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New Article! On the Hidden World of “John Wick”…

I was thrilled to contribute to the latest issue of Pretty Deadly Films, the new online film magazine being published by Film in Dublin. This third edition of the magazine is dedicated to John Wick, so I thought it might be interesting to look at the hidden world of John Wick.

In some ways, John Wick positions itself as a successor to The Matrix. It is directed by two stuntmen who worked on the series and stars Keanu Reeves. Laurence Fishburne joined the ensemble in the second film. It is also a film about hidden subcultures and secret worlds, which positions it as a successor to similar films from the late nineties in which the real world is an illusion – Dark City, The Truman Show, The Thirteenth Floor. However, what distinguishes the hidden world of John Wick from those earlier films is a profound cynicism. To know the truth is to be trapped by it.

You can read the issue here, browse back issues of the magazine here or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Bill & Ted Face the Music

Bill and Ted Face the Music is a solid legacy sequel, if not a spectacular one.

The third Bill and Ted movie has been in the works for a long time. It has been gestating for years in various states, driven by the enthusiasm of writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, and stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter. Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey had the relative good fortune to arrive only two years after Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but Bill and Ted Face the Music emerges after a thirty-year gap in which the original films have gone from charming curiosities to bona fides cult classics.

Old friends.

This is to say that Bill and Ted Face the Music faces a challenge that is every bit as impossible as that facing the eponymous heroes. Providing a fitting capstone to a franchise that has grown from humble beginnings to legendary status is a monumental task, on par with trying to unite the world through music. Indeed, perhaps the smartest thing about Bill and Ted Face the Music is the way in which it recognises that the task it has set itself and its two leads is insurmountable.

Bill and Ted Face the Music is a charming film, one that largely coasts on the delightful ironic earnestness of its two lead protagonists and a sincere affection for all of its characters. It’s hard to resist Bill and Ted Face the Music, with its playfulness and its breezy sensibility. However, the film doesn’t entirely work. It struggles with pacing, it struggles to anchor its ensemble together, and it often feels like it is trying to do far too much within its modest (but nimble) eighty-minute runtime. Bill and Ted Face the Music won’t save the world, but might make it a little happier.

Music to my ears.

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147. The Matrix – Summer of ’99 (#18)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Grace Duffy and Alex Towers, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, continuing our Summer of ’99 season, Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s The Matrix.

1999 was a great year for movies, with a host of massively successful (and cult) hits that would define cinema for a next generation: 10 Things I Hate About You, The Virgin Suicides, Run Lola RunElection, Cruel Intentions, Fight Club. The Summer of ’99 season offers a trip through the year in film on the IMDb‘s 250.

Thomas Anderson lives a fairly ordinary life; an office drone by day, a computer hacker by night. However, Anderson’s life quickly begins to fall apart when he finds himself drawn to a mysterious hacker named Trinity. It soon becomes clear that Anderson’s life (and his very reality) is not at all what it appears to be.

At time of recording, it was ranked 18th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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Non-Review Review: John Wick – Chapter III: Parabellum

The biggest issue with John Wick: Chapter III – Parabellum is that it lacks an ending.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with an ambiguous or open-ended film. Indeed, a large part of the thrill of John Wick: Chapter II was the extent to which it fudged such boundaries. Despite the fact that John Wick offered something of a satisfying conclusion, the sequel picked up mere moments later to offer a coda that audiences never realised was needed. The ending of the first sequel bled (both literally) into the one that would follow. Open-endedness is not an issue of itself.

“So John Wick flees on horseback, the assassin’s after them on a motorcycle and it’s like a battle between motors and horses, like technology versus horse.”

After all, Chapter II belonged to the now-familiar family of “second films in trilogies.” Traditionally, the first film in a series would be relatively self-contained, with a broad teasing ending at best that could provide closure if the box office numbers didn’t work; Star WarsBack to the Future. In contrast, after those movies were box office hits, sequels were often commissioned in batches of two; Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back bleeds more obviously into Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, Back to the Future II bleeds into Back to the Future III.

However, there tended to be an understanding that closure was necessary at some point. Not necessarily in a definitive or conclusive manner for the series as a whole; Return of the Jedi is not the last Star Wars movie. However, a sense that the single narrative being tidied up. The characters’ journeys may not be completed, but their arc within this particular story is complete. Parabellum feels very much like a cheat on this front. Although building from a premise with a clear ending, it seems to be awkwardly constructing a perpetual motion device.

Shattering expectations.

After all, John Wick’s journey has a clear end point. The character arc that began in John Wick has any number of potential resolutions. Chapter II seemed to offer some clear linear progress to that journey, taking the character from his position in the closing moments of John Wick and escalating the existential stakes significantly. The single biggest problem with Parabellum is that the film doesn’t manage a comparable transformation. Wick’s situation doesn’t seem particularly different between the beginning and the end of the film. At most, the character has run a closed loop.

