Tag: john wick

Hotel Artemis

Hotel Artemis (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Take the cool concept of hotel-exclusively-for-criminals from “John Wick”—but turn the posh setting the opposite way: as grubby as possible without losing the foreboding mood—and set it amidst a political backdrop that involves rioters’ violent uprising against the privatization of clean water in Los Angeles 2028. The result is “Hotel Artemis,” written and directed by Drew Pearce, an action-thriller that offers a few neat ideas but quite underwhelming as a whole. In the middle of it, I wondered if it might have been better off as television show.

Part of its lack of cinematic appeal is the standard disparate characters having to converge at one place. Given that the titular hotel is meant to heal criminals, many of them killers, we already expect for them to drop like flies. It is all a matter of when and in what order. Since it takes on this level of predictability, dramatic gravity must be enhanced to such an extent that we overlook the final destination. Its attempt goes as far as to provide flashbacks of the nurse (Jodie Foster) who runs the hotel, how she found her son dead at the beach due to a drug overdose. Since then she has been in a state of grief—it has gotten so bad that she has developed agoraphobia over the years. She blames herself so much that she has made Hotel Artemis her personal prison, to exist to serve till the day she dies.

Meanwhile, we get snippets of snappy banter among a slate of criminals, from bank robbers (Sterling K. Brown), arms dealers (Charlie Day), to hired assassins (Sofia Boutella). All of them are convincing in their respective roles with the exception of Zachary Quinto as the hotel owner’s volatile son. Every time he utters a line, I felt as though the performer was taken from a completely different picture. It is distracting at best, laughable at worst—especially when the character is supposed to be taken seriously as a major threat against everyone in the hotel. The angry son is given no character development.

The picture is shot against a curious political backdrop but the anger swelling outside of the hotel is used merely as a device. News coverage is shown on televisions inside the Artemis, we hear bombs going off in the distance, and rooftop scenes show aircrafts crashing on nearby buildings. These images are meant to amplify the tension from the outside in, perhaps even aiming to paint a picture of a hellish near-future, but the social commentary, while present, is completely lost. Like its underdeveloped characters, its ideas, too, are undercooked. I felt no excitement or enjoyment from these images.

A cursory approach almost always does not work with high-concept action-thrillers. The point of having ambitious ideas is to explore them in a way that is thoroughly entertaining—that if one were to strip away the action altogether, the viewers would still want to know what would happen because the drama is rooted in something real. “Hotel Artemis” fails to invest emotionally and so only a shallow experience is offered. While not necessarily bad or unbearable, nearly everything about it is forgettable. If there were to be a sequel, which the material nudges by mentioning other hotels with a similar purpose, ideas must be explored first and foremost. Otherwise, what would be the point?

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Those who crave to see a ballet of violence are certain to be fulfilled by “John Wick 3,” a rousing, consistently creative, and supremely entertaining action picture directed with a keen eye and infectious joy by Chad Stahelski. From the moment it begins as the titular character attempts to stave off fellow assassins from exacting a painful and gruesome death—inspired by a fourteen million dollar bounty on his head—until the hook ending that hints toward an even more exciting successor, the film offers unadulterated sensory overload. More action films of the mainstream variety should strive for this picture’s level of superiority.

It amazing that in the middle of flying bullets, broken glass, and fractured bones, the screenplay by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, and Marc Abrams finds ways for further world-building. In this installment, it comes in the form of a mysterious woman only referred to as the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), a member of The High Table. (You know she’s important when she takes out her official-looking coin and men’s eyes are taken over by fear.)

This character is bound by unbending rules and Dillon plays her with with appropriate rigidity in body language and the manner in which she talks down to everyone else. Clearly meant to be unlikable, we wish almost immediately for Wick to slap the smugness out of her. And yet the material is adamant in not going in that direction. Given that repercussions of breaking rules is one of this film’s recurring themes, is it correct to dispose of her so quickly? I enjoyed the writing’s willingness to play the long game and make the right choices.

As expected, the centerpiece is the well-choreographed action sequences. Quite impressive for a movie with a running time beyond two hours, fight scenes do not come across as repetitive. One approach is a consistently changing venue: a library, a stable, out in the streets on motorcycles, in an entirely different country typically considered to be a romantic getaway. But notice that the style of hand-to-hand combat changes, too. Wick must not only go up against Americans who prefer to use guns. Various types of martial arts are employed and each commands its own rhythm. The protagonist must adapt quickly and effectively since the entire city appears to be against him. Nearly every confrontation is memorable. I relished its use of animals.

We are convinced that Wick is always in mortal danger. Although intelligent, strong, and adaptable, there are times when he is bested by his opponents. He gets wounded. He is slowed down. Occasionally he repeats tactics that clearly do not work for a particular enemy. To increase tension further, notice how the direction slows down the deadly dance in order to provide the audience a chance to gather their bearings. When our hero is left on the ground, bloody and bruised, without any weapon in hand or weapons being way out of reach, we can almost feel ourselves releasing a sigh of acceptance. It just so happens that a few make the mistake of mercy or are blinded by his celebrity. Sometimes Wick tends to wriggle out of tricky situations by pure luck. The material is not without a sense of humor or irony, you see.

