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Thu11142019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The gun opera that is the John Wick franchise keeps on rolling with gory gust—and some great dogs to boot—in John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum.

When we last saw Keanu Reeves as John Wick, he had gotten kicked out of his assassination group, losing all of the perks. His killing a fellow assassin within the walls of the Continental Hotel means no more room service or dog-sitting. He’s got a multimillion-dollar bounty on his head, and no place to kick his feet up.

John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum picks up right where the last one left off, with a battle-wary Wick running in the streets, putting distance between himself and the hotel, and trying to figure out his next big move. As for the level of action in this chapter, it makes the fun Chapter 2 look like a sleepy intermission.

I’ll just say this right up front: John Wick gets no time for rest here, and he seriously gets his ass kicked while kicking ass. Credit Reeves for playing this part perfectly, on a level where we can believe that this dude, who keeps getting stabbed and shot, can turn on his afterburners and keep shooting people in the face.

Wick basically runs from one action set piece to another, with returning director and former stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski making each something to behold. A gun battle inside a weapons museum counts as a franchise highlight, as does Wick’s gunfight atop a motorcycle.

Yes, dogs play a major role in the shenanigans, which makes this dog person very happy. Wick’s travels take him to fellow assassin Sofia (Halle Berry), looking for assistance. Sofia has two German shepherds who get into the action during a gun battle, and they add an interesting element of violence to the proceedings. Stahelski isn’t just a master of human stunts; he’s capable of getting bad-ass performances out of canines, too. Wick’s beautiful pit bull does have a place in the film, so those of you who have missed that pup will be pleased.

As for Berry, she may’ve been missing her calling all these years. She’s beyond awesome in this movie—a veritable action star who actually outshines Reeves during her major battle scene. I’m calling for a Sofia spinoff right now!

As good as Berry is, the best supporting player in the film is Mark Dacascos as Zero, a sushi-chef/assassin who goes up against Wick while dealing with feelings of hero worship for him. He’s the funniest thing in the entire franchise.

Another stop along the way has Reeves sharing screen time with Anjelica Huston as The Director, a stern Russian who talks dirty business while punishing ballerinas. Huston hasn’t been this much fun onscreen in years. Laurence Fishburne returns as the Bowery King, so the coolness of that Matrix connection continues.

Asia Kate Dillon is the film’s weak link as the Adjudicator, a representative of the High Table sent to set matters straight with the Continental, Wick and the Continental’s manager, Winston (an always growly Ian McShane). Dillon is dull, basically killing all the scenes in which the character shows up. There’s just something off in her line deliveries.

As for Parabellum’s place in the series, it’s the best in the franchise after the original. It’s got the largest scope, and Stahelski and Reeves continuously top themselves with each action feat and gun ballet. Stahelski is making a serious run at becoming one of cinema’s best action directors. You really feel every shot, every hit and every fall in this movie. The action scenes have a major clarity to them, with crisp and concise editing that makes it very easy to follow the mayhem. It’s insanely beautiful.

This chapter, like those before it, ends with a big cliffhanger, so it’s a safe bet the story will continue. Like the character himself, this money train won’t be bleeding out anytime soon.

John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

If you thought 2014’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a bit over the top—and you liked that aspect of it—you’ll be happy to know that things were just getting started with Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the Mark Millar/Dave Gibbons graphic novel, The Secret Service.

Sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle pulls out all of the stops, goes into severe overkill mode, and then somehow holds together nicely; it delivers a fun time for those who like their movies a little nasty. It’s over-long at 141 minutes, and a pug dies—but the action snaps with expert precision, and the cast kicks ass.

That cast includes Taron Egerton as Eggsy, the young recruit of Harry Hart (Colin Firth) from the first film. The Kingsman—an underground, sharply dressed spy agency in England—remains in operation after the death of Harry, who took a bullet to the head in the first chapter. Eggsy has settled down with a royal girlfriend (Hanna Alstrom), and has segued comfortably into the life of a secret agent.

As it often goes when you are just starting to enjoy your job, things start sucking badly as missiles destroy Kingsman headquarters and strongholds, leaving behind only Eggsy and techy Merlin (Mark Strong). Eggsy and Merlin wind up in America, where they meet the Statesman—secret allies doing a similar spying service for the U.S. The task force includes Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger (Halle Berry) and Champ (Jeff Bridges).

