Knock, Knock – The First Trailer for ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ is Here

It is September 9, 2021, and I knew exactly what I needed to do: have breakfast and watch the first trailer for “The Matrix Resurrections.” But of course, breakfast would be second as this particular trailer could not come soon enough. All I can say is, wow! Keanu Reeves, looking more like John Wick than Neo, is back. Lana Wachowski is back. Carrie-Anne Moss is back, and no, she does not look to be playing a grandmother here.

The first thing I want to point out about the “Resurrections” trailer is how excited I am at how part of this movie takes place in San Francisco. It all looks so beautiful here, and it feels like it has been forever since anyone shot anything there. Part of me expected those digits to descend down the screen, but the trailer instead opens up with Thomas Anderson (Reeves) talking with a therapist (played by Neil Patrick Harris) about these strange dreams he has been having. From there, we see him taking what I guess are anti-depressants, and they are blue pills. And one other thing, Harris is wearing blue glasses in his session with Thomas. Coincidence?

What blew me away about this trailer was that it has a unique look to it. Sure, there are many images from the original featured, but “Resurrections” is made to look like its own thing and not a simple repeat of what came before. While its story line feels a bit similar to the original as Mr. Anderson is slowly waking up to the world around him, there is a different feeling this time around.

Quite wisely, this trailer only tells us so much about what we will be seeing this December. Lana Wachowski is not about to give everything away which is smart, and we are left to ponder the reality this sequel takes place in. As a result, I am left with a string of questions I am eager to see answered:

Will this sequel take place following the events of “Matrix Revolutions,” or is this a whole new timeline featuring the same characters?

Is Thomas Anderson (a.k.a. Neo) too woke to use a cell phone while in an elevator?

Why does Neo recognize Trinity but Trinity does not recognize Neo?

Will the bullet time effects be utilized frequently in this film?

Is Morpheus, now played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, meant to be a younger version of the character previously played by Laurence Fishburne?

Is this a prequel instead of a sequel?

Christina Ricci is co-starring in “Resurrections,” but did we see her in this trailer?

Is Thomas/Neo dumping those blue pills into the sink meant to be smack in the face to big pharma?

Do we really want to see this on HBO Max instead of on the big screen where it belongs?

Was Keanu Reeves shooting the fourth John Wick movie while filming “Resurrections?” Is this why Neo looks like John Wick?

Is Trinity pregnant with Thomas’/Neo’s baby? Well, whatever the case, she certainly does not look to be a grandmother in this installment.

With Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer taking over music scoring duties from Don Davis, will Juno Reactor be along for the ride as well?

Lastly, why is everyone stunned that Laurence Fishburne does not appear in this trailer? For crying out loud, it was announced he would not be appearing in it ages ago! Besides, he will be reunited with Reeves in the next John Wick sequel, so stop complaining!

Suffice to say, I am as excited for this sequel as I am for “Halloween Kills.” As a result, I need to keep my expectations in check as they can be easily ruined for all the wrong reasons. I have enjoyed all “The Matrix” movies, and I include the third one even though its ending really sucked. With this trailer for “The Matrix Resurrections,” we look to be getting something as striking and visually spectacular as the original which wowed us back in 1999. I cannot wait, and I am about to say something I have not said in years: Christmas can’t come soon enough!

Check out the trailer below:

All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ and ‘The Matrix Revolutions’

As I write this, the first official trailer for “The Matrix Resurrections” is about to be unveiled for the whole world to see. I have been truly enjoying visiting the movie’s official website (www.whatisthematrix.com) as it hints at what is to come, and the way it is being handled is endlessly brilliant as there are so many different images to see. Seriously, visiting this site just once is not enough as not everything is the same.

But more importantly, it reminds me of when I first saw the teaser trailer for “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” back in 2002. It still feels like yesterday when I was hanging out with my friends and fellow cast mates from Disneyland as we waited in line to check out “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.” An eagerly awaited cinematic event, we first had to suffer through some needless commercials (we saw it at an AMC theater in Orange County) and trailers for movies which could not possibly be anywhere as enthralling as the weakest “Star Wars” extravaganza. And by saying that, yes, I do include the dreaded holiday special.

