Posted on September 15, 2017
A release date for John Wick: Chapter 3 was announced today:
A lot of people are going to jump to the conclusion that this is just an unnecessary money grab, but I’m not among them. Seeing how they were able to take the story in a new direction in Chapter 2, I have faith that they won’t make a rehash, they’ll once again zig instead of zag.
TL;DR: This is both a great movie and a scary movie. You should see it.
I’ve written before about how magnetic yet truly flawed Stephen King’s novel It truly is. For years I found myself returning to reread it, remembering it only for the awesome and terrifying first 2/3 and somehow completely blanking on the awful and inappropriate ending only to run up against the awfulness and inappropriateness of that ending and be disappointed all over again.
I’ve also written about how much I despise the 1990 miniseries, once even live tweeting a rewatch until I gave up an hour in.
But, I’m happy to say that this new movie got it right.
Spoilers for Stephen King’s It (in all its incarnations) follow
A long, long time ago during the Cold War, I was stationed at a listening post on an airbase in rural Italy. We lived on the economy where no one spoke English and there was no entertainment we didn’t make for ourselves. The base had no NCO club but it did have a small movie theater.
Movies would come in six months after they opened in the States, stay Wednesday through Sunday and then leave forever. I saw Terminator and Aliens there. I also saw Dr. Detroit (40% RT) and loved it.
When you are starved for entertainment, the bar drops like beauty requirements at closing time. Any diversion will do. The only movie I can remember seeing there that I didn’t like was the Invaders From Mars remake and even that was better than sitting at home watching Knot’s Landing reruns on VHS.
The reverse is also true, of course. The more entertainment you have, the more discerning you become. This often leads people who watch movies for a living, critics, to develop a rarefied taste in movies that leads them to overlook things that are merely good.
Hitman’s Bodyguard is not innovative or ground breaking, but it’s a lot of fun, and I almost missed it because it has a 39% rating on RT. That’s right, the critics are saying this movie is worse than Dr. Detroit!
If you look at the rotten reviews, you’ll see the same thing over and over again: “There’s nothing new here.” Yeah? There’s nothing new in every RomCom ever made but some of them are pretty damned enjoyable.
So, yes, the plot is a retread to every “We have to get this witness to the church on time” thriller ever made. That’s not the point. The plot is not the point in this kind of movie. The point is the interplay between Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, two of the fastest talking satyrs in movies today. And that is where the movie pays off.
The set pieces are fun to watch but it’s the comedy that drives this film. Anyone who went into the theater expecting John Wick 3, should have their expectations engine checked. This movie is a straight up comedy from beginning to end and it pays dividends on that score.
Most times, I figure the IMDB (7.1) rating is the one most likely to have been gamed by bots, but in this case, it’s the correct one. The RT score is the one gamed by critics who have seen too many movies this summer.
Go see it. Have some fun. Summer isn’t over until we say it’s over.
Full Disclosure: I had to look up how to spell both parts of this blog post title. I thought Spider-Man was one word and homecoming was two.
I also only went to see this movie because it was literally the only thing playing:
- GOTG2 (seen it)
- Wonder Woman (seen it)
- Annabelle: Creation (don’t wanna)
- Birth of the Dragon (I’d prefer to watch a real Bruce Lee movie)
- Dunkirk (seen it)
- Ingrid Goes West (don’t wanna)
- The Big Sick (seen it 4*’s)
- Hitman’s Bodyguard (bad reviews but a buddy said it’s good so… maybe)
- Wind River (seen it)
So I broke all my rules and went to go see a movie that was both a reboot and packed with multiple superheroes. And it was great.
Spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming follow
In Kingsmen: The Secret Service, our hero gets a bulletproof umbrella. In John Wick 2, he gets a bulletproof lining for his tailored suit. These are patently ridiculous ideas that should appear preposterous even to someone with a complete lack of scientific or engineering understanding. And yet those moments bring only delighted smiles when they occur in these excellent films.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is one gigantic implausibility that cleanly divides the audience into those who despise it, those who don’t get it, and those (like me) who love it so much they have to re-watch it every six months or they start to get the jitters.