The two organizations join to battle Poppy (Julianne Moore, gloriously crazy here), a rich drug dealer who can afford to build a compound that looks a lot like Disneyland’s Radiator Springs in the middle of a jungle. She’s also wields enough power to kidnap Elton John, who is a very colorful hostage in her music hall.

Poppy has hatched an evil scheme to poison all of her drugs. When she calls the president of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) and demands that he pay a price for the antidote, POTUS proves to be 10 times meaner than Poppy. (An evil, selfish, conniving president? That’s just crazy!)

Does it sound like there’s a lot going on in this movie? Well, there is, and it’s probably enough to command two films; Vaughn should’ve practiced a little more restraint. This is a good, fun movie—but it could’ve been great. It still achieves greatness in some of its sequences, including a ski-slope fight that goes to dizzying extremes; just about every fight scene in the film is a decent pulse-racer.

If you’ve seen the commercials, you know that Colin Firth returns for this movie. I won’t give away the nature of his return, but I will say it’s good to have him back. Speaking as a fan of the first movie, I can accept the ridiculous plot twist that puts Firth back in the character. He’s an important part of this franchise.

Like its predecessor, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is very violent, super-profane and steeped in dark humor. This is a movie in which men wind up in meat grinders and are cooked into hamburgers for other men to consume under duress. It takes a director with chops to pull this sort of stuff off and even make it funny. Vaughn is up to the task.

While Bridges, Tatum and Berry do fine with their smallish roles, Moore basically steals the movie by portraying one of the year’s greatest, most-memorable villains. Poppy is a sick hoot, and her penchant for cooking manburgers and terrorizing Elton John make her a unique kind of evil. Moore is no stranger to getting laughs, and she gets a lot of them in this movie.

If you liked the first movie, you will like this one just fine, so go see it for a nice blast of sick action as autumn kicks off. Also … if this movie is any indication, you should be very careful to never, ever piss off Elton John.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Bad Teacher (Saturday, July 5, CBS), return: When CBS canceled Bad Teacher in May after five weeks, it was implied that you’d never, ever see the final eight of 13 produced episodes—but here they are! Ari Graynor’s take on Cameron Diaz’s toxic film gold-digger was more light and likable at first, but it became apparent that she couldn’t carry the show alone; beyond the occasional comic assist from David Alan Grier, the only support she got on Bad Teacher was from Victoria’s Secret. Dead-fish co-stars aside, there’s still some funny here. Better this than a Saturday-night burn-off of fellow midseason casualty Friends With Better Lives.

Married at First Sight (Tuesday, July 8, FYI), series debut: FYI is a real cable channel—it’s A&E Networks’ newly-“rebranded” Bio—with the company line that “FYI will be an upscale network with a younger and more modern sensibility … that embraces personal creativity and the sharing of the best ideas on air and online.” Ack. So why does their debut “best idea” look like Fox circa 2001? In Married at First Sight, six strangers paired up by “specialists” via “scientific matchmaking” are legally wed for a few weeks, after which time the three couples will decide to stay or bail (or perhaps swap for a sequel series, Married to Sloppy Seconds). What has two thumbs and owes the Esquire Network an apology for several “worst channel launch ever” comments? This guy!

Finding Carter (Tuesday, July 8, MTV), series debut: Finally, a new twist on the Snarky Adopted Teen trope: After Carter (Kathryn Prescott) learns that her “single mother” actually abducted her as a baby, she’s reunited with her real parents (Lost’s Cynthia Watros and Buffy/Angel’s Alexis Denisof) and family—but all she wants to do is get back together with the woman who stole/raised her (Law & Order’s Milena Govich). Great setup, writing and performances—so expect MTV to cancel Finding Carter post-haste.

The Bridge (Wednesday, July 9, FX), season premiere: FX is one of the leading contributors to There’s Too Many Shows Syndrome; this month, they’re debuting dramas Tyrant (Tuesdays) and The Strain (July 13), as well as comedies Married and You’re the Worst (July 17). Throw returning series The Bridge into the quality overflow: When last we left El Paso cop Cross (Diane Kruger) and Chihuahua, Mexico, cop Ruiz (Demian Bichir), they’d already solved the serial-killer-on-the-border case, and the season finale didn’t so much boil over as just sit there and simmer. Since the network dumped Wilfred onto FXX, The Bridge is now FX’s weirdest show; when it breaks from the cop-procedural format, it breaks hard.

