John Wick Chapter II

As you may recall, I really loved the first John Wick. I’m happy to report that the second one is just as good. I felt like I liked the first one slightly more, but I think my wife thought the opposite. They’re both very good at what they do. Which is to deliver a lot of death by a one-man killing machine, but somehow you feel sympathetic toward him and his plight.

They continue to do a really good job building the mythos of the character of John Wick, but in Chapter II they expend some resources on showing you a bit more of the underworld he belongs to. It’s so absurd but keeps within the rules of that world so well that you don’t even notice how outrageous some of the stuff is that they do.

It’s stylish, violent, at times funny and just a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Can’t wait for chapter III.

2016 Year End Summary

Oh, dang. It’s already well into February and I realized I forgot to do this. Not that the one of you regularly reading my blog cares (obviously.) Anyway, here’s a quick rundown of the top and bottom five of 2016.

Bottom:

Anomalisa – I had to see this one twice before I decided I hated it. The movie itself was pretty good and the stop-motion animation was unique and well done, but it turns out that the main character was despicable and really had no redeeming qualities. You’re essentially watching a puppet who’s an asshole.

The Jungle Book – Didn’t like the cartoon when I was a kid, didn’t like this one.

High-Rise – Misfire on all levels. Pun intended.

Jason Bourne – I think I’ve seen my last Bourne movie, at least while the same director is at the helm. I hate to sound like an old guy, but the camera-work in this piece of shit was nauseating. I’ve been complaining about bad camerawork for longer than I’ve been middle-aged, so I don’t think it’s just my eyes and brain.

Sausage Party – I’m all for sophomoric humor when it’s done well, but this one tries to pull out some deep commentary about religion or something, but that, too, was written at a fourth grade level. This thing just sucked and was barely funny a couple times.

Top:

The Revenant – I used to point to Winter’s Bone to illustrate why Chris Nolan is wrong about shooting in digital, but now I’ll point at The Revenant. It’s amazing what they did not only shooting in digital, but shooting in natural light. It’s too bad not that many people will see it the way it was shot, unless you buy a 4K bluray player and a TV equipped with DolbyVision(tm), which you should go out and buy right now. I mean the TV. With DolbyVision. Please give Dolby some money so I can continue to work.

Zootopia – I forgot that I saw this in 2016, it seems like so long ago. Proof positive that John Lassiter has made Disney Animation better, and Pixar has of late become worse (Moana not withstanding, which was pretty good but not great.)

Midnight Special – That Michael Shannon guy is growing on me. This is on of the few sci-fi-ish movies that has great build-up but maybe not the best ending, but I didn’t care. The journey through the story and balance between the supernatural(?) and family was so well done it didn’t really matter how it ended.

La La Land – I’m stupid for a good musical. The great thing about La La Land is that even if it wasn’t a musical, the story is pretty god on its own. They could have pulled of a pretty decent movie without the singing and dancing. This may be my favorite movie of 2016 but I’ll have to watch it a couple dozen more times to be sure.

Hell or High Water – I’m a dude so I like westerns. This film isn’t really a western in the classic sense, more like a modern day noir set in the desert. It works on all levels and is gorgeous to look at to boot. Very underrated, ignored film from 2016. You should seek it out.

Arrival – So many reasons to like this one. Amy Adams, for one. The fact that Wolfram and his kid worked on it. The lack of spoilers in the marketing campaign. The discussion it opens up after you’re done watching it. I’d hesitate to call this a ‘smart’ movie. It doesn’t necessarily make you think too much in a cerebral way, but it asks you to think about a certain subject (being purposely vague) in a way you’re not used to, and to try to perceive the story in a different way than you might while you’re watching it. Just a great film all around. Worth watching multiple times.

Honorable mention:

Captain Fantastic – Viggo! And his schlong! I wasn’t really into it until the second half, I honestly thought that the main character was sort of a jerk and was missing the point of view of all his children (and his wife.) But then it sorta started to grow on my as he came around. Great acting, excellent story, and I was surprised at the emotional heft that a Guns n’ Roses song could carry.

Zero Day – Not a whole lot I didn’t know about, but a nice, deep dive into Stuxnet and what it means to the world at large, without being to sensationalist until the very end of the film.

The Lobster – I still haven’t gotten around to watching this a second time, but I really want to. I think there are multiple ways to interpret the end of the film and I’d like to see if my perception has changed since the initial viewing. There’s one particularly disturbing scene I’m not sure I want to sit through again, but the Colin Farrel and Rachel Weisz were so great in it, I think I can maybe plug my ears during that scene and not be too disturbed by it.

