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By midlandsmovies, Sep 11 2019 10:06AM



John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019) Dir. Chad Stahelski


Keanu Reeves returns once more as the eponymous ‘hero’ John Wick in this third instalment of the hyper-violent neo-noir action series. The movie picks up immediately from the previous sequel where the ex-assassin is in New York escaping from a $14 million hit put upon his head after his unsanctioned killing of a member of the “High Table” – a seedy cabal of hitmen and women. But before you can say “parabellum”, Wick is involved in bloodier fist/knife/gun fights than ever before.


Influenced at times by old gun-slinging westerns – (Wick-y Wick-y Wild Wild West) he uses 6-shooter guns and tomahawks, rides a horse through Manhattan and there is a distinct steel-guitar vibe on the soundtrack. Technical wise, the lighting is beyond fantastic with the gorgeous visuals, neon lights and heavy rain giving the locations a classic cinematic feel in comparison to other genre films.


The culture continues (as first seen around Rome in Chapter 2) with scenes set at theatres, museums, libraries and art galleries setting the somewhat low-brow fight action against more civilised environments.


During a ballet rehearsal, a rare but welcome Anjelica Huston appearance explains “the path to paradise begins in hell”. This is one of a number of religious nods alongside a crucifix necklace, stained glass windows and later on a cross is seared on Wick’s back before a gruesome scene of anatomical sacrifice. And redemption is a big theme too. Wick wants out but is drawn back in – not just by his guilt – but by a sense of obligation to the codes of conduct the High Table group enforce.


Support comes from an excellent duplicitous Ian McShane as the manager of a hotel refuge whilst Laurence Fishburne brings his mouthy gravitas to underground crime lord, the Bowery King. The excellent Halle Berry is sadly wasted in a silly shoot-out sequence in Casablanca. The bland gun action is not helped by some CGI dogs - however, those waiting for some long overdue dog revenge will lap up the hounds’ killing spree.


What doesn’t work? Well, the action – as good as it is – is constant. And relentlessly so. Characterisation is kept to a minimum but expected I suppose and the much-lauded motorcycle chase is a poor facsimile of the superior one in The Villainess.


Also, and I’m not sure if it’s because I watched this recent video breaking down stunt choreography from an expert, Keanu was starting to look his age as the overly-choreographed fights seemed to have a few missed marks. A minor gripe I admit.

Whilst expanding the mythos Wick has also lost some of its initial Taken-style charm. The two films were never realistic per se but in Parabellum, murders in public at Grand Central Station and bus-loads of SWAT push it a little bit too far into fantasy. Heck, it even bordered on WANTED (2009) territory with its clan of shady assassins clinging to their historical rules of engagement.


All that said, Wick does what it sets out to do with no apologies. A few nice nods to The Matrix are a nice inside-joke - Neo, I mean Wick, is asked to make a choice by a monologue-ing mentor in a video-screened room and also asks for “Guns. Lots of guns”. And not to mention that Morpheus is in it of course!


And so, genre fans will lap up the explosions, punches, martial arts, gun-fu and the well-executed stunt work. But Wick goes beyond b-movie staples with a film that not only delivers on its action but is a feast for the more discerning viewer with its eye-wateringly impressive lighting, cinematography and production design.


★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Dec 1 2017 01:16PM



Atomic Blonde (2017) Dir. David Leitch


This action thriller film stars Charlize Theron as a spy uncovering double agents in Europe during the downfall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.


Rather unoriginally, the film begins as a KGB agent steals a sensitive list of active-agents hidden in a wristwatch before cutting to a bruised and hurt Lorraine Broughton (Theron) as she proceeds to explain what happened in Berlin to her handlers. This flashback frames the story as the sarcastic agent recalls the events to the CIA (John Goodman) and her MI6 superior (Toby Jones) and what unfolds is her experience to recover the list and uncover the identity of a double agent within the ranks.


All of this sets up a series of amazingly-filmed action sequences and the comparisons to this year’s John Wick: Chapter 2 are easy to see – no less obvious as director Leitch is also a producer on that film. With Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron showed she could handle punches, kicks and bone crushing fights and we get even more here with her central performance is key to the film’s charm.


Theron’s natural allure helps the audience get behind her mission but it’s the long one-take action scenes that are the film’s selling point. From bashing battles to bullets banging, the film mixes fantastic fight choreography with running, explosions and vehicle chases in a variety of exciting sequences that will keep you entertained, even though the clichéd story line hits familiar plot points.


The Berlin background is a nice change to the usual bland American cityscapes, but it is the 80s soundtrack and extreme lighting that really gives the film a different feel to its contemporaries. Like an action-filled Neon Demon, the colours pop from the screen whilst musical hits (and covers of hits) from Bowie, George Michael, The Clash and more help establish the historical context but also give the movie a soundtrack coolness not seen since the Guardians of the Galaxy films.


Support comes from a slightly bland and broad James McAvoy as an agent who is all, well, James McAvoy-like, whilst Sofia Boutella as Delphine plays an undercover French agent who is also Lorraine's lover. It’s great the film pays no attention to this seemingly edgy choice for a lead character's sexuality in a major release which is not only honourable, but fits well into the film’s narrative perfectly.