And then came the teaser trailer for “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions.” The screen was dark, but the audience quickly recognized the Don Davis’ music, and this put everyone at attention. Once those digits began descending down the silver screen, everyone went wild as we were about to get our first look at the follow-up to one of the most groundbreaking motion pictures of the 1990’s.

Seeing Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and Laurence Fishburne, who speaks of how “the war” will have an end over this trailer, reprising their roles was exciting, and the images we were shown thrilled me to no end. Furthermore, to see everything climax to the tune of Rage Against The Machine’s “Wake Up” was just perfect.

Of course, this trailer does have one big failing. It ends with “2003” displayed across the screen, and the yells of excitement quickly turned into moans of frustration as we suddenly realized it would be a full year before the first of these sequels would be unleashed. Back then, time still moved a bit slowly.

As for how these sequels turned out, that’s for another set of articles.

Check out the teaser trailer below.  

‘Bill & Ted Face The Music’ Hits Just The Right Notes

After watching the trailers for “Bill & Ted Face The Music,” one question kept popping into my head: How can these two guys from San Dimas go from playing in front of the largest audience in the world to performing for a crowd of 40 in Barstow, most of whom were there for $2 taco night? At the end of “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” we saw news articles of them performing all over the place, and they even got to stage a concert on Mars of all places. Seriously, you cannot plummet from a height of fame like that, right?

Well, keep in mind that at the end of “Bogus Journey,” Bill and Ted did finally learn how to play their guitars, but they also performed a cover of “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” by KISS. We never did hear them play any original tunes. As “Face The Music” begins, we learn their debut song as writers opened big and then plummeted to the bottom of the charts in record time. Even worse, their follow up albums were ravaged by the critics, one who described their work as being “manure.” Taking this into account, it makes perfect sense they would end up performing in Barstow, a town in the middle of nowhere. Like Vanilla Ice, they shot up into the stratosphere and then saw their follow-up album being sold at a used record store for only 99 cents (and that’s on the day after it was released).

We first see Bill S. Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves) at the wedding of Missy (Amy Stoch). Yes, Missy is getting married, and just wait until you find out to who. The two use the occasion to present the world premiere of their latest work, and while they play instruments with more confidence than before, they are still unable to put together a cohesive song, and the response they get is much like the one Spinal Tap received when they told the audience they were going in a “new musical direction.”

Bill and Ted are still married to the princesses, Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hays), and they have two beautiful music-loving daughters in Theodora (Samara Weaving) and Wilhelmina (Brigette Lundy-Paine). Still, they have not yet written the song meant to unite the whole world, and it appears as if this destiny may have been misread. Furthermore, their daughters are in their 20’s and still living at home, and their wives are starting to tire of the lack of the direction in their husbands’ lives. Ted’s dad, Captain Jonathan Logan (Hal Landon Jr.), refuses to believe he and Bill could have traveled in time or gone to heaven and hell and begs them to get “real jobs.” Yes, middle age has hit Bill and Ted real hard to where they feel the need to reassess their goals.

Then into the picture comes Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of the late Rufus, who takes Bill and Ted to the future to meet The Great Leader (played by Holland Taylor) who is not exactly happy with where they have ended up in life. From there, they are informed that the universe is unravelling and will be destroyed if they do not write the unifying song in the next 78 minutes. How about that? You are tasked with writing the song which will unite the world, and you have just over an hour to compose it. Talk about pressure! As we get older, 78 minutes doesn’t last as long as it used to.

Bill, however, comes up with a most excellent plan to travel with Ted into the future when they have already written the song and to take it from themselves. Ted considers this to be stealing, but Bill convinces him it isn’t as long as they are stealing from themselves. Hey, it worked for James Horner!

“Face the Music” comes to us more than 25 years after “Bogus Journey,” so it is hard to know what to expect. It reunites not only Reeves and Winter, but also screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon who penned the previous two films as well. I am thankful to say this sequel is no “Blues Brothers 2000” which relied on an overabundance of nostalgia to where I found myself wanting to watch the original. Instead, it does come with some good laughs and a lot of heart as everyone involved has worked their damndest to bring this last chapter of Bill and Ted to the silver screen and digital streaming for dozens of years. Regardless of what you may think, no one is out to simply repeat themselves here.