This is a shame, as that is a lot to like in Parabellum. As with both John Wick and Chapter II, this is a visually stunning film. It is saturated with neon glows of reds and blues, mingling and reflecting into beautiful purples on grimy streets and immaculate sterile sets. The stunt choreography is breathtaking, and a testament to an underappreciated artform, ballet with blades and bullets. Indeed, Parabellum even improves upon the already enchanting heightened operatic (and gloriously melodramatic) storytelling of John Wick and Chapter II, weaving them into an engaging parable.

Getting their just deserts.

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21. John Wick: Chapter 2 – This Just In (#243)

People keep asking us if we’re going to be covering John Wick. I’m thinking, yeah, we’re going to be covering John Wick.

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and this week with special guest Graham Day, This Just In is a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Chad Stahelski’s John Wick: Chapter 2.

podcast-johnwick

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Non-Review Review: Speed

Pop quiz, hotshot. There’s a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?

– Howard tells you everything you need to know

Speed is the quintessential nineties action movie. If you want to look at a movie that typifies what a nineties action film looked like, but does so with an incredible amount of skill (and a reasonable portion of wit), it’s hard to recommend a more obvious choice. It’s a movie that falls apart if you think about it too hard, but director Jan de Bont does an absolutely amazing job making sure that we’re never really looking beyond the next ridiculous plot twist or tension action set piece. More than earning its name, Speed is a movie that runs on enough raw adrenaline that it becomes as easy to overlook the movie’s flaws as it is to it seems to be ride a bus across a fifty-foot gap in a half-constructed bridge. And de Bont manages to make that look really easy.

Can I phone a friend on this "pop quiz"?

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Non-Review Review: The Firm

The Firm would be an entertaining little thriller, if it ran maybe half-an-hour shorter. John Grisham’s legal thrillers were pretty much the gold standard for lawyer-related movies during the nineties, with any number of movies adapted freely from his books (notably in the format of “The [insert noun here]” like “The Firm”, The Client, The Rainmakerand so on). It’s a shame, because I believe that The Firm might have, with a little judicious editing, had the capacity to be the best Gresham adaptation out there. Instead, it’s too bloated to really make an impact.

It's no coincidence that "lawyer" and "liar" sound so similar...

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Non-Review Review: The Matrix Revolutions

Today I’m taking a look at the Matrix trilogy. All three films, all watched and reviewed in one day. Join us for the fun! All three reviews will be going on-line today.

I remarked in my earlier review of The Matrix Reloaded that I feel I’m in the minority in regarding the final part of the trilogy as a much stronger film than the second film in the cycle. I mean, if you look at the Rotten Tomatoes score, the second film is almost regarded as highly as the first (higher among top critics), while the third is very clearly “rotten.” On the IMDb, the second film scores higher among audiences than the third. However, while neither sequel comes close to matching the impact of the original, I do have a fondness for the third over the second. Perhaps my preference derives from the same reason many find it weaker – the fact that the only way to enjoy it is to really disengage from the underlying philosophical questions posed by the second film.

Whoa...

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Non-Review Review: The Matrix

Today I’m taking a look at the Matrix trilogy. All three films, all watched and reviewed in one day. Join us for the fun! All three reviews will be going on-line today.

Part of me wonders if The Matrix has been somewhat tarnished by its two sequels and countless spin-offs, video-games, tie-ins and “expanded universe” material. I mean, you can pick any number of iconic pop culture moments from the original film (from “I know kung-fu” to “whoa” to “stop trying to hit me and hit me”), but you’re left with a third film in the trilogy that ultimately grossed less than the original. Watching the entire trilogy back-to-back helps the later films seem much stronger, but it also perhaps helps illuminate what was missing from the following two films that made the original such a classic.

Bending over backwards to make a good movie...

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When Was the Last Time a Horror Film Gave You Nightmares?

We had a family outing at the weekend. We all went to see The Last Exorcism, on the recommendation of my gran. We were pretty much all disappointed, but to different degrees. Anyway, as we sat around the kitchen table at midnight, discussing the film, my gran and my aunt conceded that whenever they typically saw a film about demons, they had trouble sleeping – even the camp horror of The Devil Rides Through or the courtroom-focused drama of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. However, neither would have any real trouble sleeping that night (and, the following morning, both seemed perfectly rested). So it got me thinking, perhaps the perfect measure of a horror movie’s effectiveness is how afraid it makes you as you lay yourself down to rest. So, when was the last time you had trouble sleeping?

A stab in the dark...

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