Day 234: The Man and the Return of the Boogeyman; ‘Center’

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He was the one you sent to kill the Boogeyman.

2014 I saw John Wick in theatres knowing very little about the Baba Yaga. I honestly don’t even remember the trailer. I know there was a dog, and a car, and someone you really, really shouldn’t mess with. And I knew it was Keanu Reeves who could play anyone from the literal actual Buddha to a cyberpunk post-apocalyptic robot messiah. What ensued was an hour and a half of sophisticated style, real raw action, and an incredibly fascinating look into an underworld of shady characters, hidden places, and secret societies. John Wick was a smart modern noir action film about a retired hitman on a personal quest of revenge in this second world operating right within our own. There was something so cool, so slick, so captivating about how fully fleshed and functioning this secret world was as it operated right within plain sight.

The movie’s action sequences are nothing short of cinematic masterpieces. They are smooth, quick, and to Keanu Reeves’s credit, believable. I’ve seen clips of the extensive tactical weapons and fighting training Keanu goes through for the films and it is impressive with huge payout. The cinematography is clear and clean because there’s no need for fluff or camera tricks. Keanu knows how to punch, kick, grapple, shoot, and repeat so the camera gets to relax and stay still long enough for us to register each action and really appreciate and understand the level of power and skill his character has. They are shot in these fantastic dynamic environments that allow for so much variety and improvisation. The Red Circle club scene is claustrophobic and crowded and yet there is an interplay with enemies coming out of the water, running behind glass, on a busy dance floor, and all to the persistent endless deep booming bass. There is a home invasion scene near the beginning of the movie as John Wick’s enemies try to execute a preemptive strike that makes full use of John’s gorgeous house as a close quarters combat playground.

Membership 1.gifBut really, any movie can have good action. Might not be as good as John Wick‘s, but a good action scene is fairly easy to create and produce. A world that is compelling enough to want to watch the action in however, that requires skill. See, John Wick isn’t just another action movie to be filed in with the rest. At its heart it is a stylish, dark, and gritty noir film with a world that has so much to want to explore and membership-2investigate. John Wick has its own understated yet implicitly complex mythology. I knew it was going to be something different, something unique, something to think about, when John summons ‘Charlie’ and his ‘specialty cleaners’ to clean up the bodies and debris left in his house after the failed home invasion. The currency of exchange in the underworld for everything from favors to a room at the mystical ‘Continental’ to the disposal of bodies are gold coins. We get bits and pieces throughout the movie of the very strict code of conduct that members of this society must membership-3adhere to, lest they pay a severe penalty from ‘the house’. The criminal underworld is an unlikely yet compelling setting as the last vestige of gentlemanly professionalism, honor, and order. It’s such a fascinating society with its own rules, enforcement, requirements, and restrictions. There are services that are expected, almost natural extensions that can be called upon at a moment’s notice. Doctors with specific clientele, ‘dinner reservations’ for cleanup and disposal of bodies, all under the watchful eye of ‘management’. It’s a world I absolutely loved and wanted to know more about.

So these are the two major parts of what made John Wick back in 2014 so great. And it was with this understanding and desire and prior relationship with the movie that I went to watch John Wick Chapter 2 this weekend. I wanted the now-franchise to continue its ability to deliver high-quality action sequences with style and sophistication and I wanted to see more of this secret underworld whose connections and services are now international. And I am happy, ecstatic, honestly relieved to say, the movie did not disappoint.

John Wick Chapter 2 builds upon the first’s captivating world and particular style of violence. We visit Rome’s ‘Continental’ run by Winston’s cousin, the owner of the New York ‘Continental’ and a highly influential and powerful member of this world. John visits the ‘sommelier’ for a ‘tasting’ in order to purchase a very specific set of weapons intended to give him the advantage he needs to accomplish his tasks and rack up a very impressive kill count. The ‘tailor’ builds him a suit that is sharp, sleek, and lined with tactical zero-penetration armor. Keanu gets to run and gun through the abandoned tunnels below Rome, a hall of mirrors, a NYC subway train, and in a particularly funny scene involved in a station below One World Trade Center.

