In John Wick, the Mob tried to take the man’s car and they killed his puppy.  In response, he killed all of them.  Hundreds.  Everywhere.  It was gloriously simplistic and fun.

This time around, we delve deeper into John Wick’s criminal world, where he has a debt to pay pursuant to a criminal code, and there is an entire bad guy underworld and ruling structure, with politics, and apparently, 75% of the folks walking the streets of New York City are potential assassins.  More explication makes for a lesser film, and with the shootouts essentially the same as in the first picture, it’s pretty blah.

Spoiler – the new dog does not die.

 

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The sequel to Prometheus, this is essentially that movie but shorn of all of “the beginning of man” mumbo jumbo and its hilarious inconsistencies/stupidities (I dug Prometheus, even though, in retrospect and after viewing this take-down, I felt a little ashamed):

In Covenant, a colonizing ship makes its way to the new planet, hyper-sleep is interrupted (note to self – no matter what sci-fi film you are in, hyper-sleep is a risky proposition) and rather than schlep to the first destination, our crew is enticed to another planet that just showed up on the horizon, one just perfect for colonization.  It’s almost too good to be true.  I mean, what could be out there?

Ridley Scott has a few decent scares and the plot moves, but the film is terribly derivative (hyper sleep went bad in Planet of the Apes, the poisonous Eden  is an old Star Trek, and synthetics getting too big for their intellectual britches is the sci-fi version of “it’s quiet out there . . . Yea.  Too quiet”) and adds nothing to the series.  And while I like Danny McBride, he’s not quite ready for dramatic, “just lost my wife” roles, and he’s too pudgy to be running around with a gun.  I thought one of the few benefits of hyper-sleep was weight loss?

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The ridiculous premise of this movie, and the ensuing byzantine plot, are so audacious that it almost makes up for being such a piece of crap. Ben Affleck is an accountant. But not your everyday accountant. He is autistic, but has had the more extreme manifestations of that condition beaten out of him by his rigid, military father. Accordingly, he can function, and function he does. He has millions of dollars. He owns a Jackson Pollock. He has gold bullion. He can shoot a watermelon from a mile away.

He works in a strip mall as an accountant, when he is not doing the books for local farmers, he is doing them for  large, dirty multinational corporations while ratting out their wrongdoing to the Department of the Treasury.

The only really good things I can say about this movie are that it is watchable in an aghast, mouth open kind of way, and Affleck, playing a character who is struggling to convey emotion, almost appears to be on the verge of laughing out loud every scene. And every scene gets progressively funnier and funnier.

It’s terrible but marginally entertaining.

 

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The first 20 minutes of this movie serve as a primer as to how to get a comic book flick started. Simple, short scenes introduce our characters, several pop hits set the mood for the time (late Vietnam era), and away we go to confront King Kong.  When a Vietnam helicopter pilot sees Kong, he laconically remarks, “is that . . . a monkey? “. Indeed, it is, and he is big and he is angry.

Death and destruction follow, our fearless survivors work assiduously to get off of Kong’s island while at the same time dealing with their own issues, and the entire endeavor is laced with fun, primarily in the form of John C Reilly, who has been abandoned on Skull Island after his fighter went down during World War II. So he’s a little loopy.

It gets a little ragged at the end, and the emotional connect between Kong and his new gal (Brie Larsen) is rushed, but this is loads of fun.  The likes of Zack Snyder should take note. It’s a monkey. A big monkey. Just like Superman and Batman are not real people, there is no need to delve deeply into their anguish, deepest thoughts, and societal implications. Lighten up.

A beautifully rendered film that both personalizes the cruelty and haphazard nature of war and presents it in the broader context of national sacrifice and pride. Christopher Nolan depicts the evacuation of Dunkirk from the vantage point of the officers responsible for the endeavor, the foot soldiers desperate to get away, and the military and civilian rescuers who, with the Nazis having inexplicably failed to press their advantage after Blitzkrieg and the collapse of France, race to Dunkirk to save upwards of 400,00 stranded troops.  Nolan’s approach is tonally somber, underscored by composer Hans Zimmer’s minimalist, ticking clock soundtrack.  Nolan also alters sequence, which has the effect of giving the audience a feeling in line with that of the troops: a constant need to get its bearings.