 

Office Christmas Party

Damn, this turned out to be much more funny than it had any right to be, but mostly because of the actors/comedians that were in it. The story was more just a vehicle for the ensemble to be funny, and a few standouts really carried the movie.

I’m not sick of TJ Miller yet, even though he plays pretty much the same character in every movie/show he’s in. Then throw in Kate McKinnon and a little sprinkle of Rob Corddry and you have just enough to carry you through. It isn’t something I’d watch again or buy on Bluray, but it was a nice, light, R-rated way to end the year.

Moana

Once again, I think Disney Animation has bested Pixar. Pixar seems kind of mired down in franchises and sequels as of late, which used to be the Disney thing. But now Disney Animation seems to have more free will at creating original cartoons, an Moana is a pretty good one.

It’s hard to not be charmed by The Rock, even in animated form. Here it is a week later and I’ve just been reminded about the ‘You’re Welcome’ song/ear-worm. Dang. That’ll be in there for a couple more days.

The rest of the songs were pretty good, too, if not memorable (to me) and the actors/singers did a bang-up job. I also liked the lack of a love story/interest for the main character, which usually seems shoehorned in and gets in the way. This was more of an epic/quest picture. Thumbs up.

Rogue One

Not bad! I liked it!

It’s sort of the glue between two worlds, so they had a lot of leeway in what they could do with it. The entire timeline between the prequels and the original Star Wars trilogy was basically just barely mentioned in the crawler at the beginning of A New Hope, so there weren’t too many specifics to the story that they had to stick through.

I thought they did a good job of retconning the whole ‘How could the Empire build a space station with such a fatal flaw?’ thing. They did a good job of weaving that story line into the reality that we already knew about from the original Star Wars trilogy.

SPOILERS AHEAD

I also thought it was interesting/ballsy how they tied up the loose ends of ‘none of these characters are mentioned in the original trilogy’. Really, I thought they didn’t have to bother with that, the movie could have just ended at that point, but they went ahead and basically killed everyone off. Sort of out of character for a Star Wars film but I guess they’re trying to be more gritty. It worked. I didn’t expect that.

We’ve also almost gotten to the point where cgi face replacement can look pretty realistic, nearly lifelike. They did a bang-up job resurrecting Peter Cushing and Princess Leia. Kudos to the filmmakers for not overdoing that. It was a nice touch.

La La Land

Put two of the prettiest and most talented people in Hollywood together (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone), add a few musical numbers, a well-executed love story, great costumes, technical camera-work and at least one song you’ll be humming to yourself days after hearing it for the first time, and what do you get? A fantastic goddamned movie, that’s what you get.

I’m not a fan of musicals, per se, but a few of my all-time favorite movies are musicals (Blues Brothers, Grease and Moulin Rouge.) So I’m up for them whenever they come out. I can’t say I’ve been enamored by any animated musicals in recent memory, and even classics like The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz are more entertaining to me because of the non-musical parts of the stories.

But La La Land is such a spectacle to look at, such a classic production yet simultaneously contemporary that it’s a difficult movie not to like. If you’re not automatically repelled by musicals, you’ll at least like this one very much. If you hate them then yeah, don’t bother. The magnetism of the two stars alone might not be enough to hold your interest. If that’s the case, though, then what the hell is wrong with you?

The story outside the musical performances is (what I perceive to be) an accurate depiction of two young artists falling in love within the insular wold of trying to ‘make it’ in Los Angeles. They touch on subjects such as who has the more important career or aspirations, selling out vs being poor but true to your art, and exactly what it means to be true to your art in the first place.

La La Land is up for a bunch of Golden Globes, and I find it hard to believe it won’t win all the music-related awards. Plus I think it’s a strong contender for best picture (comedy or drama.) I’d expect a similar result for the Oscars. All the accolades from critics are on point. One of my favorites this year.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Meh! It was alright, I guess, but it’s difficult to catch fire in a bottle again when it comes to movie franchises, unless you make a really shitty one in the middle. Maybe this is the Harry Potter world’s Phantom Menace.

Though it wasn’t terrible, just not terribly compelling. I didn’t feel like there was much at stake. In the first Harry Potter movie there was at least the prospect of child murder. In this one, a klutzy wizard accidentally unleashes some monsters in NYC, so the set-up was basically self-inflicted.

Some of the dialog was clever, characters were funny, as with all the Harry Potters, the production design was magnificent, it’s just perhaps that the story was a little simple and didn’t have a lot of gravity.