John Wick (R)

9 Stars

I’m done marginalizing film tastes in terms of gender…

…is originally how I began this review.

Yet it’s the antithesis of my gut response to John Wick:

“Highly recommend for mainly male moviegoers,” my heart mentions as the credits roll.

The cranium cogs start whirling.

“Isn’t that rhetoric unproductive? Shouldn’t we discourage that type of thinking?” my intellectual side fires back.

Thus prompting the rough introduction.

While reviewing J. Wick on The Screen Rant Underground, two of the hosts offer a counterargument in mentioning their wives’ dislike. One goes so far as to say she ‘hated it.’

(Side Note: The words ‘hate’ and ‘boring’ are the two most overused descriptors in the English language.)

‘Violence’ and ‘Romance’ occupy the extremities of the gender Venn diagram.

Men prefer fighting; women prefer feeling. Simple as that, folks.

“It’s a social construct! The best movies lie in the diagram’s center! To mention the pattern is to perpetuate it!” the brain chimes in.

The inescapable reality is: The paradigm exists.

Whether I like it or not.

To put an untidy bow on my point: Isn’t it stilted claiming a movie is excellent (better than great), but for male audiences only? Doesn’t that imply John Wick is terrible, if viewed by a female audience?

Surely there are women who enjoy gun-fu. Shouldn’t they feel insulted by the suggestion?

Anyhow; you catch my drift.

Here’s my Top Five Movies with the Protagonist’s Full Name as the Title –

1. Donnie Darko
2. Annie Hall
3. Forrest Gump
4. Happy Gilmore
5. Billy Madison

John Wick is similar to Denzel Washington’s character from last month’s The Equalizer.

Both protagonists are similar to Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher, who is also an ex-CIA agent.

Say what you will about his surfing abilities in Point Break, Keanu Reeves is terrific as the leading hombre.

Keanu’s John’s less virtuous, and less lady-magnet than Tom’s Jack, but they both can drive in reverse like champions.

Which marks the first of three lessons I learned from J.W. about firearms.

Lesson 1) If you must drive at enemy gunfire, do so in reverse.

Keanu’s acting is great. Soft-spoken and pragmatic; sympathy sits with him quite nicely.

Plus he does all his own fighting and stunts.

In the hand-to-hand combat; the viewer can tell he’s absorbing all the blows. He falls off a balcony!

Keanu’s just terrific.

The action scenes are phenomenal.

Throughout the entire film, the epic fight sequences rival the best in cinematic history.

The gunplay is realistic and grounded. You’ve never seen such concrete shootouts.

Lesson 2) Due to recoil, handheld assault rifles can only be fired in bursts.

Wick manages to dispatch a number of thugs in an organic fashion.

It especially illustrates the possibilities for less cutting, and more believable action in the film industry.

Lesson 3) Those who wield a pistol at the ready (like a cop entering the home of a serial killer) live longest.

The stuntwork is absolutely spectacular; far too much fiddling with convention to mention.

During an explosion, there is an actual stuntman in the foreground nearby the exploding material.

He catches fire! It’s awesome!

Who doesn’t love John Leguizamo? Talk about reliable.

Alfie Allen catches critical heat for playing a similar role on Game of Thrones, which is unnecessary. He does a fine job for what he’s cast as.

Good to see WCW’s Kevin Nash playing a small part.

Ian McShane is terrific as always. Somebody’s not paying him enough.

Willem DeFoe plays a man who serves vegetable puree rather than booze at a meeting of criminal wits. Yet another shiny bullet on DeFoe’s lengthy list.

Adrianne Palicki plays a solid murderess.

Ironically enough, the only time I was ‘taken out of’ the movie is during footage of her stunt double.

Finally, the off-type villain is performed excellently by Michael Nyqvist.

John Wick may be the poster-child for breaking cliché; which is shaping up to be the number one theme for cinema 2014.

Catch it in IMAX while it’s still in theaters.

There’s no stinger after the credits roll.

But hey. I’d be down for a sequel.

Hercules (PG-13)

9 Stars

I cried.

Go ahead. Laugh it up.

Greek minstrels sang tales of his twelve labors. Roman historians like Tacitus and Plutarch inked record of his deeds.

Most recently he was the protagonist of the 1997 Disney animated feature. Which is good, but on the lower end of the classic spectrum.

The demi-god makes a cameo in Homer’s Odyssey, for Pete’s sake!