Both Reeves and Winter are clearly having a blast as Bill and Ted keep traveling to different parts of the future in an effort to talk to themselves and get the song. This allows the actors to portray them in various ways to where we see them as has beens, a duo ever so in love with English culture, and hard-core prisoners who have bulked far more than you would ever have expected (nice makeup work by the way). Regardless of the many years which have passed them by, both actors slip back into their roles as if they never left them, and they keep these characters from becoming mere caricatures throughout.

Also, believe it or not, there is some evolution to Bill and Ted. Granted, they are still pretty dense when it comes to things like couple’s therapy, but they also realize how their famous sayings of “be excellent to each other” and “party on dudes” do not have the same resonance as they once did. Before they go on their latest excellent adventure, they have to realize they are at a crossroads as things cannot keep going the way they have been as things have got to change. Still, it is worth it to see them playing air guitar here and there even as they approach middle age with inescapable apprehension.

Both Weaving and Lundy-Paine are fun to watch as the daughters, and this is even though the section where they search for famous musicians to create a band is the film’s weakest. It’s a bit of an anemic retread of when Bill and Ted, on their “Excellent Adventure,” went back in time to gather historical figures for their final history exam. Regardless, it is cool to see Jimi Hendrix jam with a bewildered Mozart who has no idea what he is hearing.

It is also great to see William Sadler return as the Grim Reaper as he stole every scene he had in “Bogus Journey.” He too slips back into this hilarious character as if he just played him yesterday, and not once does he have to struggle to get a laugh out of any of us. Seeing the Reaper attempt to make peace with Bill and Ted over the fallout they had with all those 40-minute bass solos is not just one of “Face the Music’s” funniest moments, but also one of its most heartfelt.

Each of the “Bill & Ted” films have had a different director: Stephen Herek directed “Excellent Adventure,” Pete Hewitt helmed “Bogus Journey,” and behind the camera for this installment is Dean Parisot. As a result, each one has a different feel to it despite having most of the same cast and the same screenwriters. Parisot is a perfect fit for this entry as he is terrific at mining material for both laughs and heart, and he proved this with “Galaxy Quest,” one of the greatest cult movies ever made. “Face the Music” doesn’t reach the same heights as “Galaxy Quest,” but Parisot does show a lot of respect for these characters and gives this sequel the heart it deserves. More importantly, he gives it a fulfilling conclusion which truly put a big smile on my face.

Upon first watching “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” I have to admit my feelings on it were mixed as I hoped it would be funnier. But after watching it a second time, I found myself appreciating it more as speaks to the values of friendship and music, both of which we need in these crazy times. Whether or not this sequel is all you ever hoped for, it is clear everyone involved put everything they had into it, and I do hope the fans are satisfied with what they see.

Could a fourth “Bill & Ted” movie ever happen? I don’t know, and frankly this one serves as good conclusion. Seeing them rock out at the conclusion reminds me of what Neil Young once said:

“Rock and roll can never die.”

Damn right! Party on dudes!

* * * out of * * * *

‘Point Break’ Remake is Visually Spectacular But Dramatically Inert

Was the world really pining for a “Point Break” remake back in 2015, especially when it already got an unofficial remake back in 2001? That remake was called “The Fast and The Furious,” and its director Rob Cohen freely admitted on many occasions how its plot was lifted directly from Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 action film. Nevertheless, the good people at Alcon Entertainment felt an official remake was needed. What results is a film of spectacular visuals, but they all come with a screenplay which is dramatically inert and with actors who barely look like they are having much fun even after all the surfing, rock climbing, snowboarding and wingsuit flying we see them do.

The plot is basically the same as the original, but the characters led by Bodhi (Edgar Ramirez) are not thrill seekers robbing banks to fund their exploits, but instead ecoterrorists who look to play a Robin Hood role in society. Moreover, they are trying to complete the Ozaki 8, a list of eight extreme ordeals designed to honor the forces of nature. FBI agent and extreme sport athlete Johnny Utah (Luke Bracey) picks up on this and becomes determined to infiltrate this gang and bring them down. Of course, this has him going undercover, and we all know what happens to undercover agents in movies like these.

