Tag: keanu reeves

Replicas


Replicas (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

At least Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s “Replicas” cannot be criticized for offering too few ideas. On the contrary, the problem is the opposite: it touches upon so many fascinating subjects—artificial intelligence, human cloning, copying a person’s memories onto a chip and then transferring them either into a machine or the human brain, the fragility of consciousness, not to mention the value (or lack thereof) of what we come to know as the soul—that the work has enough content fill a television show’s entire season. As expected, it comes with an important cost. In its attempt to cover so much ground, given that the medium is film and, typically, movies are between ninety to one hundred twenty minutes, not one topic is explored in a meaningful way. What results is shallow entertainment that fails to reach its potential.

About halfway through, I caught myself smiling at the ludicrous developments in plot. A part of me admired its bravado. Twists are delivered fast and hard to the point where, within a span of ten minutes (I kept track), it offers at least three surprises. I admired its enthusiasm to give even the wildest soap operas a run for their money. I found solace, too, in the fact that the performances are capable even though the characters are written in the most unbelievable ways at times.

For instance, Will (Keanu Reeves), a scientist who works in a cryptic biomedical company with a beautiful wife (Alice Eve) and three children (Emily Alyn Lind, Emjay Anthony, Aria Lyric Leabu) waiting at home, appears to have years of experience within his chosen field, obviously incredibly smart, but when there is great pressure on him to perform, he seems barely able to handle it like a professional. For the most part, inconsistencies as such are hidden by the relatively fast pacing—although the charade cannot keep up during the picture’s more sensitive and dramatic moments. There are a handful of them.

Therein lies the problem: despite the fancy tech talk, curious biological questions, and philosophical musings, the core is supposed to be a convincing human drama. After all, our protagonist is a man so desperate to save his family from death, in addition to his fear of being alone, he proves all too willing to cross numerous ethical and moral lines. Despite Reeves’ commitment to the role, the writing does not function on a high enough level. To do so would mean having to provide specificity nearly every step of the way and an expert control of presenting, exploring, and underlining themes. I wondered if a surgical approach to the character might have been a fresher avenue.

As a person who works in science, I do not require, for instance, that the details of human cloning be correct or even believable. Clearly, the work is not meant to be a documentary. But I do expect for the project to connect a scientific tool or technique to a specific character’s motivations in a way that is compelling, not just because it would be a neat idea to touch upon but not actually explore. Had the screenplay by Chad St. John been trimmed and focused, the film could have been a more potent and memorable sci-fi thriller.

Always Be My Maybe


Always Be My Maybe (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Here is yet another romantic comedy with a mostly Asian cast that stinks of cable TV quality. In the middle of it, although I was enjoying the chemistry between Ali Wong and Randall Park, I could not help but wonder why the material must consistently rely on the same old tropes that white Hollywood has recycled thousands of times before. There is nothing original about it. And so despite all the delectable soup, the spicy ramen, the spam and rice, and the fact that characters leave their shoes by the front door when entering a home, the overall experience that “Always Be My Maybe” offers is vanilla, unmemorable, and a big disappointment.

It is not without some redeeming qualities. For a while the screenplay introduces the possibility that because Sasha and Marcus, friends since childhood but had grown apart after a big fight during senior year of high school, have become so different from one another after sixteen years, there remain signs that the story may not end up the way we think or want. The former has gone on to become a celebrity chef who lives in Los Angeles while the latter has chosen to remain in San Francisco in order to take care of his aging father. The tension between a highly ambitious individual and someone who has found happiness in his hometown brings up the question of whether the two—although they are cute together—are actually right for each other in the long run.

However, this question is not dealt with enough focus, clarity, and consistently intelligent or refreshing writing. Instead, we are bombarded with the usual clichés involving the protagonists having a boyfriend or girlfriend who is clearly not right for either of them, snarky supporting characters who make an appearance to say one amusing line of dialogue only to disappear again for long periods of time, and the usual drama about having to win back that special someone by traveling across the country and making a speech in front of everyone. It is all so tired, exhausting, boring, and interminable. I checked my watch at least three times.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is a cameo of an actor who has done great work from the mid-80s till today. He graces the screen for about fifteen minutes and completely pulls the rug from those who are supposed to be the main stars. It is such an unexpected small role, but it stands out. The character he plays is a walking exaggeration… but his approach, for the most part, is far from it. He internalizes the comedy and combines it with pitch-perfect comic timing. And that is why the funniest scenes are the ones with him in it. Too bad the rest of the picture is a drag.

“Always Be My Maybe,” directed by Nahnatchka Khan, lacks authenticity that runs deep—and not just in terms of the romantic aspect of the story. There are jokes, for instance, about gentrification in San Francisco, highly affluent people dressing down, and the types of ridiculous food served in posh restaurants. It all feels so forced; these are low hanging fruit served to the audience without much creativity or enthusiasm. Jokes about the lifestyles and the people with whom we are supposed to care about would have been more appropriate. The story, after all, is supposed to be about them.