The movie is not without its shortcomings, however. And I find it stems from an identity crisis that the film has when it forgets what made the first such a great film in the first place. John Wick was a gritty noir film but it was not afraid to be light at times. It had a fully fleshed world but delivered it in an understated and subtle way. At times, John Wick Chapter 2 felt too serious and tried too hard to legitimize itself and/or its story. First of all, John Wick was at its core about a car and a dog. Second, it was well-received, loved, and the how-john-wick-kills-yousequel was, in a world of remakes and rehashes, something we actually wanted. So no one, least of all the movie itself, needs to convince us of its legitimacy and necessity. Oh yes, I needed this sequel. If the moral of John Wick should be ‘don’t rob a man’s car and kill his dog’ the moral of John Wick Chapter 2 should be ‘don’t betray a man who kills men’. Everything else is fluff and should be dealt with lightly. I also think that, while the movie gave me a much bigger helping of that secret world that I so craved, it spoonfed it to me. I loved how John Wick didn’t introduce these elements, it simply included them. Like it was a natural and assumed part of the understanding between movie and moviegoer that yes, there is a hotel that houses assassins and yes, there’s a bar and a doctor and a tailor and a launderer. Wonderful. Every new element in Chapter 2 seemed to have its own introductory exposition and honestly, I didn’t need that. I loved being able to piece together who these secret support roles of the underworld were and what they did. There was no need for any heavy-handed explanations. After all, isn’t it cooler when your date just rolls up in a nice car, versus talking to you about it all the time before the date? The movie succeeds the most when it is unapologetic about its decisions, not afraid to be light amidst the darkness, and is subtle yet convincing in creating its world rules and myths.

The worst thing I can possibly say about Chapter 2 is that at times it has about as much wick-punchconfidence as a teenage boy losing his virginity. I could do with less ‘am I doing alright’ ‘is this working for you’. The movie was, above anything else, spectacular. I think it did a great job of paying homage to its roots (THE PENCIL SCENE) and then moving forward with the story. I’ve seen no sign of weakness in the performance, style, or direction in this movie. There is no shortage of fantastic action sequences and the Greek myth/steampunk/smoke and mirrors underworld is just as fascinating and intriguing as it was in the beginning. No spoilers or anything, but I just want to say, the movie has had a great run in theatres, the fans are all loving it, and there’s just enough in the end to be able to flesh out a third, so here’s hoping.

John: Winston, tell them, tell them all, whoever comes, whoever it is, I’ll kill them. I’ll kill them all.

Winston: Course you will.

Day 234

Man: 201 Loneliness: 33

Day 67: The Man and The Defense of the Dark Arts

The title is an especially cheeky homage to a fellow blogger friend but it is also a reminder of what really is the root of Mechanic: Resurrection. The ‘mechanic’ is the one you call when you have a particularly big problem to fix and the mark of a good ‘mechanic’ is to leave none at all once the job is done. It is a clever misnomer for the knife in the dark, the skilled silent killer.

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No one asked for a remake of the original Charles Bronson film. It wasn’t particularly successful to warrant a guaranteed interest nor was it particularly terrible that unsatisfied fans were waiting for a better approach. For the most part the original Mechanic had a captivating enough premise that was done justice by Bronson’s honest performance but ultimately marred by uninspired boring action sequences and the director’s oversight in developing Bronson’s character relationships.

If the remake were to fare any better it would have to recapture the gravitas of the main protagonist Arthur Bishop, develop more convincingly the ‘father son rivalry’ between him and the son of his last mark Steve, and create truly exciting and interesting action sequences. The new Arthur Bishop would be played by Jason Statham (of Transporter and Guy Ritchie film fame) and would-be assassin in training Steve would be played by Ben Foster (I first saw him in the underrated comedy Big Trouble but he also had notable roles in X-Men: Last Stand and 3:10 to Yuma).

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The remake was up-front, direct, unapologetically macho fun. It was simple in its approach and handling of the material but delivered that in-your-face immediate and dangerous appeal of the life of a professional hitman. Ben Foster has the convincing look of a dangerously neurotic and unpredictable electrical wire. Again I feel that the real dynamic between a grieving son and a guilty assassin could have been better utilized. The action sequences were momentously more involved, intricate, and inspired. The problem it has, which it shares with its successor, is that while the action is indeed well-done and exciting, it is…purposeless.

You have to remember that we are supposed to be watching the world of an assassin. Their specialty is not just to kill but the art of the kill. They thrive in secrecy and subtlety. So is a guns-blazing mad shootout with an army of private guards really supposed to be their forte? Quality over quantity should be the mantra. We should see incredibly choreographed fatal ‘accidents’ that make us wary of starting our cars or accepting packages from strangers. What we get is an ambush and a guard shootout that are equally entertaining but much less fitting. The dark art of contract killing can be fascinating without being over the top. Historical dramas love the story of the rise and fall of mafia hitmen. Old film noir of hardened killers being softened by damsels in distress capture the true tragedy of romance. Assassins need their rightful place in the action movie genre.

