I just witnessed Chapter 2 of the sad saga of John Wick starring Keanu Reeves. The original film was also directed by Chad Stahelski. I saw Chapter 1 on October 24, 2014, a mere 27 months ago and little has improved or changed. The writing is atrocious and tired. The action is average and over-wrought.
The next four paragraphs were part of my review in 2014, and sadly, they are still accurate for John Wick: Chapter 2. That’s beyond sad; that’s downright embarrassing. But to save time and ink, I cut and pasted the next four paragraphs from my review of “John Wick” 2014, and I’m dying if I’m lying, every stinking word is true and relevant.
“Lucky for the world, ex-hitman John Wick, had retired from killing other humans for a living. But that does not mean that John Wick doesn’t still have a large stash of serious weapons and a special set of skills that rivals Bryan (Liam Neeson) Mills. Now let’s get something straight now; I did not say that he had more skills than Bryan Mills, but I am saying that within ten yards, John Wick has superior skills with a pistol – two to the body and one to the head. John Wick’s reloads are a thing of beauty.
Please notice that I am not comfortable calling him “Wick” or “John.” One should always refer to this character as John Wick. You don’t have to call him Mr. Wick and dang sure better not call him “Johnny.” This very uptight John Wick is grieving the recent loss of his wife, and then a Ruskie goes so far as to steal his 1969 Boss Mustang. And I can’t even mention the fate of his adorable puppy. A man can only take so much.
Keanu Reeves competently plays an angry assassin with a stylized beard and near-constant music in the background. The crowds will show up to see Reeves in this homicidal role, but keep your expectations in check. Sadly, this is a mediocre film that will do well at the box office, but Director Chad Stahelski, who is primarily known for his talent as a stunt coordinator, should stick with what he knows best.
Now that I think about it, this movie had outstanding stunts. I’ll give you that, Chad. However, the story lacked intrigue and passion; especially if you don’t count killing more than 40 bad guys at almost point-blank range as passionate. John Wick is set on revenge and felt completely justified for mass slayings. And I repeat: ‘don’t mess with a man’s car or dog.’”
I stand corrected; this time his 1969 Boss Mustang was badly damaged not stolen. Wow, not sure I can handle the excitement and originality.
The laziness in making this movie is gargantuan. I trust K. Reeves got his money up front.
Is there a big winner, Larry H, you ask? Well yes, there is. Common plays a pseudo bad guy that can kick and shoot almost as fast as John Wick. Almost. Common is the 44 year-old who started out as a rapper and has transitioned into a good actor. I first met Common when he co-starred as Elam Ferguson in AMC’s “Hell on Wheels” (2011-2014).
Do not bother to see this retread. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 69. Larry H.
This is a painful and emotional documentary based on 30 pages of the beginning of an unfinished book by James Baldwin. Baldwin was an accomplished writer, lecturer, and civil rights leader in the 1960’s, and he had begun writing about race through his book “Remember This House.”
He didn’t finish that book before his death in 1987, but Director Raoul Peck, born in 1953, readily admits that he was an admirer of James Baldwin and this film is Peck’s attempt to complete the novel by Baldwin by bringing the story to the big screen.
Baldwin dramatizes the turbulent 60’s through his three murdered friends – Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and Medgar Evers. This was a time when a sign of “We Don’t Want To Go To School With Coloreds” was commonplace. And these three men were killed before any of them reached the age of 40.
This movie captures the atmosphere, anger, frustration, and deep-rooted fear and resentment of this country’s struggle between Black and White America.
Peck wisely chose Samuel L. Jackson as narrator and masterfully reveals this saga through old photos and archived footage including the music of the times.
As each death was covered, Black children mocked, the photos of police kicking protesters, the burning of Watts, and the graphic lynchings kept rolling through, I wanted to scream “Make it Stop!” But, the explanation of the “Negro Problem” continued without a happy ending.
Well, bravo to Raoul Peck for creating an important historical piece of literature that grabs the hearts of its audience. I watched the whole film, but it was not an experience of joyful entertainment. Rather, it was more a walk on a gut-wrenching journey along the ugly underbelly of the American civil rights evolution.
Who could claim that MLK, Malcom X, and Medgar Evers were their friends? That’s how cool and historically connected James Baldwin had become as he endured the assassination of three men who he cared about. Much of this film covers Baldwin’s speeches, interviews, and lectures. Baldwin’s family and admirers will be pleased in Peck’s revelation of Baldwin’s passion and intellect.
All history buffs must see this movie and anyone keenly interested in the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement should also buy a ticket. I’m glad I saw it once, but I don’t want to see it again. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 88. Larry H.
