send Mia and son "somewhere safe" again where she can worry about hubby Brian from the sidelines and poor old Brewster can reflect upon what a duff role she's been saddled with whilst the guys vow to track down Shaw and make him pay for killing Han. Before long they've crossed paths with a shadowy Government agent (Kurt Russell) who involves them in a plot to retrieve a state-of-the-art tracking app called God's Eye (I'm not making this up - just you watch the movie) and to rescue a hacker called Ramsay whose knowledge of God's Eye will help the good guys track down Deckard. Get it? No? Doesn't matter.

Of course, to get the job done Dom needs a team and Russell's character has taken the liberty of reassembling the remainder of the old crew; computer whiz Tej (Ludacris), smooth operator/terminal irritant Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and, most problematic for Dom, still-suffering-from-amnesia Letty (Michelle Rodriguez bagging the closest thing this film is going to get to a proper character arc). Oh, did I mention that there's an international terrorist (played by Djimon Hounsou) who wants God's Eye for himself and will, as is usual in these things, stop at nothing to get it? Well, I have now and no, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that the plot is nothing more than a peg on which to hang a series of eye-popping, jaw-dropping action sequences which will leave you either exhilarated or shaking your head in complete disbelief. Or, certainly in my case, both. 

Let's be frank here. This is a Fast and Furious movie and you're not going into this looking for Shakespearean dialogue and a deep, rigorous examination of the human condition. At least I hope that's not what you're expecting - if so, have you seen any of the previous six? No, what you're looking for is Statham and Diesel fighting each other with the most enormous wrenches you've ever seen. You're looking for vehicles chasing each other down the side of the mountain. You're looking for The Rock taking on the bad guys with a minigun. You're looking for a sports car jumping from one skyscraper to another - and then doing it again. This is an alternate universe in which the normal laws of physics don't apply and the characters which inhabit it are nigh-on indestructible. At one point, two cars collide head-on at high speed and their drivers just stagger out, slightly dazed. If you're not going to be able to buy into this kind of thing then this film is going to drive you insane.

This is, of course, all about the action. Vehicles flip, twirl through the air and bounce end over end. Buildings explode. Structures collapse. When characters aren't diving from speeding cars or being blown across warehouses they're involved in extensive, property-damaging, ludicrous fight sequences. There's so much action that you might feel exhausted just watching it. Central to this ongoing orgy of mayhem is an astonishing twenty-minute sequence in which Diesel and his buddies have to rescue Ramsay by ambushing the armoured bus which is transporting her. This portion of the movie opens with cars dropping, James Bond-style, from a transport plane and just builds from there. I won't spoil any of the remainder of it but all I'll say is that if you saw some of it from the trailer there's plenty more that you didn't see there which is in the film. It's worth the price of the entrance fee alone.

Equally, the fact that the aforementioned sequence is so amazing causes a few problems for the rest of the film. How can the film-makers possibly top that? The answer is that they don't. The final confrontation does try very hard, it's certainly destructive enough and there's a dizzying amount of stuff going on as Dom's team scamper across L.A. but, certainly for me at least, it doesn't hit the inventive heights of their earlier escapades.

So, on to the cast. Diesel is as reliable as ever, you either like Gibson's schtick or you don't (personally I'm fine with it), Ludacris brings some good humour to the proceedings and Michelle Rodriguez at least tries to get a handle on the emotionally-tortured Letty whilst also kicking some serious ass - well, you can't have too much character development in this, can you? Statham proves to be an enjoyable bad guy but he just isn't on screen enough, the same can be said for Tony Jaa who shows up for a couple of terrific fight scenes but that's your lot. In fact, there are just too many characters for this film to carry so there are some casualties in terms of screen time, predictably Brewster (who's been shunted out so many times she must feel like a train carriage) and, not so predictably, Dwayne Johnson, whose appearances as Agent Hobbs more or less bookend the movie. If you're expecting to see a lot of The Rock, you won't.

As for Paul Walker, the movie keeps him in the proceedings with a combination of the footage that was already in the can, some digital trickery and the use of doubles shot in ways that you don't quite get to see their face. There are times when the effect is a little odd but for the most part it works. Of course, it's fitting that the movie ends with a tribute to him and after the previous couple of hours of ear-splitting nonsense it's nice to see just how quietly and reflectively the movie closes, with Diesel and Walker together on a road. The dialogue is poignant and obviously heartfelt and, guys, in this case you don't have to pretend you have something in your eye.