“John Wick: Chapter 3” offers stunning and precise visuals right alongside high-end thrills. But do not neglect its expert use of sound: the staccato rhythm of bullets being loaded in rifles, the emphasis placed on growling animals as they take on the role of protectors, the legato score playing smoothly in the background as chaos unfolds on the foreground. Nearly every element is firing on all cylinders. In a landscape of generic shoot ‘em ups, “Parabellum” offers a completely enveloping experience.

John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Notice how nearly every action sequence is shot as if it were a dance. During hand-to-hand combat, limbs move with urgency, purpose, precision; torsos accumulate tension and respond to every action and reaction; appropriate facial expressions accompany each damaging blow to the body, whether it be a punch, a bullet, a serrated blade. Meanwhile, the camera sashays around the violent seizure, at times paired with an energetic soundtrack while other times daring to be silent. We are forced to listen, wide-eyed, full of nervous energy and anticipation to every blow, desperate shuffling, and the inevitable wince of pain.

“John Wick: Chapter 2,” directed by Chad Stahelski, shares a similarity with Gareth Evans’ “The Raid 2: Berandal” in that it is superior to its predecessor in just about every way. While the picture is still about a former assassin (Keanu Reeves) once again thrown into the world he wishes to retire from permanently, the story finds new ways to maintain our attention not simply in terms of highly volatile action sequences but also in learning more about the rules the assassins choose to follow in order to have the privilege of accessing certain resources so that they may survive and thrive within their universe. In a way, we learn about a community and their culture.

There are a few interesting choices that others might consider to be flaws. Not in my eyes. For instance, during numerous shootouts, knife fights, or simply two people pummeling each other to the ground, the onlookers usually do not respond in an expected way. While we are able to hear screams of terror and see people running away in the background, notice how the extras on the foreground tend to stay where they are. They look so casual, expressionless, as if these sort of fights were something they saw every day. I was amused that at times the violence on screen looks either like a “Street Fighter” game or a third-person shooter game. More impressive is that somehow it works as a surreal mixture of both.

The decision to minimize chaos leads to a cleaner look and so we can easily focus on those we should be paying attention to. Wide shots work just as well as tighter shots. The tension escalates as the camera keeps still. We count the number of beats until the moment the fighters finally make physical contact. And when they do, the battle is usually well-choreographed, the timing defined and exacting. We believe that John Wick is truly capable of killing a hundred men even though he is far from invincible.

“John Wick” offers joyous and superfluous entertainment. While an argument can be made that it is less realistic than the picture that preceded it, an equally compelling argument can be constructed that this film is a natural extension by taking realism and pushing it toward an extreme that we may even laugh at it at times. It is meant to be over-the-top so no one can say that this is simply a rehash, a mere cash grab.

John Wick

John Wick (2014)
★ / ★★★★

Contrary to glowing reviews, “John Wick” is a sub-standard action-thriller with a few elements that could have elevated it if the screenplay by Derek Kolstad had elaborated upon them. Instead, the picture is largely composed of shoot-‘em-up razzle-dazzle—perfect, I suppose, for audiences who crave nothing more than empty calories. However, for those of us hoping to be entertained and engrossed, there is nothing to see here.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is an assassin who left his occupation five years ago to get married and live a life that will not require him to look over his shoulder constantly. But upon the death of Helen (Bridget Moynahan) due to an illness, John is thrown back into the business of killing after the dog that his spouse left him is killed by Iosef (Alfie Allen), son of the head of a Russian syndicate (Michael Nyqvist).

For a story involving a group of assassins who know each other, some can even be considered to be friends, the picture commands neither heft nor substance. There is a hint of a relationship between John and a sniper named Marcus (Willem Dafoe), the latter a sort of father figure for the former. At one point, we are supposed to question Marcus’ loyalty to John but the material abandons this potential route of intrigue so quickly that we wonder why such an avenue is introduced at all. Dafoe is a consummate performer and it is a missed opportunity that the script does not allow him to do much.

The action is one-note in that it is about twenty-percent hand-to-hand combat and the rest involves shootouts. Such an approach might have worked if there had been a little more diversity in its execution. However, the majority of the action happens at night, in the dark, and indoors. Although the locale changes, it is always dark. Thus, we do not get to truly appreciate the fight scenes in terms of who is being hit, how hard, or if there is any strategy involved into the attack or kills.

In addition, the action scenes are almost always submerged in a hard rock soundtrack, one has to wonder if the filmmakers had no confidence at all in the purity of the images. Eventually, I caught myself feeling passive when there is commotion on screen—which is most problematic because action movies are supposed to be thrilling or cathartic, not sedative.

We learn very little about the lead character. Reeves is not exactly the most versatile actor but he does possess effortless charm. Instead of using that charm, it appears as though the film wishes to make him as cold or closed down as possible. Reeves is either quiet or muttering his lines, occasionally growling when John is supposed to be enraged. As a result, what we see and feel on screen is nothing more than average and expected. The material does not inspire us to want to know more about the grieving man.

Directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, “John Wick” is yet another forgettable and brainless action movie that fails to capitalize on its more creative elements. For instance, the assassins have a code they agree to honor in a hotel called The Continental. By following this code, the assassins create a semblance of professionalism and being civilized. By failing to lure us into its world completely, the film begins to run out of steam by the first act. By the end of its short running time, we feel not exhilaration but relief that the depressing experience is finally over.