John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) – A Good Sequel That Raises the Stakes

john-wick-2-keanu-reeves-the-sequel-to-john-wick

    “John Wick: Chapter 2” is the best kind of sequel. It raises the stakes, gives greater exploration of the world and further develops the characters. Sadly what keeps it from being on par with the first film is it isn’t nearly as tightly written and the ending could have been handled differently. I wouldn’t call it great because the cons it carries keep it from being that, it is no “Empire Strikes Back” but it is better than “Die Hard 2.”

      The film was directed by Chad Stahelski, written by Derek Kolstad and produced by David Leitch, Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee.

     The story picks up where the last film left off with Wick taking out Viggo’s brother to get his car back so he can go back into retirement. Sadly his retirement doesn’t last long as Santino calls upon a “Marker” that had been formed between them when he helped John complete his impossible task. When John refuses he destroys his home, forcing John to fulfill the “Marker” and kill his sister, who sits on the Assassin High Table.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise involves John being pulled back into the world of assassins after he finishes back his car as the stakes are raised as he has to kill someone who will put an even bigger bounty on his head. I enjoy the “lose lose” of the situation that John is put into. It forces creativity and thinking outside the box.

The Opening – The opening is fantastic and one of the best action sequences in the whole film. In it we see John get his car back and make peace with Abram (Viggo’s brother) after he kills all his men and gets his car back. It is powerful and we see that John is still honorable even when others are not.

The Action – This film has a lot of action in it and because of it there is a lot of great action. From the fight in the catacombs in Rome, to the Museum fight and the car chase at the beginning…all of these run laps around the Bond films out of recent memory.

 The World – The world is intricate as we learn more about what holds the world of assassins in place. From the Continental having hotels all over the world, the High Council of 12 that runs everything and the Bowery King, and underground information broker in NY who owns the streets.

The Characters – The characters are the best part and there are a lot of great ones, though the villain is once again the least interesting character in the film…much like Viggo’s son in the first film.

Charon – Charon is the man who welcomes people into the Continental and this time he is Wick’s ally as he takes care of his dog and takes him in before the Continental excommunicates him. I hope he’ll be back for the sequel.

Ares – Ares is the deaf assassin that serves Santino. She is a great character and holds off Wick on multiple occasions. I wish we could have learned why she is serving Santino as there was clearly more there. She is the final boss for Wick before he finally ends Santino in the Continental. Ruby Rose does a fantastic job.

Gianna – Gianna is Santino’s sister and one of the members of the High Table. She kills herself rather than letting John kill her and they have a great conversation as we see that she always ended things on her terms. Like Santino she is ruthless though as our first scene with her is her shutting down someone whose land she has taken in her rise to power. We learn that her and John are friends too.

Cassian – Cassian is Gianna’s protector and Common does a great job of showing him to be the honorable assassin. He is respectful of John, even as he is trying to kill him and we see how both of their codes keep them at odds where they would be friends in other circumstances.

Aurelio – Leguizamo is back, though it is only to pick up John’s car and joke around about when it will be fixed. He is a great character though and I hope he is an ally in the next film.

Winston – McShane does an amazing job as this character. In this we see he like Cassian is bound by honor and he gives Wick a day before he excommunicates him as well as giving him the “Marker” that Santino had placed him under so he can use it to free himself someday. You see regret from Winston but also hope that Wick will survive.

The Bowery King – Fishburne plays the Bowery King, an information broker who tags pigeons with chips and microphones so he knows what is going on everywhere. He is insane but has respect for Wick for sparing his life. I hope we see him again as he mentions that Wick owes him when he hides, heals and gives Wick the gun to take out Santino.

Okay: Santino – Santino betrays Wick and there is no reason behind it. It is implied they have a history but it is never explored fully. I didn’t hate the character so I won’t put him as a con, but he could have been so much more. I wanted more history and less action and he could have been how to do that.

The Ending – The ending has Wick excommunicated and the High Table raising the bounty internationally on his head as he is running away with his dog but holding the “Marker” which maybe his salvation. I liked it but wish he had found a more creative way to end Santino. I wish he’d still had the Continental. Him having nothing makes his survival much more questionable and if they don’t kill him next film (given he has no allies) it will be difficult to take seriously. He needed some allies.

Cons: When the Action Goes Too Long – There is a ton of action in this film and at times it goes on way too long. I get this is an action movie but what made the first film better is the action had purpose and didn’t overstay it’s welcome. When Alfie Allen is taken out it is quick but here the action sequences are dragged out and it detracted from the amazing narrative that was going on.

    This is a sequel you should check out if you like action films and were a fan of the first film. The world is further developed and the stakes are raised in such a way that they could end this series as a Trilogy easily. After that I hope they don’t do anymore, they can’t raise the stakes and take anymore from John Wick, so I hope they end this series next movie. I really like John Wick and I’d hate for to be “Die Harded.” This film is a solid sequel and is once again a lot of fun in a world Keanu Reeves clearly owns.