Statham Dancing.gifI like Jason Statham, I really do. I think he was a great find in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Revolver. His Transporter series is a guilty pleasure (especially the first with the breathtakingly stunning Shu Qi). I even liked him in the 1980s Erasure music video. I am not ashamed to say I think he’s got the looks and he’s a decent actor as well. Do I wish that he would get chances to stretch his range and play more than just the muscle in dime a dozen action films with aged action stars? Absolutely. But what he does get he does well, even if the material doesn’t give him much chance. I think he needs a new agent who can sell him on more than just his body but if that’s what we’re going to get I’m still pretty confident in his skills so yes I’ll keep watching and keep supporting his career.

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So that’s how I approached Mechanic: Resurrection. See the sequel has a few things already going for it. First of all, there was no sequel with Charles Bronson’s Bishop, which frees Resurrection from the burden of comparison and allows it to explore a whole different range. Second, it brings back Statham to continue his rendition of the lonely hitman. This would be a new start, a fresh take, and a second chance. Third, it pairs Jason Statham with the best accessory of all, some eye candy in the form of wholesomely sexy Jessica Alba (Sky Kids in a skimpy blue bikini).

So what did they do poorly? One word should just about sum up the biggest stumble in the movie: knowledge. There are too many characters with too much knowledge who do too little with it and there are yet still others with too little knowledge who are capable of too much. Bishop knows why Gina (Alba’s character) is there. He correctly predicts and anticipates his enemy’s moves and he STILL falls for the girl and the trap with little resistance or countermove. He knew! The movie had an incredible opportunity to flip audience expectations by calling out the norm and instead it…followed through? Gina is supposed to be a retired military spec ops operative. She should know how to defend herself and handle herself in a confrontation. So why are we watching her flail about in a loose sundress? We know little to nothing of the antagonist’s origins or motivations. Yet he seems to command a mini army who are able to track and kidnap Bishop regardless of his many identities and exotic locales. The final mark (a hilarious minor role for a very major actor) knows little of Bishop or his true intentions yet fully trusts him in orchestrating the final confrontation.

Oops.gifThe movie felt rushed and misprioritized. There is quite literally a scene in the middle of the movie on the antagonist’s boat that accomplishes nothing, does nothing to plot, and distracts from the main objective. It was a distraction to raise the movie’s body count at what I can only imagine is a legally required interval of time between action sequences. Great action? Absolutely. Some great gun play and combat but ultimately not necessary. They missed an opportunity to get what they paid for. Jessica Alba is undoubtedly beautiful and stunning. But she’s not a good actress. She convinces me of very little of her role. But they spent the money to put the international star Michelle Yeoh in this film as well. I wanted to see so much more of her as Mae. Who is she really? What is the nature of her and Bishop’s relationship? Would she ever get involved in the chaos? I really thought if you wanted to get to Bishop you’d go for the long-time friend, not the five-minute fling.

To be fair though, I do want to say that overall I enjoyed the film. They did do a number of things right for what I was expecting and hoping to get. No one is saying Mechanic: Resurrection will redefine the action genre. But we can say it is an effective example of what the action genre should deliver to its audiences. As I said before I enjoy Jason Statham and he does not disappoint in his role as Bishop. He is professional, efficient, effective, and deadly. He has the ability of comedic timing and the convincability of deadly lethality. The movie itself is a gem to look at. We are taken to some of the most beautiful settings in the world when we are taken to Brazil, Thailand, and Australia. The water scenes are large and expansive and the height scenes are dizzying. There are some great colors in the film in the settings and costumes that really make the movie pop visually. The action scenes, again though at times out of place, are well choreographed and adrenaline pumping. It’s a ‘bang bang boom’ kind of movie that delivers the right amount of bangs and booms. I could very easily settle into my chair with a bag of popcorn and allow myself to indulge in some Hollywood style violence. I might even find myself inching closer to the edge of my seat at times.

Overall I’m satisfied that I got what I expected. Again Resurrection benefits from very little expectation and nothing to compare to. It takes a very safe route cinematically and a very conservative take on the assassin action movie but it is a tried and true type that it fulfills completely. It’s a fun movie. It’s a silly movie. It’s a good movie.

Day 67

Man: 50 Loneliness: 17