John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) – A Great Sequel Entering Dangerous New Ground

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum IMAX Poster Invites You ...

    “John Wick 3” is a great film. It is also a film that I worry has the potential to be the last great film in this Franchise. This film has action better than the first film but I’d argue the drama still isn’t as strong. The first film didn’t need a sequel, while this one goes all in on Franchising. This for me is the biggest issue, which is why I’ve brought it up twice. I enjoyed the new characters and this world run by assassins with deep lore is why I watched the sequel in the first place. This film grows on that, and it could go further and that is what makes it great, even if the film doesn’t feel like an end.

The film was directed by Chad Stahelski and written by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams.

The story follows John Wick (Keanu Reeves) after “John Wick 2” as he loses protection and has all assassins set upon him. The High Table sends a Adjudicator  to punish all those who helped him, including the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) and the Continental Hotel leading to a confrontation as John Wick seeks help to clear his name.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful. If you look at the poster that I used to start the review, it has that level of color contrast throughout the film. This is a film that makes the most of the environments the characters find themselves in. At one point we are in a desert, another time fighting in a library and the rainy streets of New York City. Dan Laustsen truly has a masterful eye.

The Action – This is a film that has some beautiful action. We have a gun and knife fight in a museum that has old guns and weapons. We get a fight in a room of mirrors with multiple combatants and a shoot-out in Casablanca. The “John Wick Franchise” has always been great on action and in this it got back to the variety of the first film and in many was better. This film went all in on the set pieces it gave us.

The Characters – The characters get exploration are some of the strongest part of this Franchise and this film delves into characters from 2 and introduces us to some great compelling villains who I can’t wait to learn more about. This is a character driven drama and this film fully embraces that.

Zero – Zero is the man the High Table hires to hunt down John Wick. Mark Dacascos does a wonderful job as the assassin. He is a fan of John Wick and has a sense of honor about him. He only does what is asked and never breaks the rules that are set.

The Adjudicator – Asia Kate Dillon is amazing. I’m so glad she survived this film. The Adjudicator is more threatening than any characters we’ve met so far. I’m including all those at the High Table too. Asia is also a non-binary actor and I’m hoping we see Asia in more things. The Adjudicator is the most compelling character in the series at this point outside of John Wick and I can’t wait to see how their story unfolds.

Sofia – Sofia owns the Continental in Casablanca and only helps John because he helped save her daughter. Their relationship is complicated and you can see the love and hatred within it. They are in a job where favors cost even  Things have to be pretty bad when it involves love. They were at one point clearly friends, but all of Sofia’s help comes from business or revenge. I hope she comes back. Halle Berry did an amazing job. She was one of my favorite characters in this film. I know she isn’t a fan of Wick, but her actions in the film made her an enemy of the High Table.

Berrada – Jerome Flynn (Bronn from “Game of Thrones”) shows up as the Master of Coin of the High Table and even though he helps John Wick (Tells him how to find the Elder, go into the desert and walk until you collapse). He also shoots Sofia’s dog when she refuses to give him it. He manages to survive Wick and Sofia so I have a sneaking suspicion he’ll turn up again. Berrada controls the money and is part of the balance of the High Table.

Winston and Charon – This is the film that shows just how great Winston and Charon are. Charon holds the line against The High Table’s forces with John Wick and is the only survivor outside of him. Winston is the manipulator. He calls a parlet after the battle is one and “kills” John Wick. What is implied is that he knew John Wick would survive and is still an ally even though the Adjudicator doesn’t trust what happened and says that his hotel is now responsible for killing Wick. How this will go remains to be seen. Ian McShane and Lance Reddik continue to be one of the strongest parts of this franchise. Can’t wait to see what their characters have planned next.

The Bowery King – Laurence Fishburne continues to be the core resistance against the High Table. When the Adjudicator shows up, he laughs in their face. This is a character I didn’t expect to survive. Given he did I think there is so much promise. He uses The Tick Tock Man (Jason Mantzoukas) to rescue John after he is shot by Wintson. This is a character who gets the long game and I really hope he gets a great story worthy of surviving the High Table’s revenge. Fishburne’s charisma and the fun he has is the character has been an enjoyment since the last film.

John Wick – John Wick drives the story. This is a man who returns to the family he left behind (The Ruska Roma) only to have them send him to Casablanca and to lose all their protection. From here he proceeds to lose more as when he meets the High Table Elder after injuring a member of the High Table in his quest for the Elder. When John does meet the Elder he gives up his wedding ring and is an assassin who is sent to kill Winston. Instead he joins Winston and protects the New York Continental only to barely survive when Winston parlays with the High Table and leaves him for dead after shooting him. What progress and safety he earned, he gave up and now all he has is the Bowery King and his war against the High Table who controls the world. Keanu Reeves owns this character and I think as worried as I am about this becoming a dead franchise, there is still a story to tell.

