Tag Archives: Keanu Reeves

Dr. Whoa

Bill & Ted Face the Music

by George Wolf

You know why Death (William Sadler) was really kicked out of Wyld Stallyns?

Well, I’d tell you, but that would take the number of laughs waiting for you in Bill & Ted latest romp down to two…maybe three.

It’s been almost 30 years since their Excellent Adventure gave way to the Bogus Journey, but Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are still best buds. Now living in the suburbs, each has the wife that they brought back from Medieval England (Erinn Hayes, Jayma Mays), plus a daughter (Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine) that is the younger version of their most excellent dad.

Though they still rock out, Ted is ready to hang up his guitar until the future comes calling.

It’s Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of their old pal Rufus (George Carlin, thanks to a well-placed hologram), with news from the Great Ones. The boys have exactly 77 minutes to play their song that united the world, or reality will collapse.

Whoa.

While it’s nice to know Bill & Ted will finally achieve musical greatness, the world needs that song right now. So why not go into the future, steal it from themselves, then come back and get quantum physical?

Director Dean Parisot, who helped make Galaxy Quest an underrated cult classic, teams with original franchise writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon for a time-traveling ode to living in harmony. This time, the historical figures we meet are mainly musical (Mozart, Satchmo, Grohl), but while the journey is long on sweetness and good-natured stupidity, it just isn’t very funny.

After all these years, Reeves and Winter make an endearing pair of overgrown adolescents, and they do seem genuinely joyful about stepping back into that magical phone booth.

The joy that you get from Face the Music will likely match up perfectly with the amount of nostalgia you have for this franchise. The film’s present isn’t bad, either. Because theaters are opening again, and God knows we’re all longing for a simpler time right now.

For almost 90 minutes, Bill & Ted make sure we get one.

Hanks for the Memories

Toy Story 4

by Hope Madden

Almost 25 years ago, Pixar staked its claim as animation god with the buddy picture masterpiece Toy Story, where Tom Hanks and writer/director John Lasseter taught the world how to create a fully developed, nuanced and heartbreaking animated hero.

Woody and Buzz returned twice more over the next fifteen years, developing relationships, adding friends, enjoying adventures and life lessons all the while creating the single best trilogy in cinematic history.

And a lot of us wanted them to stop at 3. Is that partly because Toy Story 3 destroyed us? Yes! But also, it felt like a full story beautifully told and we didn’t want to see that completed arc tarnished for profit.

Toy Story 3 made an actual billion dollars.

Profit calls.

Right, so let’s drop in and see how the gang is doing. Woody (Tom Hanks in the role he was born to play) loves Bonnie, the youngster who inherited the ragtag group of toys when Andy left for college and we left the theater racked with sobs. But the cowboy just doesn’t feel the same sense of purpose.

Enter Forky (Tony Hale, who could not be better), a spork with googly eyes, hand-made and much-beloved friend to Bonnie. Forky longs for the trash, and Woody takes it upon himself to make sure Forky is always there for Bonnie. But when Bonnie’s family rents an RV for an end-of-summer road trip, Woody finds it tough to keep his eyes on the restless refuse—especially when a roadside carnival offers the chance to reconnect with old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts).

Will Woody cast aside Forky, bestie Buzz (Tim Allen) and gang to rekindle something lost and taste some freedom?

Josh Cooley (who co-wrote Inside Out) makes his feature directorial debut with this installment. He also contributes, along with a pool of eight, to a story finalized by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton (his credits include the three previous Toy Story films) and relative newcomer Stephany Folsom.

The talents all gel, combining the history and character so beautifully articulated over a quarter century with some really fresh and very funny ideas. Toy Story 4 offers more bust-a-gut laughs than the last three combined, and while it doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of TS3 (what does?!), it hits more of those notes than you might expect.

Between Forky’s confounded sense of self and Woody’s own existential crisis, TS4 swims some heady waters. These themes are brilliantly, quietly addressed in a number of conversations about loyalty, devotion and love.

This somewhat lonesome contemplation is more than balanced by the delightful hilarity of new characters Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and Bunny and Ducky (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, respectively).

