John Wick


Viewed – 22 April 2015  Cinema

During the nineties I had a bit of an obsession with Hong Kong action movies, everything from Jackie Chan to the two-handed gun-play of John Woo.  Hollywood quickly followed up on this and the action genre became infused with the influence of far eastern cinema, spawning the likes of Face / Off and The Matrix trilogy.  There we come to Keanu Reeves, perhaps not the first person you may have thought of to deftly wield guns and kick ass considering he came from Bill & Ted, but this good looking and decidedly cool actor soon garnered a reputation as the go-to guy for such movies.

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He’s been fairly quiet for a while so this come-back vehicle seemed perfectly suited.  He plays the title character who following the death of his wife, lives out a peaceful existence with his sleek muscle car and pet dog.  However an unfortunate brush with a Russian gang causes a break in at his house, his car getting stolen and his dog to get killed.  Only thing is, the gang had no idea who they were messing with.

Perhaps an unintentional homage to classic movie franchise Death Wish albeit with ultra-stylish action that borrows (to an extent) from John Woo … this also feels like it’s own beast, and is carried well by Keanu on ice-cool form as a non-stop killing machine.  I sometimes think he’d have made a great Terminator.  Support comes in the shape of Willem Dafoe’s seasoned veteran as well as a sultry, sexy Adrianne Palicki.  On villainous duties is Michael Nyqvist (Ghost Protocol, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) who proves a more than suitable if clichéd mobster.  The set-up is simplistic and the characters slight and under-developed … but for this kind of movie where action is king, we get several stylish, well-edited and gripping encounters, all with a little tongue-in-cheek humour thrown in.  I also loved the backdrop of the ‘agency’ that looked after Keanu and his kind (featuring a cameo by Ian McShane) … certainly an idea that could be further developed in sequels.

As the directing debut of former stunt co-coordinator Chad Stahelski, this shows promise for a new visionary in the action movie field.  Roll on the already announced John Wick 2.

Verdict:  4 /5

Midnight Run


Viewed – 21 April 2015  Blu-ray

After reading a review of this re-issue of an acclaimed comedy thriller of the 80’s I recalled seeing some of it late night on TV and always wanted to watching it fully.  It follows the story of a bounty hunter / ex-cop Jack Walsh (Robert DeNiro) given the task of tracking down an accountant for the mob ‘the duke’ who has jumped bail and is worth a whole lot of money.  The FBI want this guy as does the Mafia, and so on a trip from New York to LA it’s Jack’s job to keep him (and himself) alive.

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Very much in the vein of similar eighties comedy thrillers like Beverly Hills Cop, this blends thrills and comedy well, along with a sharp, swear-heavy script that bounces off the page.  The squabbling and bickering between DeNiro’s wise-cracking bounty hunter and Charles Grodin’s dead-pan ‘the duke’ forms the heart of this highly entertaining ‘caper’ road-movie.  Granted sometimes it is a bit too heavy on the humour and you never really feel anyone is in particular danger, but with decent support from genre regulars John Ashton & Joe Pantoliano as well as well-rounded and fascinating characterisation for the principal leads (their relationship gradually and believably forming into friendship) – this is one 80’s movie that hasn’t aged quite as badly as others and makes for a genuine cult classic.

Sadly, the Blu-ray is a mixed bag.  The image quality is decent for an eighties movie and colours and fine detail mostly impress throughout.  The soundtrack though, in a choice of 2.0 stereo or 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio has occasional lip-sync issues that let down what is otherwise a crisp and punchy presentation.  Extras consist of several new interviews, but no DeNiro (!) and a lack of a commentary means this isn’t exactly a home run.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5

Donnie Brasco


Viewed – 19 April 2015  Netflix

Sometimes there is a reason you don’t get around to watching a particular movie.  Maybe it’s just passed you by, other movies have caught your interest more … or something is trying to tell you, it’s not really as good as you’ve heard.  This is one such movie.

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Johnny Depp plays undercover FBI agent Donnie Brasco who gets embroiled in the goings on of a gang in New York and gets mentored by aging mobster Lefty (Al Pacino).  Based in a true story this is of course an intriguing set up and makes for at first engrossing viewing.  Pacino this time around isn’t playing the boss, the main guy, but more an always overlooked and fairly disgruntled ‘hood with one eye on a boat trip out of town, and another on the boss’s job.  It’s definitely an interesting change of pace for the usually loud and brash actor.  Depp is the confident, slightly cock-sure guy who thinks he’s got it all under control, as his family life begins to fall apart and he gets pulled further and further into the underworld.  Michael Madsen is on hand as the guy everyone fears and looks up to.

Depp & Pacino’s friendship holds this together well, but isn’t the most convincing, as Lefty seems to take much of Donnie at face value despite many moments that should have lead him to question the guy’s identity.  There is however plenty of tension as Donnie juggles his family life with that of the mob and tries to keep one step ahead of everyone else as the FBI increasingly pressure him for results.

The biggest issue is the supporting cast.  The surrounding actors are plucked from the poor-man’s mob actor barrel, lacking much of the menace or presence of a Joe Pesci or Harvey Keitel.  British director Mike Newell goes for a realistic style and avoids much of the grandeur or energy of other great mob movies like Goodfellas. With only smattering of violence and a script that often felt like it was satirizing the world it was depicting (how many times do we hear ‘forget about it’ ?), something about this just never came to life.  Add an ending that seriously lacked the big pay-off I’d been lead to believe was coming … and I came away rather disappointed.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

Joe


Viewed – 18 April 2015  Netflix Alphabet Challenge

Nicholas Cage has had a bit of a bad rap lately with his wealth of commercially and critically underwhelming roles in mostly forgettable movies.  This is one that seems to have garnered him better reviews however so was an easy choice to continue this Netflix challenge.

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Cage plays Joe, a boss in a logging firm who employs a local teenage kid looking for work.  Overtime the two form a bond and soon Joe realises that the kid’s drunken father may be hitting him and the kid’s mother.  Yet Joe has enough problems of his own – should he get involved?

A thought-provoking story slightly let down by what appears to be first time actors in key parts.  Tye Sheridan who plays the kid is not bad and fairly convincing, but I wished the toothless, abusive father had been portrayed by someone with a bit more acting-chops, to add some depth to his character.  Speaking of depth we get to know next to nothing of Joe’s background other than a stint in prison – where does he come from?  Why doesn’t he appear to have any family or friends?  I’ll always like Cage however, and here he does a decent job with a fairly basic character.

I came away feeling this was a poor man’s Gran Torino, the seasoned veteran actor and amateurish co-stars bringing on a serious case of Déjà vu – but it has only a smidgen of the emotional impact of that Clint Eastwood classic.  For fans of Cage though, this was one of his better performances in recent memory.

Verdict:  3 /5