Extant (Wednesday, July 9, CBS), series debut: The Only TV Column That Matters™ has been telling you that television is a greater medium than film for more than a decade now, but it takes CBS getting Halle Berry on the tube for you to finally pay attention? What-ever. In this batshit, Syfy-meets-Lifetime mashup of Rosemary’s Baby, The Astronaut’s Wife, Gravity, A.I. and whatever else producer Steven Spielberg thinks he can (and will) get away with, Berry plays an astronaut who returns from a year-long solo mission in space pregnant—oh, and she already has a robot son with her ex-astronaut husband (Goran Visnjic). Did she hallucinate that good-lookin’ alien on her spaceship? Is there a conspiracy behind her pregnancy? Can you just purchase RoboKids at Best Buy in the future? All will be answered in 13 episodes … unless Extant scores Under the Dome ratings, then you’ll have to wait until next summer.


DVD ROUNDUP FOR JULY 8!

10 Rules for Sleeping Around

A couple with an “open relationship” coaches their uptight couple friends into getting freakier; a crazy Hamptons party, booze, drugs, 10 rules you already knew and a whole lotta naked Dylan from Modern Family (Reid Ewing) ensue. (Screen Media)

Don Peyote

An unemployed artist (Dan Fogler) becomes obsessed with doomsday conspiracies (and many, many drugs) while the likes of Anne Hathaway, Josh Duhamel and Annabella Sciorra drop by for cameos. The truth is not out there, man. (XLrator)

Nymphomaniac Vol. I and Vol. II

A self-diagnosed nymphomaniac (Charlotte Gainsbourg) tells the sexy secrets of her wild 50 years to an old man (Stellan Skarsgard) over two films and four hours, because, well, Lars Von Trier. Get it for your grandparents—they’ll love it. (Magnolia)

Pizza Man

A loser pizza-delivery guy (Frankie Muniz) eats a genetically engineered tomato, gains super powers and becomes hero PizzaMan. It’s Spider-Man with pepperoni, Rowdy Roddy Piper (!), Diamond Dallas Page (!!) and Stan Lee (?). (Arc Entertainment)

The Raid 2

Jakarta cop Rama (Iko Uwais) re-infiltrates the criminal underworld to dispense justice, and 2 1/2 hours of awesome ass-kickings. There’s more to the story, but who cares with all these awesome ass-kickings? (Sony)

More New DVD Releases (July 8)

30 Girls In 30 Days, The Backpacker, Bad Words, Dead Drop, Doctor Who: Series 3 Pt. 2, Favor, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.5, Le Week-End, Rigor Mortis, Stage Fright, Vicious: Season 1, Zalman King’s Pleasure or Pain.

Published in TV

The X-Men franchise has taken the time-travel route made popular by James Cameron’s Terminator movies and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) partakes in a unique form of time-tripping—and the result is the best film in the series since X-Men 2.

Another big contributor to the awesomeness of the latest installment is the return of Bryan Singer to the director’s chair. Singer piloted the first two X-Men films; he has a nice command of the characters in both their old and younger incarnations. It’s good to have him back.

The film starts in the future, where the likes of Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine have been reduced to hiding out in a dark, apocalyptic world where their enemy is a vicious robotic force called the Sentinels. Things are looking bad for the mutants.

However, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has perfected a form of time travel in order to mess with the Sentinels. It involves time-traveling in one’s own mind back to a particular point in memory where the traveler can mess with the fabric of time. She can only send somebody back for a few minutes or so due to brain trauma—but then it strikes the X-Men that Wolverine has instant healing powers.

Wolverine therefore travels back to the early ’70s, before the Sentinels go into production, and before Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) commits a murder that will doom the future. It’s a nice chance to see Wolverine with his bone claws again, and it creates an opportunity to combine the two recent X-Men casts.

Most of the action takes place in the past, so the X-Men: First Class cast gets most of the screen time. That means more of the terrific Michael Fassbender’s take on Magneto, who is being held in a prison underneath the Pentagon for allegedly having something to do with an infamous magic bullet. James McAvoy actually steals the show as young Xavier/Professor X, who has found a solution for his crippled legs—but it has a truly bad side effect.

Peter Dinklage has a pivotal role as a creator of the Sentinels; Dinklage always adds a level of class to any project. The film also allows a funny take on Richard Nixon (Mark Camacho), who finds himself in the middle of the whole mutant public-relations fiasco.