We can’t have a Best Actor nomination for a movie that debuts on January 27th, but Matthew McConaughey sure pushes the envelope in his masterful portrayal of the wild and crazy prospector Kenny Wells. McConaughey gained 47 pounds to play his overweight, hard drinking, chain-smoking, balding Kenny Wells. At his big night at the Oscars in about twenty years when McConaughey wins his Lifetime Achievement Award, the producers will flash a photo of Kenny Wells on the screen and the crowd will roar with applause.
He won’t win anything for this movie, and he also put his money and reputation in this film as a Producer, so he had to sign off on the release date of January. And that baffles me. What is the strategy to release this very well-made and directed movie with a big star, Oscar-winner in January, three days after the Oscar nominations were announced?
That’s a real question as I don’t know the answer and I’m seeking information. Here’s my best guess: they made a mistake and should have held it for a December 18th release with a lot of hype for McConaughey. Mack needs to hire me as his agent. I’m in the phone book.
The story is simple: Kenny Wells is a wheeler dealer gold prospector and is gifted in raising capital for his mining shenanigans. His father played by Craig T. “Coach” Nelson taught him the business. And then Kenny took it up a notch and hooked up with Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) of Indonesia and their partnership was off to the races.
Edgar “Hands of Stone” Ramirez starred as Roberto Duran in 2016 and he also appeared as Dr. Abdic in “The Girl on the Train.” Ramirez is classically handsome and a skilled actor so buy some stock in the Edgar Ramirez LLC. His performance as the get-down-in-the-mud Acosta opposite McConaughey showed that he could provide balance to an over-the-top performance by McConaughey as Kenny Wells.
More on McConaughey’s Kenny Wells: he smoked more cigarettes in “Gold” than he did as the extremely odd Rust Cohle in HBO’s “True Detective” in 2014. That’s almost physically impossible, but McConaughey can suck on a Winston; Kenny Wells favorite filtered cigarette.
At age 47, McConaughey is supposedly at the top of his leading-man game, but he certainly didn’t seem to mind allowing Director Stephen Gaghan shoot numerous close-ups of his beer gut and rib rolls. He took one for the team and claimed on a recent talk show that eating and preparing to get into his Kenny Wells mode was big fun especially when he was pounding milkshakes at midnight.
This is not a great movie, but the acting is great. Not bad for a January movie. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 89. Larry H. www.larryhmoviereviews.com
Note: if you haven’t seen La La Land, you need to get about it as it garnered 14 nominations and will probably win Best Picture; Larry H. gave it a 95 which is the highest grade possible for an initial viewing.
The running of the annual Boston Marathon is also called Patriots Day. On April 15, 2013, two evil-doers who were brothers and devoted Muslims, planted and detonated bombs in the crowd near the finish line. Many innocent people in the crowd were injured and several died.
The IED’s were in backpacks placed on the ground which caused many to lose their limbs. It was a bloody tragedy.
Director/Co-writer Peter Berg might be recognized as “one of the big boys” for his work on this film; it’s that good. Of course I was confident that Patriots Day was going to be worthy because my movie friend Melinda K. had already seen it and eagerly explained to me that it was “well done.”
That’s one of those occasions when a close friend says something about a movie and you just know that they got it right. Kind of like this review. Insert smile.
Mark Wahlberg plays the lead as Sgt. Tommy Saunders of the Boston PD so we have a front-row seat in all of the action as we take the journey in up-close events of the bombing and the ensuring manhunt with Officer Saunders. This character was a piece of cake for the home-grown Bostonian Wahlberg who was born in Dorchester in 1971. His character exemplified “Boston Strong” which was the slogan born in the recovery and grieving of the local Bostonians and the world who witnessed this true story.
During the movie, I had many painful flashback emotions as the events unfurled especially when I knew that the bombs were about to detonate and that folks would be brutally hurt and killed. Berg skillfully keeps the camera shots close and tight on the faces of actors and props to put the audience in the middle of the suspense and chaos of this horrible tragedy.
The film keeps the focus on the disaster and heartbreak and does not bother to overly dwell on personalities other than the needed insights into the many law enforcement officers led by John Goodman as the Commissioner of the Boston PD and Kevin Freakin’ Bacon as the nervous, yet dictatorial, FBI Special Agent in charge when it was determined that this was the act of “terrorists.”
Berg’s direction and editing were marvelous and his balancing act between blood, bullets, and compassion were on the mark and suspenseful in spite of a ending still embedded in the memories of most of the audience.