Final Score: 8.9 / 10

Advertisements

John Wick (2014): An Amazing Action Flick That Shows Just How Great Keanu Reeves Can Be

john-wick

     “John Wick” is one of the best action movies I have ever watched. This is a movie that has an intriguing world, fascinating characters, amazing action and a narrative that flows. If you like action films. These are my brief spoiler free thoughts before I get into the main narrative and the details of the film, but truly, this film is worth your time.

    The film was directed by Chad Stahelski, written by Derek Kolstad and produced by Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria, Michael Witherill and James McTeigue.

    The story involves retired assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) being pulled back into the world of assassins after the son Losef (Alfie Allen) of the Russian Crime Syndicate steals his car and kills his dog leading him to go on a killing spree against the Syndicate as he finds himself pulled into the world he left.

The Pros: The idea – The idea of an assassin pulled out of retirement to go against people he used to work for is intriguing. It gives the personal touch and motivation that can easily be lost in a studio made version of this.

The World – The world is amazing! You’ve got an assassin run neutral zone that is a hotel, through which all the different organizations have a way to interact without murder…and Wick is the best of this group as of what we learn from this film.

The Soundtrack – The music is by Tyler Bates and Joel Richard and it is good at getting under your skin. You feel Wick’s conflict as well as how amazing some themes are as they are good at showing the dulled senses of a club combined with the hyper focus of an assassin on a particularity memorable sequence.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark but uses colors to illustrate mood and tension. Red is used a lot in the club scene and we see light used when he is with his wife and has peace living with his dog. It is truly wonderful.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest parts of this world and the fact that they chose great actors shows as much.

Aurelio – John Leguizamo plays the car repairmen for the different gangs and is friends with John Wick. He’s a great character as he is the first to show Losef he is in over his head and that he barked up the wrong tree and even confronts Viggo without breaking a sweat. It is a minor but fantastic role. Also I’ve always been a fan of Leguizamo.

Viggo – Viggo is in charge of the Russian Crime Syndicate and is a great overall villain as we see his respect for Wick but also his ego come into play. Wick lets him go free once and he lets it all go because he wants revenge for his bastard of a son. His death means something because of it because he tries to live honorably but gives it up for personal revenge.

 Winston – Ian McShane plays the owner of “The Hotel” and is a fascinating character as he gives protections to those who live in death and promotes it as a neutral zone. When it all goes to hell he honors that too and lets Wick know Viggo’s location and kills Ms. Perkins for killing the staff and targeting Vick. I want to learn more about this place.

Marcus – Willem Dafoe is Wick’s friend and protector in this as he joins Viggo to protect Wick and he saves Wick multiple times. IT is a great relationship and I wish we’d gotten more history as Marcus like Wick is an assassin capable of empathy.

John Wick – This is the best Keanu Reeves performance I have seen since “The Matrix” and I love that we get to see him emote and have anger, passion and the everything else this underrated star is capable of. The movie would be worth it just for Reeves. His arc involves losing everything but finding peace after revenge, which you rarely find in movies of this type where the broken person is the theme. Wick healed and we get his prime motivation in the end is justice.

The Ending – John Wick is at a Vet and rescues a dog and uses some of the medicine to heal his wounds fighting the Russian Crime Syndicate. He picks a Pit Bull and we see that even if that world of killers pulled him back in, he will always be outside of it. The dog that his wife gave him was his peace and it is once again at the end.

The Cons: Ms. Perkins – She wants to kill for money and knows John Wick? I didn’t know if they wanted to go ex-relationship route but she is a character is purely a plot device. We don’t learn about her relationship to Wick or much else, which is a shame and makes her a con.

Losef – Losef is a 2-D villain, he never grows up, shows complexity or regret…and just brings the film down. Alfie Allen is good but his character is awful. He deserved to have someone more than a plot device to up the anti for Viggo against Wick.

    The only things that really keep this film from being perfect are Losef being a nothing character who is just a coward and bully and Ms. Perkins having no motivation for wanting to take out Wick beyond money. This brings down what could have enriched the story further as she is the secondary main villain and we never learn why. Besides these two characters this film has tight writing and was beautifully filmed with some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in any film. This film is a beautiful work of art that is well worth checking out. Suffice to say, I can’t wait to watch “John Wick: Chapter Two.”

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Chef (2014): A Celebration of Good Food and Finding Dignity

chef poster

Besides “Iron Man” this is probably my favorite film so far that Jon Favreau has directed. He also stars as the main character this and wrote the film, which gives me even more respect for the guy. This film clearly came from a place of passion and love of for the creation of good food. This film also does a great job of showing how social media shapes how films can be presented too, but I’ll get into more of the details of what I mean in the  actual assessment. One final note here as well, as someone who lives in Oregon, I have a great passion for food trucks and this movie does a wonderful job showing what they do and can do.