And the creepy yet tender way villains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her posse of ventriloquist dolls are handled is as moving as it is funny.

Characteristic of this franchise, the peril is thrilling, the visuals glorious, the sight gags hilarious (keep an eye on those Combat Carls), and the life lessons far more emotionally compelling than what you’ll find in most films this summer. To its endless credit, TS4 finds new ideas to explore and fresh but organic ways to break our hearts.

Rules & Consequences

John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum

by Hope Madden

John F. Wick.

You have to tip your hat to a filmmaker who understands his strengths and plays to them. For Chad Stahelski, I think you just have to take the hat off entirely.

Kickboxer turned stunt man turned stunt coordinator turned helmsman of a phenomenon, Stahelski returns for his third tour with Keanu Reeves as dog-loving assassin widower John Wick for Chapter 3—Parabellum.

The great thing about chapters is that no one expects them to tell a whole story, and since storytelling and acting are not the strongest suits in this franchise, Stahelski wisely sharpens his focus on what is: action.

A breathless Act 1 (with a truly inspired use of the New York Public Library) picks up the moment John Wick 2 ends, mercifully dispensing with the need for exposition. In its stead, balletic mayhem.

The plot of sorts: Wick is in trouble with the guardians of the world’s assassin guild, approximately every third human in NYC is a hired killer, and there is a $14 million bounty on his head. Where can he go? What can he do?

These are questions Stahelski and his army of writers have fun answering with ludicrous, violent, exhausting, carnage-strewn glee.

Inside of 10 minutes it was clear that this is the best film of the trilogy.

Welcome new faces Anjelica Huston and Asia Kate Dillon cut impressive figures, though Halle Berry feels out of her depth and a clear sound stage representation of Morocco is the only clunky set piece in the movie.

Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and Laurence Fishburne return. Wisely, Stahelski lets these guys mete out most of the dialog. I’d wager Reeves utters fewer than 30 lines total.

Again, play to your strengths.

Dan Lausten’s camera ensures that you know when Reeves does his own action, most of which is choreographed and captured in long, fluid, serpentine shots with a lot of broken glass. Man, their easy-shatter glass budget must have been through the roof!

The Fast and Furious franchise didn’t become tolerable until it embraced the fact that it was a superhero series, abandoning all reason and logic and just jumping cars from the 100th floor of one building to the 100th floor of another. Luckily, it didn’t take John Wick six films to take flight.

Change My Mind

Replicas

by Hope Madden

Sometimes, dead is better.

That Stephen King quote flashed through my mind as I watched Replicas, Jeffrey Nachmanoff’s SciFi thriller starring Keanu Reeves.

Reeves is William Foster, a scientist working nobly to put human consciousness into robots because this way we can save so many dying soldiers. I’m confident they would totally want to come back as robots.

Foster quickly loses his family in a car accident, his bestie (Thomas Middleditch) conveniently dabbles in cloning, and the mad duo concoct a plan to combine their specialties and bring the Foster family back to life.

Back one step: Will Foster loses his family in a car accident. This requires Reeves to emote.

I would call that Problem #1, but I already covered the plot.

Nachmanoff and writers Chad St. John and Stephen Hamel deserve credit for quietly upending the ages-long moral conundrum at the center of any cloning/Frankenstein/AI film. Good for them for opting out of Judeo Christian finger-wagging.

Also, Alice Eve—when she’s allowed to do something besides look good sleeping—offers a nuanced and often funny performance that makes the most of the moral quagmire the story articulates.

How capable is Reeves at lobbying back answers to her profound and life-altering accusations?

I think you know.

Reeves has proven to have some heretofore unimagined talents via recent supporting turns in The Bad Batch and Neon Demon. His hollow performance in John Wick works strangely well, too. But as a scientist struggling with enormous moral choices and debilitating grief? It is distracting enough that I almost didn’t notice those plot holes I kept falling into.

That King quote didn’t flash through my mind as I thought about the Foster family and their existential paradox. I was thinking about me having to sit through this movie.