My point being: We’re due for another dose.

This weekend Hercules lost in the box office to Lucy, despite a superior score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Lucy pulled in almost $44M, earning back its $40M budget. It’s now at 58%, certifiably rotten and deservedly so. My displeasure with Lucy’s deceptive trailer has increased considerably since reviewing it.

Starkly contrasting the experience with Hercules, which made only $30M and cost $100M. It now clings to ‘Fresh’ status with 62%.

Based on a Radical Comics series “Hercules” by Steve Moore, director Brett Ratner offers a revisionist take on the classic tale.

A recent trend in PG-13 is to parade the rating throughout. Two summer blockbusters are guilty of this: Godzilla and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. DotPotA is particularly at fault for feeling like a franchise vehicle.

IMDB and Rotten ‘Matoes should include another statistic: Number of submissions to the ratings board.

Hercules has admirably high stakes. If one’s looking, there are moments you can pinpoint when the footage is cut to ‘earn’ the stamp of approval. Either way, I’m nearly certain this one pushes the limit. The battles feel real and characters die on-screen.

In order to acquire a PG-13 rating, one of the criteria limits the number of ‘F-Bombs’. If the curse word is uttered more than once, the movie can’t be released with anything less than an ‘R.’

Like last year’s All is Lost, Hercules puts its one ‘fuck’ to good use.

Perusing various reviews, one quickly recognizes the vitriol toward Ratner. One critical reviewer mentions how the director, ‘nearly ruined Hannibal Lector and the X-Men.’

Hannibal, really? Who cares?

In regards to the X-Men, we can agree he made mistakes.

I don’t believe his goal was to lessen their integrity, and try to avoid schlepping hurt feelings between franchises.

Speaking of which, I’d much prefer a sequel to Hercules in exchange for the next Apes flick.

Fans of that series need to settle down. The Apes movies are cool, okay? Can we please move on?


What really makes Herc shine is the casting.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is perfect for the role.

In Roman mosaics Hercules’s image is shown tanned bronze for symbolic reasons. The same goes for the Etruscans who cast his deeds onto bronze mirrors.

Therefore Dwayne’s skin tone is appropriately dark – on a symbolic level, no less.

Plus he’s an excellent actor. He’s charismatic and lovable. Some might associate him with the ‘good guy’ role, when he’s nailed it as the antagonist twice: In Doom as the corrupted honorable leader, and in Get Smart as a charming double agent.

More importantly, he’s prolific.

Most importantly, he never mails it in.

For that we thank him. Good on ya D.J.

The value of Ratner’s version is bolstered largely by the supporting cast.

Ingrid Bolso Berdal is a Norwegian actress and plays the orphaned Amazon, Atalanta.

Her badass bow-slinging performance is worthy of esteem. Warrior women are always physical roles, and I think directors hesitate to craft intricate female fight sequences.

The majority of the credit’s due to Ingrid’s acting, however. Not many could pull off Atalanta, and most wouldn’t be brave enough to take it in the first place.

Especially considering the two-piece armor she wears in every scene.

Before quibbling, someone should compare the percentages of bare skin between Ingrid and Dwayne. I can almost guarantee he’s more naked.

To the point: Hopefully Ingrid pops up more often.

The movie opens and closes with Ian McShane doing voiceover as Amphiaraus. You might recognize him from the HBO series Deadwood, in which he plays one of the greatest sympathetic villains ever. Or his more recent role in 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman.

McShane’s terrific regardless, and his character is reminiscent of Vitruvius, the unreliable prophet (voiced by Morgan Freeman) in The Lego Movie.

Rufus Sewell plays Autolycus, and delivers a performance in which he must navigate some clichés. He’s a tremendous actor, because he quietly softens their impact.

You may recognize him as the lead role in a great movie: John Murdoch from 1998’s Dark City.

As a final note, Hercules ends with one of the best credits sequences released this year. It’s noteworthy because it’s brilliantly animated, and contributes to the narrative.

If you haven’t seen Ratner’s revisionist take, I’d suggest catching it in IMAX 3D. People love to hate on the new movie-going experience.

It’s bigger. From a technical standpoint it’s better.

Try not worry about the price to visual improvement ratio when you can be enjoying the film.

All in all, in a summer sea of PG-13, Hercules is a cut above the rest.

With its riveting story, a strong cast of diverse characters and plenty of fighting to go around, something’s bound to catch your eye.