“Chef” was directed, written and produced by Jon Favreau, with the other producers being Karen Gilchrist and Sergei Bespalov.

The premise of the story involves Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favraeu) losing it after a critic Ramsey (Oliver Platt) gives him a bad review after his boss Riva (Dustin Hoffman) pressures him to keep the menu safe, rather than to experiment. This leads to him quitting when his boss refuses to let him cook anything beyond traditional menu leading him to seek out help from his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and returns him to the dream of owning a food truck and having full control over what he gets to cook, over the course of this he finally builds a relationship with his son.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Like I said at the beginning, there is a beautiful presentation and love of the food that is cooked. Whether it is a simple grilled cheese sandwich, an Italian dish or a rich meat dish…all the food is presented beautifully on screen. Kramer Morgenthau did a great job with it all.

The Soundtrack – I really enjoyed the soundtrack! It has a lot of jazz of all kinds, Cuban music and drums that give it a very active feel, which fits as it doesn’t show being a Chef as easy. It shows just how difficult the work is and the pressure of people waiting as their dish is completed. Lyle Workman did a fantastic job!

The Characters – The strongest part of this film are the characters. No one is really a bad person in it and everyone is given exploration, even the critic. This is something that you usually wouldn’t see in a movie that follows these beats as it would usually end with the critic or antagonist being shamed, this film doesn’t though because it gives the critic as much respect as Carl.

Molly – Scarlett Johansson is great in this role! She is the lover of Carl but in the end mostly more of a friend. We never see her in the romantic role except when Carl makes them dinner once and she is there to help kick him back into gear when he depressed and explodes at the critic who gave him a bad review.

Riva – Review is the owner of the business in which Carl is the Chef for. He’s not a bad person, but he’s afraid of change and that creates tension with Carl who is always experimenting. Dustin Hoffman adds a lot to a role that could have been just a cruel man afraid of change, instead we have a man who cares about his restaurant and the customers and that is the reason he fears change.

Marvin – Marvin is the ex-husband of Inez who has a cheating problem (it implies he has a lot of bastards probably) but is also a nervous wreck afraid of dirt and everything else. He respects Carl though and funds his Food Truck idea. He has a small role but his character is interesting as he is like a man trying to learn how to feel. Robert Downey jr. of course does an amazing job!

Ramsey – This is another role that could have just been antagonistic, but we soon learn that their drama arose out of Carl’s lack of freedom in his job and lack of tech. savyness when he replies on Twitter and thinks that it is an email. They resolve things at the end though and Ramsey mentions how he was backing him from the beginning but wasn’t going to lie about the terrible experience at the restaurant, Carl deserved honesty…and he’s right. I like when critics are given constructive roles like this and aren’t just demonized. Though I am biased, being a reviewer myself. Oliver Platt is great.

Inez – I haven’t seen Sofia Vergara in anything outside of “Modern Family” but I hope that I can see her in more after this. She is really good as the Single Mother who is a professional who is still friends with her past relationships. She is the most mature character in the film and the one who most knows herself and her dreams. For Carl it is a discovery.

Martin – It’s been a while since I’ve seen John Leguizamo in anything, but he is great in this! He is both Carl’s co-worker and friend and when he hears the passion about the food truck Carl has, he goes to join him and together they are the main team that travels the United States together. He is a good guy and is more relaxed than Carl, giving them a nice contrast. He also acts as an older brother to Carl’s son too.

Carl – Jon Favreau really has a lot of range and is talented for pulling off everything so well with this production. You can see how much he cares about food and the characters as there aren’t any one dimensional antagonists. Everyone has reasons that are shown and not told and Carl represents that really well. His character starts out as a man unhappy in his job and disconnected from those around him to one who is really connected by the end has has built his relationships and with it his self respect. It really is a great movie to see.

The Message – The main message is that you have to respect yourself first and foremost and that is how others will respect you. Ramsey the critic echoes this at the end and points out that there was no love in the meal he at Riva’s restaurant, while here he can taste how good it is and now wants to back it. It is powerful and shows what self respect and perseverance can accomplish.

Okay: The Ending – The ending was a little too happy and felt a little rushed. I wouldn’t have had Inez and Carl get back together, or if they had too I would have shown them actually communicate more and have it be a process. We never see that process so it’s almost more of a wish fulfillment for there son when we never get to know why the relationship ended in the first place or what changed for them to get back together again.

I would highly recommend this movie. If you have a love of food or complex characters, you will probably enjoy this film. The fact that my only real issue with it is that it is too happy is saying something. Everything else is spot on and characters change and grow. The one thing that could have made it perfect beyond the ending would have been to give us more time with characters and their relationships as those moments were so strong as it was, we just needed more of them to complete a perfect picture. Regardless, this is a favorite film and I can’t wait to see what project Jon Favreau does next.

Final Score: 9. 6 / 10.