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.

River’s Edge


River’s Edge (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★

John (Daniel Roebuck), an unambitious high school student, has recently killed his girlfriend for no reason. He does not feel bad about it. In fact, he decides to go to school the next day to brag about the murder to his friends. Matt (Keanu Reeves) feels sick to his stomach after seeing the corpse. He considers calling the police. Layne (Crispin Glover), on the other hand, is determined to find John a hiding place as he tries to figure out how to get the police off his trail.

Written by Neal Jimenez and directed by Tim Hunter, “River’s Edge” is a careful examination, without evaluation, of youth’s apathy. Experiencing the story is like observing an aggressive disease as we follow the teenagers, including some adults, make one terrible and heartbreaking decision after another. We question their humanity as well as what we think we might have done had we been the ones walking in their shoes.

Take Maggie (Roxana Zal) and Clarissa (Ione Skye) as they attempt to call the cops to inform them about their friend’s naked corpse by the riverside. Their good intentions drive them to walk to a pay phone, but neither wants the responsibility of talking to the police. One of them claims she does not know the number while the other claims she does not know what to say to the authorities. Neither ends up making the call. How difficult is it to give an anonymous tip? All they had to do was dial 9-1-1, say what they saw, provide a location, and hang up. These can be accomplished in under ten seconds.

There are several subplots that encircle the murder and most function as distractions. Oddly enough, they work because none of the teenagers wants to face the grim reality of a life that existed the day before. Someone they talked to, laughed with, teased, shared secrets with. They would rather hang out at the arcade, get high, and entertain gossip around school.

But there is one subplot that generates high tension. Tim (Joshua John Miller), Matt’s twelve-year-old brother, is extremely angry for being hit by his brother. He goes on a mission to find Feck (Dennis Hopper), a man with a bad leg whose sole companionship is a blow-up doll, because he has a gun. Tim wishes to shoot Matt as retribution for having been hit. The brothers come from a dysfunctional home. Their mother is prone to histrionics; she wants to control her children but isn’t willing to put the energy to parent effectively. Meanwhile, their stepfather has the bravado to suggest to his wife that beatings will set the children straight.

Although nearly everyone is a mess, the material makes no judgment through repercussions. It is up to us to try to make sense of the decisions. As the picture unfolds, we realize the sadness of everyone’s situation even though we may not agree with their actions. Perhaps they just don’t know any better. Sometimes that’s the way life is, the way people are–flawed, afraid, looking out for their self-interests over others’.

The writing and direction’s partnership is crucial. If had been weaker than the other, the characters and the circumstances that plague them would likely have been less thought-provoking. Or worse, the material could have been a hammy Lifetime movie. The fact is, the places and people shown here do exist. It is a reminder that one does not need to live in an urban area to observe insidious moral decay.

A Scanner Darkly


A Scanner Darkly (2006)
★★ / ★★★★

Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, “A Scanner Darkly” was about a cop (Keanu Reeves) who was assigned to spy on his group of friends in order to capture a guy named Bob Arctor. But it turned out that the main character and the man that the cops were interested in was the same person; Bob, like many people, was addicted to a drug called Substance D which supposedly induced multiple personality disorder. Directed by Richard Linklater, “A Scanner Darkly” is one of those movies that is full of promise but it gets in the way of itself because too many questions were asked but very few (if any) were answered in a clear way so I couldn’t help but feel cheated. For instance, I was curious about the real underlying effects of the drug in question. Some addicts experienced hallucinations such as bugs taking over their bodies, others experienced drunken stupor, while some were always on the verge of euphoria. It then begs the question whether the drugs’ effects were somehow connected to our personalities. I wanted to know more about the science and the effects of the drug in the brain. There were scenes that tackled the drug’s effects on the brain (I liked how it related the whole phenomenon to split-brain patients) but they were superficial at best. Maybe it wasn’t that shocking to me because I’ve seen split-brain experiments in real life. I didn’t care much about the friends (one of which was played by Robert Downey Jr.) acting stupid and asking “insightful” questions that led nowhere. The scenes with the friends made me feel like the movie was way into itself; instead of trying to pull me in, it made me question whether the story was really going anywhere. I do have to say that the animation was enjoyable because it added an extra dimension to the project. Everyone pretty much led their lives half-awake so that lucid tone made me feel like I was one of them. I liked that the animation was there to highlight certain facial expressions and quirks to convey certain truths behind the dialogue so it didn’t feel much like a gimmick. I thought the animation worked especially well in scenes where characters experienced hallucinations. Nevertheless, I wish the movie spent more of its time in engaging us instead of teasing us with its vast ideas. It was borderline pretentious. I felt like there was a disconnect (when it should have been clearly connected) in exploring the relationship between the drug world/addicts and the very same people who wanted to eliminate the drug off the streets. The main character embodied both worlds but the way the story unfolded left me hanging, somewhat confused, and frustrated. It’s definitely a different movie experience but I think it makes a good double-feature with Linklater’s other film “Waking Life.”