This is an outstanding January movie; it’s goal is simple: to entertain and make money. Not awards. Thanks Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 90. Larry H.
This film is intense, sad, and inspiring and a great piece of movie-making by Director and Screenwriter Barry Jenkins who grew up in the same poverty-stricken ‘hood in Miami as the setting of “Moonlight.” The story begins by following the gloomy life of a young boy whose mother is more interested in crack and men than taking care of Chiron.
Little Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) is small and meek and bullied; his best friend and male role model is Juan (Mahershala Ali), the local drug dealer. He sheepishly asked Juan – “what’s a faggot?”
The story then jumps to teenager Chiron (Ashton Sanders) who is still being shoved around by the tough guys in his Miami ghetto high school that sends the signal that nobody cares and there’s no way out. Chiron’s mother is still alive and constantly needing money for drugs because “I ain’t feeling good, Honey, and I need something to make me feel better… give me the damn money.”
Mahershala Ali is having a banner year in movies and his characterization of Juan the Drug Dealer puts him in my top five contenders for Best Supporting Actor. I’m pulling for his Oscar nomination to be announced on the early morning of January 24th.
Jenkins’ characters use the “N word,” “Homey” and “Dog” routinely and talk the trash of the mean streets of Miami. He’s obviously been there and done that.
Janelle Monae, who was so impressive as Mary Jackson in “Hidden Figures,” again gets to display her acting ability as Teresa, the main squeeze of Juan, and part of the safety net for Chiron.
The adult Chiron, played by Trevante Rhodes, has well-developed muscles, a delicate ego, and is no longer a pushover. But the grown-up Chiron has some major baggage and Jenkins excels at revealing the phases and complications of life’s lessons and the struggles of a black man in America who was raised on the streets. And the greatest of these is love.
“Who is you, Chiron?” asks his old friend (Andre Holland) from high school. Outstanding acting; compelling story.
Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 92. Larry H.
Based on true events, and begins in 1926 West Virginia with the explanation to a young couple that their daughter is receiving a full scholarship at the “best school for Negroes in the state.” The teacher of the 12 year-old girl explains that she has “never seen a mind like the one your daughter has; you have to go; you have to see what she becomes.”
There is a reference to “back of the bus” by the three young women while driving a 1957 Chevy on their way to start their lives as adults circa 1961. They have to explain to a white police officer that “we are working at NASA; they are hiring a lot of women.”
Director and co-writer Theodore Melfi does not shy away from the issue of race as we watch these three self-motivated women struggle in a man’s world; a white man’s world. Men of science who are competent and conceited.
This is a time when the USA was trying to beat the Russians at every turn and especially the space race. President John Kennedy and the mood of the country was in complete awe of NASA and its accomplishments and astronauts. A job at NASA was gold.
Mathematicians and engineers ruled and wrangled at NASA. Assistants and coffee-getters were women; white women. Enter our three brilliant black women who are overlooked and underemployed until they have opportunities to shine.
Taraji P. Henson stars as Katherine G. Johnson; the little girl-genius who blossomed into a dazzling star working on the Mercury 7 Project. As she was given her clearance name-tag to allow her to work on the task force by her supervisor (Kirsten Dunst), she was cautioned “We’ve never had a Colored here, Katherine, don’t embarrass me.”
Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson are the other two young women who are fighting for their professional lives at a time when they had to go to “another building” to use the bathroom.
The planning meeting for this film went something like this: “Ok, Kevin (Costner), we all know that you are the big-dog movie star, but you need to get out of the way of these three actresses and let us create a poignant story about an exciting and flawed time in the history of this great country; can you do that, Kevin?” Costner: “Roger, that, Theo.”
Costner’s Al Harrison was a perfect platform for Henson’s Katherine Goble Johnson. Taraji P. Henson, 46, is also a Hollywood star since 2015 when she became the dynamic Cookie Lyon on TV’s “Empire.” Speaking of stars, Octavia Spencer has already won an Oscar for her portrayal of Minny Jackson in “The Help” (2011) and she nails her character in this film.
Janelle Monae is primarily known for her musical and singing prowess, but she is the cute one of the trio and the young one at age 31.
Other actors in an extremely strong ensemble are Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parson and Mahershala Ali who, in 2016 alone, also appears in “Moonlight,” “Free State of Jones” and “Luke Gage.”
Melfi figured out a way to make “Hidden Figures” meaningful and entertaining while telling a sensitive story without overplaying his hand.
This movie is of this world and outer space. Rock ‘n Roll.
Grade 90. Larry H.