 





Stars, Stripes & Appetites

The Bad Batch

by Hope Madden

Three years ago, Ana Lily Amirpour dazzled moviegoers with her sleek and imaginative vampire fable A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.

The film tells of a solitary female figure and the surprising impact of unlikely companionship. Amirpour called the film a “vampire western.”

If you haven’t seen the film (and you should, immediately), but you like the premise, then Amirpour’s follow up The Bad Batch might also appeal to you. It mines a similar vein, although the context is a bit more merciless.

The film’s provocative opening of mostly voiceover under credits introduces the concept of the “bad batch” – unwanteds. Drugs, immigration, petty crime – it’s never clear what this batch has been up to, but we know where they’re going. They’re headed to a quarantined expanse of arid Texas desert no longer considered part of These United States.

Once the images on screen take form, Amirpour creates an atmosphere of dystopian terror that the balance of the film never quite reaches again.

Newest resident Arlen (Suki Waterhouse – very impressive), realizes just how Mad Max this can get moments after gates are locked behind her. In a breathless and brutal piece of cinema, we are introduced to one of two communities thriving in this wasteland.

The Bridge People are hyper-bulked up, ultra-tanned cannibals represented by Miami Man (Jason Momoa). (They may not have access to steroids, but they’re certainly getting a lot of protein.)

The second community of Comfort offers a colorful, almost habitable environment led by charismatic leader The Dream (Keanu Reeves).

With these two communities, Amirpour moves very clearly into metaphorical territory, ideas she underscores nicely with strategic use of the American flag.

One version of America sees the vain, self-centered “winners” literally feeding on the weak. The second may seem more accepting, but it pushes religion, drugs and other “comforts” to encourage passivity.

It’s a clever but unwieldy storyline, and Amirpour has trouble concluding her tale.

She has a great cast, though. Joining Woodhouse, Momoa and Reeves are flashes of Jim Carrey, Giovanni Ribisi, Diego Luna and a host of the freakish and intriguing.

Amirpour has such a facility with creating mood and environment, and though the approach here is different than with her debut, she once again loads the soundtrack and screen with inspired images, sounds and idiosyncrasies.

Her opening sets such a high bar – one she fails to reach again – and her finale feels too conventional for this character and this world. They’re fairly slight criticisms, but with a filmmaker of such amazing talent, they can’t help but be a let-down.

Verdict-3-5-Stars





Wickity Wack

John Wick: Chapter 2

by Hope Madden

Keanu Reeves is a cyborg. He’s seen human behavior – he just can’t replicate it very believably. It’s a reasonable theory, isn’t it?

But every once in a while he lands on a role where acting like an actual human just doesn’t matter – like the surprise 2014 hit John Wick. If you enjoyed that splashy bit of violence and canine love, you’re likely to appreciate its strangely anticipated sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2.

The Keyser Soze of international hitmen, Wick was brought out of retirement, you’ll remember, when a half-assed Russian mobster stole his dog and his car. And if you could make it through the maudlin, sentimental crap and focus just on that kickass hotel shit, it was a mildly entertaining film despite Reeves’s absence of talent.

Once out of retirement, though, Wick has a tough time getting back out of the biz.

Chapter 2 picks up right where the previous installment ended. Wick, his beloved if unnamed pit by his side, re-buries the gold coins and weapons of his trade. But Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) requires Wick’s services – and he’s not above doing ill-advised things to acquire his compliance.

Director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad return, both improving on their previous effort by streamlining the story, limiting sentimentality and spending more time exploring what was cool the first time – The Continental.

Turns out there’s a mirror hotel in Rome, site of Wick’s new gig. There’s also a high-powered organization of the world’s most influential criminals as well as an armed, underground network masquerading as New York’s homeless.

Basically, 4 out of every 5 people walking the street are trained killers. Who’s paying for all this?

Stahelski ups his game with the action sequences. Wick’s movements are without ego – they are clean and efficient, which is appropriate. And he likes to shoot the knees out, so points for that. Stahelski films with flair – fascinating framing, often beautifully backlit. It’s fun.

Still, there’s the problem of Reeves’s acting. (I’m sure he’s a very nice man.) Stahelski does what he can by pairing his lead with slightly more agile actors to buoy the few scenes with dialog. The always-welcome Ian McShane returns. Peter Serafinowicz and Franco Nero make tangy appearances, along with one co-star who would have been a fun surprise had his face not been splashed all over the trailer.

Sure, there are problems – besides the dialog. Why are the bad guys all such bad shots? Where are all the witnesses? Eye-rolling contrivance follows ludicrous convenience, but these guys brought their shootin’ boots.

It’s not like you don’t know what you’re in for here.

Verdict-3-0-Stars





California Dreaming

The Neon Demon

by Hope Madden

“Beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

So says an uncredited Alessandro Nivola, a fashion designer waxing philosophic in Nicolas Winding Refn’s (Bronson, Drive) nightmarish new film The Neon Demon.

The line, of course, is borrowed. Refn tweaks the familiar idea to suit his fluid, perfectly framed, cynical vision.

Jesse (Elle Fanning) is an underaged modeling hopeful recently relocated to a sketchy motel in Pasadena. Will she be swallowed whole by the darker, more monstrous elements of Hollywood?

Refn is as assured a director as you’ll find. Each of his films has its own peculiar and magnificent look and sound that sets it apart and marks the helmsman as someone with a unique vision to share. The Neon Demon looks and sounds great, but it doesn’t look or sound unique. The entire aesthetic, from the shots to the palette to the score, feels like a mash up of Stanley Kubrick and Dario Argento. Interestingly – or boringly, depending on your perspective – the story swims such familiar waters that this borrowed aesthetic feels simultaneously intentional and derivative.

Hollywood is a soulless machine that crushes people. The world objectifies women, a toxic reality that poisons everyone it touches. Small town girl gets in trouble following her dreams in Tinseltown. There’s nothing new here. To manufacture something, it’s as though Refn replaces fresh ideas with bizarre imagery.

It’s tough to make a film about the dehumanizing effect of objectification without objectifying, and even the deeply talented Refn can’t seem to do it.

The film is not without its charms. The Neon Demon is the closest thing to a horror film as anything Refn has delivered, even if it takes 100 minutes or so to get there. Like Only God Forgives, the longer you wander through this nightmarish landscape, the more outlandish the dream becomes. But for all its detractors and laborious weirdness, Only God Forgives felt like a breakneck action thriller compared to the languid, even leaden pace of Neon Demon.

But you know what? Keanu Reeves isn’t bad. Huh!

Verdict-2-5-Stars





DeJohn Vu

 

John Wick

by George Wolf

Who’s ready for an ultra-violent tale of a highly trained killer brought out of hibernation to extract bloody revenge from Russian mobsters?

It’s been a good four or five weeks since The Equalizer, so strap in for John Wick, the story of a highly trained…well, you know.

Mr. Wick (Keanu Reeves) just wants to be left alone, but when a crime lord’s son wrongs him in a big way, Wick returns to the way of the gun, and the knife, and whatever else it takes to even the score.

A film like this relies of two things:  the charisma of the lead actor and the presentation of the action. While The Equalizer scored high in both areas, John Wick only manages modest success with the latter.

Denzel Washington gave The Equalizer effective layers of humanity to offset the mayhem, and while it may not be fair to expect Denzel charm from Reeves, he should bring more to the party than just the ability to navigate the fight choreography. He doesn’t, and any attempt to peek into his anti-hero’s psyche is DOA.

Directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski are veteran stuntmen behind the camera for the first time, and they do their best to bring new flash to the action genre, with a few visual sequences that are truly hypnotic. More often, though, the fights scenes follow a similar progression, and are backed by a brooding (but good) Marilyn Manson track to create the unmistakable aura of video game inspiration.

Including an actual scene of video game shoot-em-up doesn’t help.

The film isn’t awful, and in fact a spinoff focusing on the hotel that caters to Wick and his assassin compatriots might be a fine idea. But most everything else in John Wick gets tedious pretty quickly, and can never fully recover.

Verdict-2-5-Stars