Neverwhere

Neverwhere, written by Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods and Stardust, is a book about the homeless population of London, the plight of creativity vs needs, and the role of the male hero trope, all rolled into one Alice in Wonderland funhouse of a book.

I’ve mentioned before that Neil Gaiman’s writing isn’t for everyone. His style is a cross between comic book and pop fiction, with a heavy emphasis on urban fantasy. Continue reading Neverwhere

John Wick

There are a number of famous actors out there who are known for doing just one thing. Nicolas Cage is known for doing really offbeat throwaway movies where his wonky acting style can go full ham. Al Pacino is known for roles where he screams a lot for no reason. Robert DeNiro is the guy you go to for New York gangster-esque faces. And Jack Nicholson is who you call up when you need a creepy old guy who just might be psychotic.

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But to only bring these actors up would be a disservice to the reigning champion of one-note actors. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Keanu Reeves, otherwise known as the dude who goes, “Whoa.” Ever since The Matrix (and even before that film), Keanu has acquired an infamy for his withdrawn (or stoned) performances. This is a man who seems to approach every scene as if told to play a robot. His tone is dull, monotone and, oftentimes, hard to take seriously. Some would say that this makes him a joke of an actor. To those people it is a constant surprise that he gets any roles at all. But not everyone believes that. To others, this acting “method” allows him to present the perfect “everyman”, the character who allows the audience to project themselves into the action as if they were there themselves. It’s all in the eye of the beholder and, I won’t lie, I have long been in the camp of those who laugh at the fact that Keanu manages to keep getting work given the way he seems to just phone everything in.

From that standpoint, it’s a miracle that I went to go see John Wick at all. But this was a special case for me. I kept seeing outrageous headlines for this movie (I never read the reviews themselves). “An Action Classic Shot Right Into Your Face.” “John Wick Will Blow Your Brains Out.” “A Thrill Ride Driven By A Relentless Vengeance Machine!” Every single review of this movie heralds this as the greatest action movie EVER SEEN! So, despite my reservations of Keanu Reeves, I decided to let myself jump on the biggest hype train I’ve ever created for myself. I told my friends that, “WE HAVE TO SEE THIS MOVIE!” I pumped up everyone’s expectations, along with my own. All without knowing anything about the movie beyond Keanu’s presences. Nonetheless, in the first few minutes before the film started in the theater, I leaned over to my friend and whispered, “Are you ready for the ride of your fucking LIFE?!” I was ready for some weird Keanu shit, my friends. And boy did John Wick deliver.

John Wick - Dog

Setting the Foundation for Insanity

John Wick starts innocently enough. We see the titular character living alone, his wife having just died of a long-term illness some days before. He has a comfortable, albeit lonely house. He goes out and drives his expensive car around at top speeds in empty areas to relieve stress. He then returns home and goes to sleep at a reasonable hour.

After John attends the funeral of his wife, he arrives home to see a man at the door holding a kennel with a dog in it. An envelope comes with it, a letter from his wife inside. Knowing that her own death was soon, John’s wife had arranged for a puppy to be delivered to John after her death, to give him doggy companionship in these hard days, in the hope that he would not forget how to live his life without her. It’s an extremely sad and bittersweet moment, and one that further hits home when you see just how damn cute this dog is. Seriously, John’s puppy is the most adorable pooch I’ve ever seen in a movie, and John Wick makes sure that we see this.

After a few days of bliss with the dog, John goes to refuel his car at a gas station and catches the eye of a mobster (played by Alfie Allen, of Game of Thrones fame). The mobster impulsively decides that he wants the car. So he gathers his buddies, breaks into his John’s house, beats John within an inch of his life, kills the dog, and steals the car. Given that this dog represents the final parting gift of John’s dying wife, the reaction is… less than pretty.

JOHN WICK

Hopping on the Crazy Train

I will say this: John Wick does not have the most original plot ever seen in a film. This is a standard revenge thriller, most reminiscent of The Punisher. A man’s love is taken from him, prompting him to go on an enraged rampage of revenge. There are a few key differences here, though, that make it stand out.

First among these is the pooch. I have often found it a bit strange that our culture almost glorifies violence that is human -> human but, if violence is targeted towards an animal, words cannot describe the fury this elicits in people. Nonetheless, it is incredibly effective here. The moment the dog is threatened, you, like John Wick himself, are ready to beat the everliving paste out of every gangster within a hundred miles of John’s home. This immediately puts you in the main character’s head. It also conveniently helps to justify and support all the nastiness that comes after. Consequently, we are rooting for John the whole time, even when he dips into the territory of violence that occasionally reaches grotesque levels.

Second is the comedy underlying every aspect of this movie. Though John Wick’s beginning is serious, once revenge mode kicks in everything gets a little bit… funny. John Wick is a retired assassin and, while he was working, he was the greatest assassin ever known. This reputation becomes a running joke during the film as evidenced by a scene where the mobster seeks help from his mob boss father. The mob boss is completely indifferent to the theft and assault but, once he hears who his son did this to, his nonchalance is replaced by a look of utter horror. Immediately, the mob boss puts out a contract for millions of dollars for anyone who can kill John. When this proves harder than expected, the mob boss simply says, “Screw it. My son is just dead then. John Wick CAN’T be stopped.” You see this sort of reaction from dangerous criminal masterminds, police, and more. And it never gets old.

