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.

Chef (R)

8 Stars

Who knows if it’s always been this way, but the phrase ‘date movie’ is a surprisingly bad omen.

It’s synonymous with bad comedy and cheesy romancing.

The idea that a sequel to Valentine’s Day got produced…

Anyway.

Last year’s The Spectacular Now is a great example of what a ‘date movie’ should be.

So is this year’s Chef.

It’s a heartwarming story about a talented L.A. foodsmith finding his niche. In part a road-trip buddy comedy, Chef explores father-son relationships and the struggle to maintain balance.

‘Slice of life’ is what you might call it.

Jon Favreau is lights-out. That dude’s a boss.

He writes, directs and stars in Chef. Favreau directed Elf; he has a cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street, and plays a great supporting character in Iron Man 3. You may be surprised to find out he’s also Danny Bateman, the overzealous linebacker from The Replacements.

He’s also into comics and a big supporter of the Marvel franchise. (Yes, I can easily forgive him for Iron Man 2.)

Plus the off-type roles he wrote for Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara in Chef are very strong. The whole movie’s well written. It’s not a comedy in the traditional sense, even though most websites categorize it such.

If we’re to get technical, Chef meets the prerequisite minimum of hilarious dick jokes. So in a scholarly sense it’s a comedy.

Perhaps ‘realistic fiction’ is the right name for it. I still prefer ‘slice of life.’

It tells a real story about a hardworking, driven middle-aged man who’s reached a seemingly insurmountable crisis. The interactions between Favreau and Dustin Hoffman are believable and compelling.

The viewer quickly forgets they’re watching the Hoffster, and can empathize with both sides of the conflict.

Between Scar Jo, Sofia, Dusty and all the rest, the supporting cast is phenomenal.

One final actor worthy of mention is John Leguizamo. He’s always great, and doesn’t disappoint here.

A common criticism is the initial half is far more compelling than the later. But I couldn’t disagree more.

It’s between six to eleven minutes too long but that’s the film as a whole; there is no greater or lesser half.

Chef also dives into social media and creatively incorporates animation to illustrate ‘tweeting.’

There’s no ‘stinger’ after the end-credits but if you wait until halfway through, there’s a short clip of Favreau learning to make grilled cheese from a professional. It’s not mind-bending, but it’s fun and worth the three minutes.

Chef’s not a blockbuster but it’s hilarious, heartwarming fun if you’re seeking a flick in-theaters.

I saw it for six bucks, which is a steal nowadays.

So don’t leave it on the backburner any longer.

Chef’s packed with laughs and just the right amount of sentimentality.

It’s a realistic date slice of comedic fiction life movie.

With a dusting of romance.