While Lawrence gets plenty of screen time as Raven, we never do see Rebecca Romijn as Mystique. We do get a brief, brief glimpse of Anna Paquin’s Rogue. (More scenes wound up on the cutting-room floor, according to Singer.) There are more than 30 seconds of Halle Berry’s Storm in the film, which means there’s more Storm in this movie than anybody really needs.

A welcome cast addition is Evan Peters as the speedy Quicksilver. One of the film’s best sequences involves how it looks to Quicksilver, through his eyes, as he rearranges a gunfight with his fingertips in a half-second. We see it in slow motion, with much comedic detail. It’s brilliant.

This film basically allows the X-Men universe to jettison X-Men: The Last Stand, a film made by Brett Ratner; it was not a favorite with fans. I didn’t hate the movie, but it stands alongside the mediocre X-Men Origins: Wolverine as one of the weakest movies in the series.

As is the case with Star Trek, the whole system has been reconfigured with X-Men, and all options are open for future films. Is there chance they can use the whole time-travel thing on the Matrix movies, and fix those screwed-up sequels?

X-Men: Days of Future Past is playing in regular and 3-D formats at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Three directors and a game cast tell interconnecting stories over centuries in Cloud Atlas, a mightily ambitious project from Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowski siblings (Andy and Lana of The Matrix films).

The likes of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and Jim Sturgess don heavy makeup to play multiple roles as the movie tries to show how lives and people interconnect through time. The experiment pays off enough to qualify this as a mostly enjoyable time, although some stories are weaker than others. Berry has a good one as a reporter in the 1970s dealing with crooked energy suppliers, and Hanks has a nice time playing both virtuous and murderous types. As for the bad guys Hanks plays, let’s just say it’s a long way from Forrest Gump or the sweetie pie douchebag who met up with Meg What’s-Her-Face on top of the Empire State Building. He gets to play the worst scumbags of his career, and you can sense he cherishes the opportunity.

The movie does boast some of 2012’s worst makeup, and it distracts from time to time.

The film is more a magnificent curio than magnificent entertainment. It will certainly challenge audiences ill-prepared for its length (172 minutes—almost three hours!) and numerous swirling stories.

Massive kudos to the folks in charge of the visuals here, especially the future cities. They come up with mighty original settings for this film, and they look good on the home screen.

Special Features: You get a bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff that add up to less than an hour and don’t really impress. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

I didn’t care all that much for Movie 43, a new-millennium attempt at something akin to Kentucky Fried Movie. But I won’t be trashing it, because it crosses many lines, is terribly offensive, and is often screamingly disgusting. I’m a little demented when it comes to comedy, so I say: Bring on the farts, excessive curse words and scrotum necks!

However, if you are going to do a gross sketch comedy, you had better do gross well. Your jokes better have the proper punch lines and kickers, and your sketches have to end strong.

Many of the sketches in Movie 43 end like bad Saturday Night Live sketches. Too many of the sketches, which are directed by various directors, just aren’t funny. They land with a thud.

First, I’ll talk about the good stuff. I must give props to real-life couple Naomi Watts (a current Oscar nominee) and Liev Schreiber for their funny turn as a couple proudly homeschooling their son. They want their kid to get the full high school experience, so they humiliate him, alienate him, nail him with dodge balls and ultimately try to make out with him. Yes, I laughed hard at this. Movie 43 would’ve been better if it had been 90 minutes with these nuts.

I must also praise Terrence Howard as a black basketball coach who gets fed up with his youngsters being afraid of a bullying white team. Yes, this joke has been done to death, but Howard sells it big-time. This is one of the sketches that ended badly, but not before Howard had me laughing out loud.

Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott kidnap a foul-mouthed leprechaun (Gerard Butler)—and excessive violence and obscenity ensue. Real-life couple Anna Faris and Chris Pratt deal with a desire to get pooped upon—yet they somehow make it romantic. Jason Sudeikis gives us a commentary on Kristen Bell's bush. There are some laughs to be had in these uneven segments.

Hugh Jackman (another current Oscar nominee) shows up for a blind date with Kate Winslet sporting testicles on his neck. This would be the first time in movie history where an Oscar nominee, mere weeks away from hearing whether he has won the golden boy, appears onscreen with hairy balls protruding from his neck. I’m thinking that this moment in movie history will cost Mr. Jackman a few votes. It’s also not funny.