John Wick - Kung Fu

Conclusion

There are a number of other aspects of John Wick that made it one hell of a ride, and one worth the money and more. Tapping into the skills he trained during the filming of The Matrix, the fight scenes in John Wick are high-octane madness, with a mixture of kung fu and incredible gun battles that rival the best seen in movies. Keanu has found his niche here, as his wooden and dour acting technique is put to perfect use as an impossibly cold and dangerous assassin who has lost everything. Surprisingly, there is a lot to John Wick that makes it marvelously entertaining, and its pacing is non-stop once the ball gets rolling. So long as you have no problem with violence, John Wick is one of the biggest surprise hits this year that has completely changed how I view Keanu Reeves movies. Now I can say, without reservation, that when I see the trailer for his next movie, I won’t be exasperated. I’ll be pumped as hell.

Borderlands Pre-Sequel

For anyone unfamiliar with the Borderlands game series, here is the premise; Four heroes team up in a multiplayer setting, on a desolate earth-like planet, to blow the hell out of the local wildlife and face off against an endless army of PCP hobos wearing Jason Voorhees masks. That’s it.

raider And that’s not just the first game, that’s every Borderlands game. There’s some plot involved, new weapons available, and the barbershop quartet of murder-mercenaries available to the player evolves a little from game to game. But the formula stays the same, and the graphics never seem to change. Continue reading Borderlands Pre-Sequel

Gone Girl

Gone Girl’s audience was first described to me by a guy friend who noted while standing in line that the audience was all-women book clubs and miserable boyfriends. By the time I went to see it, it was 2pm on a weekday, and my friend and I were the only ones in an audience of ten under the age of 60 (both male and female, though the audience was primarily male).

The unsettling voice while you start watching is the fear that all relationships are like this and that everything is doomed. If this is why you have yet to see the film, I will free you. This feeling does not last long as you learn who all the players in the game are. Directed by David Fincher and written and adapted for screen by Gillian Flynn, this dark tale definitely has a unique look at an old familiar. Continue reading Gone Girl

The Lathe of Heaven

Last week I posted about The Left Hand of Darkness,  a novel by Ursula K. Le Guin. As a fiction author Le Guin has won so many awards that if The Purge was real, jealous Sci-Fi writers would make annual pilgrimages to her house to steal all the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus trophies, which I can only assume emerge from the factory already earmarked for her. She’s also the author of the Earthsea saga, as well as The Dispossessed and Lavinia. Continue reading The Lathe of Heaven

We Were Soldiers

We Were Soldiers is one of those war films that I remember watching when I was much younger, at a time when I did not know as much about the history behind the movie’s time period as I do now. Consequently, when I saw it available on Netflix, I thought it would be interesting to see it again to see if it held up under scrutiny. We Were Soldiers is set at the beginning of the Vietnam War between the United States and North Vietnam, and focuses entirely on the Battle of Ia Drang, the first major clash between US forces and the People’s Army of Vietnam. It is here that the tone for the rest of the war was set, with the United States learning hard and fast that overwhelming superiority of technology and airpower doesn’t matter for much when you have an entire people who want to kill you using stealth, tunnels, and massive numbers. Continue reading We Were Soldiers

Drinking Buddies

Drinking Buddies is a movie that, on the surface, seems to be all about beer. Two of the main characters work at a brewery, stirring the fluids together at one moment and then washing away the work of the day in the next. Seemingly every night, all of the coworkers go out to have drinks at a local bar together. Any scene (if any) where at least one character isn’t drinking is exceedingly rare. But why does this matter? From a narrative perspective, it is those moments where the characters make important choices while drunk or significantly under the influence. Beer becomes almost like a character in the story. It is an impediment to taking life seriously for some. Yet is also serves as a way to mend friendships and make new ones for others. Continue reading Drinking Buddies

The Left Hand of Darkness

Ursula K. Le Guin, author of the Earthsea saga, has popped up several times during my search for good fiction. Yet I always pass her over in favor of more pulpy authors. Sure she’s won pretty much every award a fantasy writer can win, even turning down a Nebula once in protest. But her books don’t have naked vampires or clashing knights on the cover. And anyone who reads my book reviews will know, those are strict requirements of mine.

Ok, I’m exaggerating. But of the fiction I’ve skimmed in the bookstores hers never grabbed my attention, which is probably a mark against me, not her. Continue reading The Left Hand of Darkness

Legend of Korra (Book 1)

With the recent demise of Saturday morning cartoons (RIP), it occurred to me that this might be the perfect time to start watching the spin-off to Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Backstory

Avatar: The Last Airbender for those who aren’t familiar, is a show about four different types of gifted people. They have the ability to harness the elements: earth, fire, air, or water and use them to their advantage. However, there is a chosen one in each generation with the ability to master all four elements. They call him/her the Avatar. Each avatar is reincarnated from the previous avatars before, and is able to channel them to gain knowledge to help the people of the world. He or she fights crime and injustice. Continue reading Legend of Korra (Book 1)

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