Armageddon, on the other hand, is one long, dull laundry list of logical gaffs scored by the boos, groans and guffaws from the theater. The showing I attended had people walking out shaking their heads. It’s an accomplishment to get someone who has just paid $10 for a ticket and $20 on food to abandon that money for a quick escape.
What’s the difference between these movies? Why can some get away with playing Three Card Monte with physics and some fall on their own sword?
The answer: You have to earn your cheats. You have to tell an engrossing story populated with characters the audience cares about. If you do that, they will let you slide on some movie physics. If you’re good enough at story telling, they won’t notice that Indiana Jones had zero effect in the Lost Ark.
They aren’t there for a physics lesson. They’re there to be entertained.
One of the best movies to use as an example of this is Independence Day. When I think back on all the manipulative crap they pulled in that movie and all the stuff they straight stole from other movies, I remember ID4 as being terrible.
Then I come across it on cable and I’m immediately engrossed. All that dumb stuff about uploading viruses to alien computers and fighter jets being able to keep up with gravity drive ships just settles into a heap in the back of my mind, forgotten and forlorn until I’m free of the narrative’s grasp.
The problem with sloppy filmmakers like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich (his later films didn’t fare nearly as well as ID4), is that they think in set pieces. They will tell you that to be a good director you have to “think in a visual language.” Whatever that means, it’s wrong. You have to tell a story. You can’t count on the audience to be wowed into submission by your special effects if those effects are happening in a story they don’t care about to people they don’t care about.
I stopped going to the Avengers movies not because of the ridiculous movie physics in their fight scenes (though they are egregious) but because I stopped caring about the characters. I was (wrongly, it turned out) worried about John Wick 2 because I was afraid there was nothing left to say about him. And I was rightly worried about Kick Ass 2 because Matthew Vaughn, a great story teller, had no part of it.
Jeff Wadlow, the director of Kick-Ass 2, was only interested in giving us violence acted out by people in funny outfits. He had no feeling for the characters we had become so enamored of in the first film. His first act was to destroy the main romantic relationship the first movie worked so hard to create. It was a disaster perpetrated by someone who just didn’t get the material.
To paraphrase Bill Clinton: It’s the story, stupid.
I, like most people, rely on fallback fantasies to be able to sleep at night. If I lost my house, for instance, I could just fall back to apartment life. If I lost my car, I could just fall back to public transport. And if I lost the internet, I would just fall back to television, snail mail, and face to face conversations.
That is such bullshit. I haven’t shared a wall with a stranger in forty years. I nearly killed a man over a barking dog once. I can’t stand the fifteen minutes it takes me to drive to the office. The bus takes over an hour to cover the same ground. Without the internet, life itself would cease to have meaning.
The reason we believe this stuff in spite of it being obviously ludicrous is because we have to. Otherwise, we would live in constant terror of having our cushy existence upended. It’s especially easy to believe the fallback theory when it comes to the internet because the fucking thing has only been around in its current form for fifteen years. How far could we have possibly gone down a road in just fifteen years that there’s no turning back?
If you want to get a feeling for how intrinsic internet connectivity has become to modern society over that short period of time, give Wayne Gladstone’s Notes From The Internet Apocalypse a read.
The conceit of the story is that the internet just up and disappears one day. No one knows where it went or who has it. They just know that they somehow have to adapt to life without it until it is returned to them.
We follow the oddly named protagonist, Gladstone, through a New York City brought low by the loss of omnipresent connectivity on his search for and attempt to bring back the internet.
I’m not going to spoil the many ways he illustrates the rough landing people make when the object of their addiction is suddenly withdrawn from them, that would rob you of too many belly laughs and smirking nods of the head which are the real pleasure in reading this book, even though I am tempted to.