Another sketch (directed by Elizabeth Banks) features Chloë Moretz and her Kick-Ass co-star Christopher Mintz-Plasse. It has, not surprisingly, a menstruation theme: Moretz gets her first period after her first kiss, and two brothers spaz out until their dad (Patrick Warburton) comes home—and doesn’t help the situation. Another dud.

Even worse would be Elizabeth Banks starring in a post-credits segment that has her getting peed on by a masturbating/animated cat. And even worse would be a truth-or-dare sketch in which Oscar-winner Halle Berry makes guacamole with surgically enhanced breasts. Far worse would be a skit in which Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin talk dirty at a supermarket, unwittingly broadcasting over the PA system.

Worst of all would be Richard Gere as an executive confused at the notion that young boys are trying to have sex with the iBabe, an MP3 player that looks like a supermodel but has a nasty, member-mangling exhaust fan in its nether regions.

The bad far outweighs the good, and that’s what makes Movie 43 a loser. I dare Hugh Jackman to wear his scrotum neck on the Oscar red carpet.

Movie 43 is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

About 45 minutes into the nearly three-hour Cloud Atlas screening I attended, some dude blew out his lips, sounding not unlike a bridled horse after piloting a carriage around Disneyland for a half-day.

Others stood up, shook their heads and walked out solemnly with their popcorn corn tubs for the first of many refills.

Cloud Atlas is one mightily ambitious film. Three directors are at the helm; the cast is high-profile, with most playing multiple roles; and there are interconnecting story arcs spanning centuries.

All things considered, it’s remarkable how cohesive the film is. While different directors handled different stories, the film doesn’t feel as if different directors were handling the shots. It has a nice, smooth, unified vision. It's not smooth enough to please everybody, judging by the mass exodus from the theater, but smooth enough to impress the likes of me.

The directors are the Wachowski siblings (Andy and Lana of The Matrix movies) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). They handled different parts of the movie with their own crews, while sharing the cast members, who play a multitude of different characters that required them to often wear heavy prosthetic makeup.

The cast includes Tom Hanks, who gets to play both virtuous and murderous men, often changing accents, wigs and teeth. Hanks looks like he’s having the time of his life, and he helps to propel the film, even when it threatens to go off the rails.

Also on hand is Halle Berry, who has been getting some stinker roles lately. This is her best film in years, especially during a 1970s plotline that has her playing a reporter investigating a nuclear power plant scheme. Hugh Grant, having a fun year with his great voiceover work in The Pirates! Band of Misfits, gets to play a host of disgusting people, as does Wachowski regular Hugo Weaving.

The movie’s true intentions don’t start kicking in until halfway through its running time, making the first half a bit of a maze. My advice is to be patient, because, narrative-wise, it all comes together quite wonderfully in the end.

I’m sure the makeup folks were working overtime, and some of their work is quite dandy. That said, much of that makeup is pretty awful. Susan Sarandon has a fake nose at one point that’s so distracting, it’s hard to follow what’s happening in the scene. I found myself staring at her nose and missing dialogue. I did like the transformation of Hugo Weaving into a female nurse as mean as Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But for every makeup success, there seems to be three failures. The film was budgeted at a little more than $100 million, which is not a lot of money by Hollywood-blockbuster-wannabe standards. So, yeah, another $25 million for fake nose and teeth research might’ve made the film look less like a goofy costume pageant and more realistic.

While there isn’t one story in Cloud Atlas that’s so amazingly good it would stand on its own, the feat of tying them all together is impressive. For instance, there are two slavery stories, one involving Jim Sturgess as a slave trader in the past, and another involving Sturgess as an Asian slave revolutionary in the distant future.

The film, like the novel by David Mitchell, suggests that acts of kindness and hatred at any moment can ripple through time and affect the future. It also suggests that there’s some sort of reincarnation at play, with people meeting each other again and again in different lives. And finally, it also suggests that no matter how good looking we are, we are doomed to have a really bad nose or fake looking wig somewhere down the line.

I liked the idea that the Hanks persona could be a heroic man in the ’70s and a brutish killer in the present day. In that respect, Cloud Atlas certainly lacks in predictability.

In the end, the film is more a magnificent curio than magnificent entertainment. It will certainly challenge audiences ill prepared for its length and numerous swirling stories.

Cloud Atlas is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews