More of the same, and I ain't complaining one bit
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019): Super-assassin John Wick is on the run after killing a member of the international assassin's guild, and with a $14 million price tag on his head - he is the target of hit men and women everywhere.
The latest installment in the unexpectedly solid John Wick franchise is exactly what you'd expect: more of the same. Now, is more of the same a good or a bad thing? Did you like the first two John Wick films? Then it's safe to say you'll like this one. Did you either not care / not watch either of the previous two films? This probably isn't the place to start. That said, I fall squarely into the former category, and, as you would expect…. I had a ball of a time here.
At its core, John Wick is a phenomenally choreographed action movie with some breathtaking visuals. This franchise is the pillar for what a modern action film should look like, second only to the Mission: Impossible franchise for best action movie franchise in Hollywood today. (Sorry James Bond / Fast and Furious.) At its core is its heart-stopping fight sequences. These sequences showcase the very best of what Hollywood can do in 2019, with cinematography that actually allows you to see the action unfold. Who knew doing something as simple as shooting your action sequences with as few cuts as possible and giving us wideshots so we can see everything would make such a huge difference, but that's why someone like me (who couldn't care less about the John Wick lore at this point) keeps coming back to this franchise. In a post-Bourne Identity world, where so much of what's considered "action films" is inhibited by Marvel doing whatever they feel like with whatever budget they want, few franchises pay this close attention to detail while making every cent of their production budget count.
That said, the budget of this film clearly went to the stunts / action sequences, because the lore continues to be completely uninteresting to me. Sadly, much of the second act of this film investigates said lore of this franchise, and for people like myself who don't care it was veeeeeery boring. On a surface level the lore is interesting, but it contorts itself to service the protagonist John Wick at every turn, which makes it ridiculous, unbelievable, and boring. Also, Keanu Reeves's portrayal of John Wick has lost the pisaz it once had, an unfortunate result of the fact that there's now 3 of these films. Long gone are the iconic lines of previous installments.
However, that's a rather marginal complaint for the film and franchise as a whole, after all you come for the breathtaking action sequences and tolerate the lore as a tradeoff. Because of how much time this film spends on its lore, I don't think Parabellum will do a good job bringing in new fans, (start with John Wick: Chapter 2 if you're new to the franchise) but for those who are already dug in, Parabellum delivers exactly what you're looking for: mesmerizing action scenes with an increasingly mediocre story to compliment it.
The Critique: Pulse-pounding action sequences continue in blissful fashion in the latest installment of the John Wick franchise.
The Recommendation: This franchise continues to be an absolute must-watch for anyone who considers themselves a fan of action movies. Don't miss it
My Number: 8/10. And that's a testament to how phenomenal the action here really is.
A hilarious and raunchy modern buddy comedy
Booksmart (2019): On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night.
Booksmart is 2019’s Blockers and I love it. A raunchy, over-the-top buddy comedy that's actually about something and makes you feel things (even in your cold, cold heart) by film's end. We've had a surprisingly decent run of American comedies between surprise hits like Blockers, Game Night, and soon-to-be (currently just Sundance darling) Booksmart. I am actually starting to have hope that directors like Kay Cannon (director / savior of Blockers) and newcommer Olivia Wilde (Booksmart, directorial debut) may actually be able to bring the genre back from the hopeless abyss it's been in for the last decade or so. That statement may be a bit too optimistic, but after being this uplifted by an American comedy, (again! For the second time in a year at least!) I'm ready to say anything. Let's keep it going, Hollywood!
At this film's core is a wonderful, genuine, and charming relationship between its two main characters, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy. (Kaitlyn Dever) Seeing two well-written, strong, intricate high school female characters lead a film like this is totally invigorating. Every time they're paired on screen together, Booksmart shines brightly. There's a palpable chemistry between them - a gravity that pulls all other forces in this film to their undying, unyielding presence. From the opening scene featuring the hilarious monologue in the trailer, you can't help but root for each of these girls as they realize there's more to life than just schoolwork. Straight up: this is one of the best buddy comedies I've ever seen. An honest, personal, convoluted relationship between two women is so refreshing to watch. This film is well worth a watch with your best friend just for some quality bonding time alone. Just.... be prepared for the raunchiness because there's a lot of it. But I know I found myself laughing more times than I could count. I had a blast watching this film.