This one won’t win any acting awards, simply because it is so sparse, but almost everyone is very good (in particular, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance), and former teen heartthrob One Directioner Harry Styles is perfectly fine.

The lack of dialogue does not denote an action film.  It is visually arresting but never comes close to being exploitative or flashy.  Thankfully, Dunkirk is not in the style of war film that has become the standard of late – brutal, unremitting and loaded with gore, always looking to surpass the hellish set pieces of Saving Private Ryan (Hacksaw RidgeThe Pacific, Fury).  Rather, it is meditative and as such, a great deal more effective.

 

There are very few films that deal with the concepts of faith and even fewer that tackle religious faith.  Modern audiences probably could care less about religious faith, and Hollywood cares even less than the audiences, given the short shrift the town affords religion.  Though after Mel Gibson’s masochistic and extremely profitable The Passion of the Christ, Hollywood saw money in them thar’ hills and started to make treacly “miracles on earth” fare, serious engagement is rare.

The Apostle is one of the few films that actually explored the limits of faith and the working of religion in a modern context.  It is a masterpiece.  The Exorcist, another classic, is generally known as The Daddy of Shock Gore, but in fact, it is a deep and complicated story of hell on earth, and the perils of believing that such a hell doesn’t exist among us.  Most recently, Calvary fit the bill.  That’s about it.

Martin Scorsese has co-written and directed a fourth masterpiece, which has much in common with the prior three films. The Apostle gave us Robert Duvall as a fallen minister who has to rebuild from the ground up after having turned his back on his belief and his community.  The Exorcist, while ostensibly about the demonic possession of a little girl, is really about a fallen and broken priest (Jason Miller) and his own test of faith.  Similarly, Calvary offered Brendan Gleeson as a modern Irish priest living in his own Gethsemane, attempting to withstand the assault on faith by near every denizen of the town he serves.

Silence, which was almost entirely ignored by the the film community, centers on two 17th century Jesuit missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who secret themselves to Japan in search of their mentor (Liam Neeson), rumored to have apostatized.  As is their calling, when they arrive, they immediately begin to minister to and convert Japanese peasants, for which the punishment is severe and faith-shaking.  Garfield wrestles with the consequences of his actions, and his discussions with the Japanese Inquisitor and his translator (Issei Ogata and Tadabanou Asano, respectively) are enlightening yet fraught with danger.  They are trying to break Garfield, who convincingly plays as a man of his time, showing all of the anguish and compassion attendant to his situation.  He is bedeviled even more by the appearance of his guide  (Yosuke Kubozuka) who consistently betrays him and other Japanese Christians, only to ask for confession, an absolution Garfield finds increasingly difficult to give.

This a gorgeous, meditative film, and Scorsese eschews his hallmark of dizzying and inventive camera movement for a simpler, more staid approach.  The effect is classic and contemplative.  Garfield, who was nominated for the overpraised Hacksaw Ridge, is mesmerizing.  One of the best from last year, and woefully overlooked (it received a nomination for best cinematography).

As close to a musical as you can get without anyone actually singing, Edgar Wright’s (The Cornetto Trilogy) crime joyride is a mixed bag, but what is good is very good. Baby, (Ansel Elgort) a virtuoso wheelman who appears to be just under the drinking age, owes his respectable but lethal crime boss (Kevin Spacey) services for a prior boost of Spacey’s merchandise.  There is a semi father-son relationship going on here, but Spacey is a harsh father, forcing Baby to drive with increasingly erratic and dangerous robbers (Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzales, Jon Bernthal, and, inevitably, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers).  Baby, of course, just wants out, and his desires increase when he meets just the most adorable diner waitress you’ll ever come across (Lily James).  Things, however, go terribly wrong.

Did I say musical?  Baby suffers from tinnitus, which is tempered by his ear buds, which are always inserted, providing him  – and the audience –the soundtrack to his life.  For the most part, this gambit works, and is particularly effective during the driving scenes.  Other times, it’s overstretched.  Baby is a bit of a cipher, and it adds little to his meager backstory to have him Astaire his way to get coffee.

This is mostly a crisp, canny flick, but it still falls a little short, and after the initial euphoria of viewing, it dropped from a 4.5, settling in at this score. Wright has abandoned his comic glee for a foray into Tarantino Land, and he produced a pretty good facsimile.  Still, I miss the unbridled fun of the Cornetto Trilogy.