John Wick: after his wife dies thugs steal his car and kill his dog, which forces former assassin and ‘bogeyman’ John Wick to go on a rampage of Archer proportions. No need to worry about the Bechdel Test with this film – as the only two women with dialogue appear as a video recording, and a sassy female hit-woman. No need to worry about the plot either, as it’s based around a hotel where assassins live and party with each other – and gold coins are the preferred payment method. Whilst Keanu isn’t the most watchable of frontmen he handles is action scenes with style, and Nyqvist, McShane, Dafoe fill in any gaps with fun roles. Reminiscent of 90s European / Asian action movies like Taxi, District 13, Hard Boiled etc – this is all about the guns, cars, pounding techo music and hyper styalised violence, of which there is shitloads. The action scenes are second to none: graphic and wild gunplay (most villains get ‘double-tapped’ – chest then head), there’s excellent combat which incorporates wrestling holds and slams, and a couple of nifty car chases. One of the directors is a stunt man, which shows as the action scenes are a cut above your standard affair. John Wick is a rarity these days – a no-brainer, balls out, gritty revenge / action film, that sticks to its R-rating and doesn’t claim – or try – to be anything more. It’s the kind of film that Taken 3 wishes it was.
44 Inch Chest [Blu Ray]: a man is left shattered when his wife walks out on him, so he and some unsavory friends kidnap Casanova and figure out how to best resolve the situation. Instantly obvious is the unimaginable level of crass language and nasty homophobic terms oozing from your speakers for the duration… it’s almost too much, yet it provides a strangely soothing and lyrical/rhythmic effect when intertwined with the cockney rhyming slang script. It also somehow feels genuine and integral to the situation and characters. With a strong play-like feel (long scenes, one main setting, and dips in and out of pretentiousness) it’s very much an ‘actor’s film’, and each cast member gets your undivided attention to shine at some point. The breakdown of the main character means you’re never really sure what’s real and what’s not, which is also a bit surreal. I’ve never really rated Ray Winstone as more than a typecast, but this absolutely ripped my heart out – his eyes and the speech about love being a hard graft are as good as it gets. McShane easily has the best character, best flashback and most room for fun; which he clearly laps up. There’s some lovely black comedy, and great usage of cinematic tropes – particularly music to manipulate. The BD picture and sound are average, although the content’s not really HD worthy. More than anything else, 44 Inch Chest the tale of a broken hard man being challenged by several stereotypes of stock British gangster characters – which keeps it interesting for the duration. Because of the off kilter tone and excessive offensive language you can’t safely recommend this, although it could well be one of the best sleeper hits you’ll ever see… I guess time will tell.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (3D) – Jack Sparrow and Barbossa set sail for the Fountain of youth, but have to outrun Blackbeard and the Spanish. The story gets from A-Z coherently enough, but clunks from segment to segment, with very little flow. Being the 4th film in the series, the old-fashioned adventure feel of the original is all but gone – drowned out by big/loud CGI. The one thing that does remain impressive is the original score, which is about the only fully effective aspect of the film’s components. Cast-wise, the mammoth franchise reels in some equally big names, and while they all earn their money you get the feeling that they’re nobody’s really trying any more – there’s also the most gratuitous Cruz cleavage since Volver. The 3D’s pretty sharp & impressive, and more subtle than other recent flicks. In the end, Pirates 4 is passable, but not much more than a quite boring, overlong money spinning, summer blockbuster.
Coraline: didn’t really know what this was supposed to be about; escapism? nightmares? drug use? Visually, the film’s interesting – a mix of stop motion & CGI, and because the overall effect is quite Burton-esque goths and pseudo goths will worship this for years to come. Visual merits aside, everything else about this was terrible. Both the story that takes place and general premise are absolutely mental. It feels like a bunch of OK scenes forced together, rendering a potentially strong story disjointed, boring, pointless and ridiculous. Most of the voice acting is annoying, especially the eternally grating Dakota Fanning (Coraline the character and voice). Her dad looks like an Adrien Brodie caricature. The final product would appeal to such a narrow market; far too scary for young kids and too ridiculous / boring for adults – leaving a tiny slice of angsty teens. Personally, I’d stick to Mirrormask or the original Alice in Wonderland. Totally forgettable, but it did look good in HD
Hot Rod: a wannabe stuntman has to pull off the biggest jump in history to save his terminally ill step-dad; just so he can kick his ass and win his respect before he dies… Ace! This is one of the few comedies I’ve seen lately that remains consistently funny throughout, with too many laughs to list, and a great script’s that throws up obvious and subtle jokes. Some of the humour’s pretty silly and offbeat but works because of the deadpan delivery. The cast are great with Samberg as the standout (unfortunately the Lonely Island are unheard of in the UK). Danny McBride and his usual posse also put in some good face time, Isla Fisher‘s also on good form. The laughs slow up in the third quarter and a few of the visual gags are predictable but it’s forgivable because the retro 80s hair metal / synth music soundtrack that compliments (and compensates for some of) the humour so well. For me the entire film just worked, and the production values were great. It will get bashed by any serious movie goer but Hot Rod totally exceeded my expectations and was genuinely funny throughout. Will definitely be watching again. Cool beans!