Tag Archives: Hiroyuki Sanada

Freedom from Tyranny

John Wick: Chapter 4

by Hope Madden

What do you want to know? John Wick: Chapter 4 doesn’t disappoint.

Guns, blades, cars, swords, fire, motorcycles, explosions, horses, bludgeonings, fisticuffs, playing cards, dogs. Of course, dogs.

Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Scott Adkins, Marko Zaror, Clancy Brown, Bill Skarsgard, Shamier Anderson, Aimee Kwan, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Keanu Reeves and Lance Reddick. Farewell, Lance.

Do you need to see the first three installments to follow the plot? No. It’s good to know that John Wick (Reeves) wears a bulletproof suit. Otherwise, he’d just look silly pulling up his lapel all the time. Other than that, you can probably figure out the gist. The stakes? High. The villains? Bad. The good guys? Professional villains. The best thing about being four episodes in is the needlessness of context or exposition.

Chad Stahelski returns to helm the latest, having carved out an impressive niche in action with his 2014 original. Since then, John Wick has become a cultural phenomenon sparking more copycat action flicks than Die Hard or Taken and solidifying Reeves as an undeniable if  unusual cinematic presence.

Chapter 4 is not just more of what makes the series memorable, it’s better: better action, better cinematography, better fight choreography, better framing and shot selection. Sandwiched between inspired carnage are brief moments of exposition set within sumptuous visions of luxury and decadence. This movie is absolutely gorgeous.

One of the reasons each episode of this franchise surpasses the last is that the franchise is not exactly about John Wick. It’s a love letter to a canon, a song about the entire history of onscreen assassins and their honorable, meticulous action. Genre legends arrive and we accept a backstory that isn’t detailed or necessary because the actors carry their cinematic history with them, and that’s backstory enough.

It’s hard to believe it took this many sequels to get us to John Wick v Donnie Yen, but it was worth the wait. Yen’s wryly comedic presence injects the film with needed levity. Plus he’s a better actor than Reeves and he looks less silly when he runs.

Skarsgard ­– though his French accent is dubious – fits the bill as the diabolically privileged Marquis who’s forgotten that “a man’s ambition should never exceed his worth.”

Hats off to Stahelski, his entire ensemble, stunt department, action choreographers and crew. No one could have guessed back in 2014 how this would snowball, but the director at the helm has managed to up his game once again.

Viva Laz Vegaz

Army of the Dead

by Hope Madden

The single best feature film Zack Snyder ever made was his first: 2004’s Romero reboot Dawn of the Dead. (That is my hill.) For that reason (plus my sheer, giddy joy for zombie movies), I was far more eager about his latest zombie installment, Army of the Dead, than in anything else he’s made recently.

Even the title suggested that he was still on the Romero wavelength and, indeed, by his own 2005 Land of the Dead, the maestro of the undead was already dropping us into a town where the Z population had begun to organize.

In Snyder’s case, it’s not just any town. We open on the catalyst—a rapid-fire transformation just over the hill from Vegas. Conjuring fond memories of his prior undead flick, Snyder cuts together an excellent opening montage with some inspired musical accompaniment to quickly bring us up to the film’s current plight. (Likely also offering a preview to their upcoming Netflix series.)

Not a moment or line of dialogue wasted. Which is great, because this is going to trudge on for another 2 ½ hours, which is entirely unforgivable for a zombie movie.

How about a zombie heist movie?!

I mean, the zombies aren’t stealing anything, and nobody’s stealing zombies. Instead, some smarmy billionaire (Hiroyuki Sanada) convinces a Z-war hero (Dave Bautista) to get a crew together and head into Vegas to steal a fortune inside his casino vault.

So, Train to Busan: Peninsula. That’s not where Snyder and co-writers Shay Hatten (John Wick 3) and Joby Harold (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) got all their ideas, though. You will also notice Aliens, The Girl with All the Gifts, I Am Legend, Ghosts of Mars, World War Z, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and just a touch of Danny Ocean.

Still, Army of the Dead would be pretty entertaining if it weren’t so tediously predictable. (That does happen when you borrow so liberally, I guess.) Tig Notaro’s a fun piece of miscasting as the wise-cracking chopper pilot, Matthias Schweighofer delivers a bright performance (though it does feel as if it is part of another film entirely), and it’s always a delight to watch Garret Dillahunt weasel his way through a role.

The whole mess could have been mindless and merry were it not for its bloated running time. (Self-indulgence, thy name is Snyder.) It still delivers the goods here and there, but it won’t stick with you.