Let’s just say that netizens don’t hop right back to campfires and conversation pits. Our lives have been genetically altered by the internet to function efficiently only with the internet. Going back now would be the equivalent of returning to a raw meat diet. Our bodies have adapted over hundreds of thousands of years to eat cooked meat. “We are the species that cooks,” as Michael Pollen says in Cooked.
We are also the species that Reddits, 4Chans, Tweets, Facebooks, and Snapchats. We commute to work over broadband as much as we do highways. Why are Russian agents able to cripple our infrastructure? Because it’s all on the internet. If the internet disappeared, nothing, NOTHING would work again. Not our machines. Not our society. Not us.
And if you want to know what the squirming, tweaking, gnashing withdrawal symptoms would look like, there’s no better place to start than Gladstone’s book.
The most subversive people I can think of are the people at Alamo Drafthouse who put together the pre-show entertainment. They have the ability to find the most arcane material that is only tangentially applicable to the movie it plays in front of, and yet, somehow, can also be a clever commentary.
Such was the case for Wind River. We were treated to a very long Carmen Miranda music video complete with an army of fake Latinos, white people in brown face displaying every known Mexican stereotype for the cameras. It was funny and anachronistic, but I had no idea what it had to do with a movie that takes place in the snows of Wyoming.
Eventually, I got it. Whitewashing.
Wind River is another movie, in 2017 no less, where a white man goes around explaining stuff to Native Americans. Why would a movie that takes place on a reservation have a Caucasian hunter/tracker? This was a perfect chance to use racial stereotypes against themselves by having a Native American play the lead.
Wind River has an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes and no one has brought up this missed opportunity, so I guess I’m alone here, but I felt like it was slow and monotonous. Jeremy Renner’s one note, low energy performance gave me time to wonder why the makeup department didn’t do something about his pores. The closeups were positively brutal to his skin.
Elizabeth Olsen turned in a fine performance. She and Gil Birmingham portrayed the only two characters who brought emotional depth to the movie. Everyone else is very… stoic.
(Spoilers for Wind River follow)
When I first saw the trailer for Dunkirk a month or so ago, my first reaction was to say to my wife, “No way. That is one of the most depressing moments in WWII history.” I had a change of heart, obviously, over time as people began to talk about the move in terms of outstanding Christopher Nolan’s film making. I didn’t want to miss this generation’s Lawrence of Arabia, after all.
My response on exiting the theater was: “That was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, but I wish I hadn’t seen it.”
Spoilers for Dunkirk follow
Way back in the 90s when I still smoked, I could tell how bad a movie was by how many times I left the theater for a smoke break. The record was four smoke breaks for Face/Off. If I were still a smoker today, I just would have spent the whole two and a half hours of Valerian out back smoking an entire pack of Marlboro Reds.
Spoilers for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets follow.
Lucky for us, it seems like we get one of these a year now. A movie in which everything goes right. An engine banging along on all cylinders that takes you in immediately, pulls you along for the ride, and then kicks you out into the night, blinking unbelieving at the real world.
Superhero stories are never going to be unique. Joseph Campbell spent most of his life pointing out the tropes of the hero’s journey — and that’s fine. We don’t need them to be unique. As a matter of fact, I would say that we need them to be refreshingly familiar. Telling these tales to ourselves over and over reassures us that nobility and courage and selflessness are a part of our heritage even as we watch the majority of us wallow in greed and self-absorption and ignorance.
What we need is a fresh take on the familiar superhero story. Whether it’s Deadpool or Star Trek (2009) or Rogue One or Sam Raimi’s Spider Man, we know the cadence of moments that make up a hero’s journey movie without being able to recite the names Campbell gave to them. What makes the good ones so invigorating to the spirit is that they tell the story of people who happen to be heroes and it’s getting to know those people that is so pleasing to us.