The Cons:

Too Long – This was problem the second film had as well. I would have cut the action sequences in half to get more lore. I get this is an action series but the lore is so rich and there are so many relationships that are worth exploring. When action drives everything it can only go so far. I love good action but character is what makes a film.

The Danger of Franchises Never Ending – This film is all about “John Wick 4.” Everything in the setup is sequel bate. How it will do that has me intrigued but that is also a danger. I can’t think of a good 3rd Movie post sequel that made me want a further franchise. It can work for books but films have less time. It could still be great but all it takes is a studio executive or lazy director not caring.

“John Wick 3” is a great film. If you have been along with the Franchise up to this point I’d say go for it. The action is compelling and the world is developed further. We meet the Elder who controls the High Council to some degree and we see Wick betray him. There is so much going on and the twist of the Bowery King surviving his punishment woks. I want more Fishburne as the Bowery King was always mad so we have two mad factions against each other. Order versus chaos. Part of me does wish it had ended here and that the story had continued without Wick, but if you are building Batman, you need Bruce Wayne and this series clearly knows that. I’m mostly worried about this series going “Die Hard 4.” I could be wrong, the writers are clearly intelligent but that will always be a fear with action franchises. If you saw the first 2 films, chances are you will enjoy this as much as I did. Check it out.

Final Score: 9.2 This is a great film and even with the danger of franchise overkill, there is promise in the story ahead.

Carnivale – Season 1, Episode 9 – “Insomnia” – To Resist Power and to Embrace Power

Carnivale Insomnia     I’m beginning to understand better the role Ben might be meant to play for the writers. This episode showed his resistance as action contrasted by how cold Justin Crowe has become in his embracing of his power. He fears becoming Scudder which is understandable.

This episode was directed by Jack Bender and written by William Schmidt.

The episode primarily involves Ben’s resistance of power as he seeks to stay awake so the dreams do not come. Lodz acts as the tempter, telling him to embrace them to learn. Brother Justin’s game at the institution is complete and he’s released and Samson approaches Ben with a Templar Medal that belonged the Scudder. These are the primary stories that unfold.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: Professor Lodz – Lodz has great power and a relationship with management that we see in this episode as he enters the trailer a few times and the final scene after he has the same vision Ben does about the Templar’s he compliments Samson for playing his hand well after he had just talked to management.

Samson – Samson is the guide in this episode and makes Ben feel safe enough to open up. He shows him a book with his mother and tells him of how he believes Scudder to be his father. It is finally a moment of connection with Ben beyond Ruthie.

The Carnival – We finally see more of the carnival and action, and it is awesome! From Lodz’s ability to predict the past and events, to Ruthie’s snake dancing…it feels lived in beyond the Ferris Wheel and dancers, which was appreciated.

Ben and Justin – I’m putting them together because we see why the contrast matters. Justin has an insane man beat himself to death for no reason beyond anger, while Ben is resisting and is aware of others, even as he suffers each day trying to stay afloat. This episode was needed to establish the places where they are coming from and how they have changed as people. When Justin is released he has his book and has made all servants to him, Ben is a servant and is the better man.

The Cons: The Rape of Sofia’s Mother – This wasn’t needed to show that her barriers are breaking down and right now serves no purpose beyond shock value. All we know is it is a tattoo man and the further breakdown in Sofie and her mother’s relationship. This could have been done much differently.

This was a good but not great episode. Justin only appears briefly and has turned more antagonistic and the whole deal with Sofie’s mom was cruel for no reason at all. I don’t see this episode as adding anything. It was good, but only just good.

Final Score: 8 / 10

 

Carnivale Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Milfay” – Of Good, Evil and Outsiders

Carnivale      If you’ve been reading the blog for a while now you’ve probably found that I do love shows or movies that incorporate mythology into them, and do it well. Be it Heaven, Hell and the Apocalypse in shows like “Supernatural” and “Sleepy Holow” (and this show), or shows that play off Greek and Christian Mythologies like “Battlestar Galactica.” For me these myths have the potential to teach us about ourselves, as any good story can. It was discussing this with my Grandfather when he suggested this show, and he got me hooked.

I’ll be reviewing episodes of “Carnival” sporadically, but I do plan on going through the entire season since the show itself isn’t that long. The show was created by Daniel Knauf who served as Producer along with Ronald Moore (one of my favorite directors and producers) and Howard Klein. Daniel Knauf wrote the first episode while Rodrigo Garcia directed.