But in the end, like John Wick (with which there’s talk of possible a cross-over film), the movie is held together by the central show from Theron herself. She gives this exciting film a much-needed bout of sultriness, strength and poise alongside expertly handling the violent and bloody punch-ups.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Jun 21 2017 10:32AM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog Part 2


Each year we miss a film or two in the huge round of releases per week. Here is our second blog of the year where we catch up with some of the good (and bad) films from 2017 that are already out to watch. Enjoy!


John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) Dir. Chad Stahelski


This sequel to 2014’s intense action thriller has Keanu Reeves returning as the gun-dancing assassin who is now out of retirement to unleash more shooting mayhem. The film delves further into Wick’s back-story which was hinted upon in the original and in many ways it is actually a prequel as well as sequel with so much focus on Wick’s previous life. The narrative shows us more of his past and good support from Ian McShane gives the whole thing more depth and expands the world we are in. Keanu is also at the top of his game – slightly wooden as always but like Neo and Ted, the one-dimensionality of the performance lets the audience project themselves into the character.


The story of Wick owing a blood oath debt is merely window dressing for more pirouetting action which again is suitably violent and bloody. A strong support cast including Common and Reeves’ Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne flesh proceedings out but it is the fighting – amongst the splendour and seediness of Rome and New York locations – that bursts off the screen in its glorious brutality and beauty. Fans of action will lap up the intense scenes of bloody violence and its editing is pitched perfectly in the sweet spot of frantic yet understandable. With a third film set-up it may be too far to say it’s the Godfather Part 2 of action films but I feel it may be better than the first film. It combines the obligatory hard-hitting combat with an expansion on the mysteries of the assassin network and penetrates greater themes of trust, honour and revenge. 8/10



Life (2017) Dir. Daniel Espinosa

In short, Life is essentially an Alien rip off as a space crew find a small extra-terrestrial life-form which they are unable to quarantine which subsequently grows into a larger monster that stalks the astro-occupants. The good points include a realistic set up on the ISS with some Gravity-inspired long shots in the station’s cramped compartments as well as an interestingly designed life-form that starts off its existence looking like a sentient “star fish”. The clichés soon start to overpower these positives as the ‘trained experts’ of the crew (inevitably) break quarantine rules and the carnage begins. [SPOILER] A few interesting deaths including one of the main stars couldn’t save the film as it descends into b-movie territory. As the strange creature becomes a Prometheus-esque squid the film loses its premise to become schlock horror and not even a downbeat ending could salvage this sci-fi wreckage. An internet rumour suggested it could have been a Venom origin story (one of Spider-Man’s arch enemies) yet sadly that fan-theory is far more interesting than the film delivered. 6/10


I Am Not Your Negro (2017) Dir. Raoul Peck

Based on the unfinished manuscript Remember This House by James Baldwin and narrated brilliantly by Samuel L. Jackson this new documentary focuses on American racism and the portrayal of black lives in recent media. Historically important and hugely socially relevant right now, the film uses Baldwin’s powerful words to highlight the roles played by Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. It’s sad then that I found it, despite its worthy themes and intriguing structure, a little stale and not even Jackson’s masterful voiceover kept me from thinking it was treading water when it could have been providing more powerful insights. As a huge fan of documentaries (my recommendations so far this year would be the superior Oklahoma, Mommy Dead and Dearest and Beware the Slenderman) I was disappointed with the film as the important and weighty ideas weren’t given justice in its one-trick design. Hugely recommended for those interested in the specific subject matter, less so for those not familiar with the work, the film sometimes feels exactly what I feared it could be – a man reading from a book. Disappointing. 6/10



The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017) Dir. Oz Perkins

Appearing on a few Top 10 lists of great horror films of 2017 (so far) is this fright film from Oz “Son of Anthony, Psycho” Perkins and stars Kiernan Shipka (Kat) and Lucy Boynton (Rose) as two pupils at a strict Catholic school. The highly composed shots give a huge undercurrent of tension and unease with slow and deliberate sequences portraying the slight narrative as the two girls fail to be collected by their parents once term-time has ended. Rose is possibly pregnant and Kat often appears to mentally ‘tune out’ which is ironic given that the ‘buzzing’ tones of the amelodic experimental music often sounds like an orchestra tuning up. But this adds to the peculiar atmosphereand together with the snowy weather and cold demeanour of the religious teachers, helps deliver an unsettling feeling. And unsettling it is.


As Kat continues to exhibit strange behaviour around Rose, another story is introduced with a girl called Joan who may have escaped an institution and is picked up in a car by James Remar (The Warriors) who plays an ambiguous father-figure. These flashbacks, multi-perspective sequences and possible parallel tales disorientate the viewer but some may find it confusing and the timelines are certainly not clear cut. It takes a while but eventually a few shocks come in the form of Exorcist-influenced body convulsions, vomiting and swearing and the film’s few disturbing images are all the more effective with a slow build up and in their briefness.


Unfortunately there’s a few Scream-ché (a cliché the film Scream deconstructs like investigating scary noises and “I’ll be right back”) and the ambiguous construction could frustrate some but satisfy others. For me, The Blackcoat’s Daughter had far more going for it than the negatives, whilst I got annoyed at points about the lack of clarity to tie up the individual story strands, the mystery was intriguing, the triumvirate of actresses and their performances were superb and the first-time director provided images of intense terror that, like the malevolent force portrayed, linger deep within you post-viewing. 7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

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