That said, these two aren't on screen together the entire time, and when they're not together the film power recedes slightly. I still enjoyed it, but some of the storylines felt rushed, messy, and too conveniently placed given the overall chaotic tone of the film. There's some time around the start of the third act where Amy and Molly spend about 15 minutes apart, and I found myself getting kind of bored during those moments. Amy has a romantic subplot that, while fresh in its originality, resolves itself in a rather cliché way while the duo goes through a very overused "events separate them but they get back together because of X" trope you see in a lot of modern American comedies. (Like, all of them.) Formulaic, is the word to use here. The film gets formulaic in its third act. But, formulaic isn't necessarily a bad thing. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? I just wish a film with this much originality (depressingly) didn't have such a formulaic final act.
Booksmart was a hit at Sundance, and I can see why - it's a trailblazing film, despite some of its faults, from a beloved indie actress making her anticipated directorial debut. Olivia Wilde's mumblecore roots can be felt throughout the film, (I'm sure there will even be some comparisons to Drinking Buddies) and it is wildly refreshing to see a premise we hardly ever have the chance to see put forth in a modern American comedy. It's opinionated, it's raunchy, it's ridiculous, and it's uplifting. It's exactly what we need in a modern American comedy in 2019.
My Number: 8/10 Great.
2018's most underappreciated film
Widows (2018): Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands' criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.
This review is from the archives of Enter the Movies, also known as getting lost in my Google docs folder until now.
You want a suspenseful heist film that grips you from the first pulse-pounding moment and never lets go until the credits roll? May I present to you: Widows. The latest work from director/writer Steve McQueen, (who's last work, 12 Years a Slave, only won him Best Picture so it's not like there's a high bar or anything) Widows, for me at least, has come out of nowhere and become one of my favorite films of the year. Featuring a phenomenal cast, unpredictable story, and masterfully executed filmmaking, it just might be the best heist film I have ever seen.
There's not much this film does wrong, but there is one slight hiccup in the character Amanda. (Carrie Coon) In a film that takes the time to develop its large cast, this glaringly underdeveloped character stands out even more. Despite being one of the namesakes of the movie, (she is one of the four women who loses her husband at the beginning of the film) she becomes nothing more than a plot device as time goes on. I'm guessing there was a scene or two with Amanda that was cut for one reason or another, (the movie is 129 minutes long, so time was probably one of them) but it is a real shame. Especially since the other three core characters are developed so freaking well.
This is, by far, the strongest point of Widows. The characters of Veronica, (Viola Davis) Linda, (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) each experience unique and fleshed out arcs. Each cope with the loss of their husbands in different ways and each way is equally compelling. The three also have phenomenal chemistry together, and if Viola Davis could lead every movie ever made, I'd have absolutely no issue with that. The rest of the cast here is equally phenomenal, and all bring something unique to the table. Jamaal and Jatemme Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry and Daniel Kaluuya, respectively) are starkly contrasted by Jack and Tom Mulligan (Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall, respectively) in their race for the 9th Ward of Chicago. All four of these characters receive plenty of opportunities to shine, and shine they do. Daniel Kaluuya in particular provides some of the most memorable sequences in the film. (Including a sequence that did make my favorite movie moments of the year.) The contrasts between how these politicians run their races, and how they go about trying to achieve their ambitious goals, is one of the best parts of this incredible script from Gillian Flynn (of Gone Girl acclaim) and McQueen.
Which brings us to the filmmaking. Steve McQueen's footprint is all over this film. The cinematography is where it's most notable: there are a mess of unorthodox shots here that are rich and full of insight into the world these character's live in. One of the best shots of the entire film focuses on Jack Mulligan's car as it transitions from the poor section of the 9th Ward to the rich section, where Mulligan's house resides. Cinematographer Sean Bobbit, a long-time collaborator with McQueen, is at the top of his game here. There's also some terrific editing here courtesy of Joe Walker. He does an amazing job building up suspense with his cuts, while also providing a great deal of fluidity throughout the film. There is a boatload of meandering character development in Widows, and yet thanks to the editing the pacing never slows down from start to finish.
In short, Widows is amazing, and would have been higher on my top 10 list (it was number 9) were it not for the treatment of one of its core characters. That aside, this is a phenomenally executed piece of filmmaking dressed up as an engaging heist film, and if you need to find me I'll be on my soapbox screaming to the heavens that this was EASILY the most underappreciated film of 2018. Whatever you do, do not miss Widows!
The Verdict: One of 2018’s best films, Widows is a masterfully executed heist film with interesting characters, great filmmaking, and an unpredictable story.
The Recommendation: An absolute must-see for all!
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Damn Near Perfect
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