The premise begins with the mythology of the show as one of the Carnies, a Dwarf named Samson who has power says,

“Before the beginning, after the great war between Heaven and Hell, God created the Earth and gave dominion over it to the crafty ape he called Man. And to each generation was born a creature of light and a creature of darkness, and great armies would clash by night in the ancient war between good and evil. There was magic then, nobility, and unimaginable cruelty. And so it was, until the day that a false sun exploded over Trinity, and man forever traded away wonder for reason.”

From here the story unfolds following an ex-con named Ben Hawkins who is haunted by dreams of being hunted by a tattooed man. He awakes and we are in the time of the Great Depression as he is watching his mother die as she is scared of him. From here the story unfolds as two people from the Carnival stand up for him leaving him with the dilemma of recognizing his power and to join or not join the Carnival, fully leaving his past behind to start again.

Here is the assessment of the pilot:

The Pros: The Cinematography – The Cinematography is fantastic! The scenes that catch the desperation are beautiful as the dust shows how desolate Ben and other characters feel. We also see some spectacular visions that are done to give us glimpses into the minds of the characters.

The Writing – From Samson (Michael J. Anderson of “Twin Peaks” fame) being the co-manager and guy who isn’t fully trustworthy but has good intentions, to Ben’s mysterious past and the mysterious present of Pastor Justin Crowe. The elements of supernatural pervade the themes and the dreams while never fully integrating themselves except for a scene where Pastor Crowe makes a woman throw up money after she stole and Ben resurrects a kitten and makes a little girl walk again.

The Music – The music is amazing! It keeps the mysterious feel and strange of what makes the Carnival and the Carnival while keeping religious themes in it too the way “Battlestar Galactica” did. Wendy Molvoin and Lisa Coleman were perfect composers for the theme and music.

The Characters – All the characters who have scene get great exploration that shows them to be more complex than they first appear to be. This is an ensemble show even though Ben and Justin are the primary drivers of the story.

Samson – I really like Michael J. Anderson, his being co-manager with the mysterious Management makes for an interesting situation as he is the one who is practical but also can be cruel and kind. He offers himself as a mentor figure to Ben but is rejected. I’m curious to see what his relationship to Management is like, as well as the rest of the carnival.

Brother Justin Crowe – He is set up as the powerful and possible antagonist as it is left open if he made the lady who stole throw up quarters since she stole one…and he later has a vision outside an erotic dance bar of a red cross over it in neon after it snows and rains blood upon him…and we see Ben have a vision of him with black eyes jumping out. So he’s probably the well meaning antagonist when the story gets deeper in. Clancy Brown is great for this role.

Jonesy – Works the Ferris Wheel, has a kind heart towards children but is contrasted with his looking down on women. After Sofia is nearly raped in town he tells her she shouldn’t have gone out. She smacks him thankfully but internalizes what he says later. We do see him help a crippled girl ride the Ferris Wheel for free though and gives her and the boy she’s with an extra ticket.

Sofia – Sofia is the one who reminds Ben of his past by reading his guards, which reveal his past and the kitten he brought back to life that his mother killed and caused him to suppress his powers. She stands up for herself against Jonesey’s sexism and fights the rapists but is contrasted by her saying Jonesey was right to Ben showing the growth she still has to go through in regards to respecting herself. She lives with her mother who is in a coma and talks to her through her mind. They are an act at the Carnival. Clea Duvall was good for this role.

Lila – Is the bearded lady who has compassion for Ben. She is the most experienced of the Carnies as far as how comfortable she is in her face. I can’t wait to learn more about her character. Debra Christofferson plays the character.

Ben Hawkins – The primary character haunted by dreams and the protagonist of the series. We don’t know fully what put him in prison or why he is so guarded about his past but we know he can perform miracles as he resurrected a cat and made a girl walk again at the end of the pilot. I’m curious about this character even though the Carnies are at time more compelling. Nick Stahl was chosen for the role and it is a good fit at this point.

The Themes – Good and Evil, Heaven and Hell, Wealthy and Poor, Privileged and Victimized, Corrupt and Good. These themes are captured really well and I expect they’ll be throughout given Samson’s opening speech.

Okay: Slow Start – The pilot is slow at times which is good for building tension and setting tone but I would have liked more drama between characters. It’s not bad but can’t put it as a pro either.

So far I really like this series and I was glad my Grandfather got me into it. I like how the Supernatural element is subtle unlike “Supernatural” or “Sleepy Hollow,” which are both shows I really like, but are both strongest when we are being teased by the mythology and discover it over time. This is what makes this show really great, besides the amazing producers, the fact it’s on HBO (giving it more flexibility in what it can do) and working the mythology into the ensemble cast and covering the fascinating era of the Great Depression. The choosing of a Carnival as the main area of drama with Crowe’s town on the other side of the story. It gives a  nice contrast of the poor and outcast versus the wealthy and privileged.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10. A great start to the series.