So the story doesn't make a lick of sense, the dialogue is often ridiculous (purposely so, I hope, in some cases) and realism takes a back seat at the world's largest auditorium but you know what? Doesn't matter. It's a handsomely-mounted, big-budget, exciting action film. It's loud, it's brash and it wants you to know it. Switch your brain to neutral, strap yourself in and enjoy this for what it is. Preferably on the largest screen you can find with the biggest sound system.

Saturday, 4 April 2015


Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver
Writer: Noah Baumbach
Director: Noah Baumbach

Fortysomething documentary film maker Josh (Stiller) and his wife Cornelia (Watts) find their lives changed after meeting twentysomething couple Jamie and Darby (Driver and Amanda Seyfried, replacing original casting choice - and Baumbach's partner - Greta Gerwig). Jamie is also looking to make his mark in the world of documentaries and he's a big fan of Josh's work, or at least the one piece of his work that he managed to get hold of on videotape via Ebay. Darby, meanwhile, is a manufacturer of artisan ice-creams with odd flavours. After being initially reluctant to step across this generational gap, Josh and Cornelia suddenly find themselves at beach street parties, hip-hop dance classes and mystical cleansing ceremonies. Can Josh cope with all of this as his eyesight fails and his arthritis kicks in?

Noah Baumbach's film is an extremely enjoyable peek into the hopes and dreams of different generations. It's about growing up (even when you're convinced that you haven't), it's about trying to recapture lost youth, it's about thwarted ambition, it's about the need to feel valued, it's about people evaluating what they really want from life, it's about how a marriage evolves and much more besides. All these themes are dealt with in an assured, naturalistic way, the script is full of lovely touches and the performances are fabulous.

Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts are totally convincing as a married couple, you forget the actors instantly and you see the characters. As good as Ben Stiller is in more mainstream movies there's a tendency for me to overlook the fact that he's a really, really good actor and here he plays both comedy and drama adeptly. Naomi Watts could read the telephone directory and still be fascinating, Adam Driver manages to bring out both the disarming and infuriatingly hip sides of his character and it's only Amanda Seyfried who I feel is a bit short-changed in a role that doesn't really have the depth of the others. Don't get me wrong, she's very good but Darby isn't given much of an arc. And hold on, who's that playing Fletcher, long-time friend of Josh and Cornelia's, new dad and pillar of middle-class respectability? That wouldn't be ex-Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, would it? Yes, it would. Terrific casting there.

The film is shot with confidence and there are many stand-out sequences. In particular, there's a lovely montage which compares and contrasts the lives of Josh and Cornelia with those of Jamie and Darby. Surprisingly, it's the fortysomething couple who are reliant on technology whilst the twentysomethings are the ones going "old school" - Stiller's character taps away at a laptop, Driver's uses a typewriter. Watts reads from a tablet, Seyfried reads from a book. The older couple search for things to watch on Netflix whilst the younger couple are watching an old VHS tape of The Howling (good choice, by the way).

The comedy here is much more straightforward than I'm used to with Baumbach's earlier work, it's even quite broad in places and the cleansing ceremony is, to my mind, almost an indie version of a Farrelly brothers gross-out set-piece. Baumbach hasn't ditched his trademark quirkiness but the themes and situations are ones with which a lot more people will identify than, say, those in something like Frances Ha (personally I loved Frances Ha but I can understand why it would leave other people cold). The scene in which Stiller discusses his arthritic knees with his doctor is a highlight, the doctor puncturing his patient's denial of the diagnosis with withering, hilarious, deadpan responses.

Of course, being a Noah Baumbach movie, there's also room for a helping of drama alongside the chuckles and this is worked into the proceedings in a pleasingly organic way. Why shouldn't there be amusing and sad moments in the same scene? Isn't that how real life is? When events come to a head and the characters clash things don't always go the way that they would in most other movies, there are much more realistic and honest conclusions. Okay, there's the odd familiar plot development but for all of his willingness to put a different spin on a conventional tale Baumbach doesn't fall into the trap of pulling the story in directions that it just wouldn't go and sacrificing believability.

So, in short, see While We're Young while you're young. Or while you're not so young. Me, I'm off to find myself a twentysomething film review blogger...