I should note how this “Point Break” starts off with a prologue which has Johnny Utah racing over a steep ridgeline on a motorbike with his friend Jeff (Max Thieriot). But while Johnny lands successfully onto a lone stone column, Jeff does not and ends up falling to his death. As a character in “Cliffhanger” once said, “gravity is a bitch.” Did this remake need such a scene? I think not as the original didn’t. Seriously, how many times have we seen this scenario played out?

One thing I have to say about this remake is it does look spectacular on a visual level. It was directed by Ericson Core who, quite ironically, was the director of photography on “The Fast and The Furious.” He also serves as his own cinematographer here, and he captures some amazing sights whether it’s the waves surfed at Teahupoʻo in Tahiti, the wingsuit flying sequence in Walenstadt, Switzerland, the snowboarding scene shot on the Italian side of Aiguille de la Grande Sassière in Aosta Valley, or the rock climbing which takes place at Angel Falls in Venezuela, Throughout, Core captures the beauty of each location to where I am compelled to visit them as soon as this Coronavirus epidemic is resolved. Yes, I am willing to wait that long.

But while the look of this “Point Break” is spectacular, it does not feel particularly the least bit exhilarating. The beauty of Bigelow’s film was she made you, as an audience member, part of the action. This was especially the case during the skydiving scenes as you felt like you were falling from the sky with the characters. With Core’s remake, I felt like I was watching everything from a distance to where I admired the view, but was never really enthralled by it.

Seriously, none of the actors look like they are having much fun here as they all seem so deadly serious to where you wonder if any of them has a mere understanding of what an adrenaline rush is. Luke Bracey may be a good actor, but his performance as Johnny Utah makes Reeves’ in the original appear all the more stellar. Reeves’ Utah had the good sense to know how scary and thrilling his adventures were to where his screaming while skydiving made complete sense. But to see Bracey remain calm while he falls from a mountaintop so high up makes his silence during such a descent utterly ridiculous and unbelievable.

Then there is Edgar Ramirez who has turned in memorable performances in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and most especially in the biopic “Carlos.” But as strong an actor as he is, he does not succeed in making Bodhi a compelling character in this remake. Throughout, his face looks like it is etched in stone, and I kept waiting for him to show a little more excitement about his death-defying exploits. Patrick Swayze’s performance in the 1991 film was my favorite of his even if everyone thinks his penultimate role was in “Dirty Dancing,” and Ramirez does not come even close to matching the late actor’s charisma. This is especially evident in the scene where is sailing through some insanely high waves which are the same kind George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg attempted to traverse over in “The Perfect Storm.” Ramirez looks far too collected as he is facing death at any second, and the fact he is able to even get on his surfboard to travel that one last perfect wave is completely unbelievable. Come on, you have to be the least bit scared in a situation like this.

You also have Delroy Lindo and Ray Winstone here as FBI Instructor Hall and Special Agent Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey played Pappas in the original). Both are also playing characters who look like they are having a miserable time due to the challenges and endless frustrations of their jobs, but they should be forgiven as their characters were written as such. Besides, with actors like these two, you can never go wrong.

If there is a bright spot in this remake, it is Teresa Palmer who portrays Utah’s girlfriend, Samsara. She is such a luminous presence in any movie she appears in whether it is “The Choice,” one of the many misbegotten cinematic adaptations of a Nicholas Sparks novel, or “Hacksaw Ridge.” Her first appearance here is unforgettable as she dives into the ocean to where Utah is as compelled to dive after her as we are. Seeing her lay back into Bracey’s arms while in the ocean made me infinitely envious of him as I would have loved to been in his position. Palmer, however, is barely in this movie and is wasted in a role which demands more of her than the screenplay is willing to give. This is a real shame considering she gives this remake its most lively presence.

Bigelow’s “Point Break” cost only $24 million to make while this remake had a budget of around $100 million. Money may buy you impressive sights, but it cannot guarantee any audience an adrenaline ride. Besides, when it comes to filmmakers, male or female, can any of them compete with what Bigelow has to offer? Seriously, there is a reason why she was the first female to win the Best Director Academy Award for her work on “The Hurt Locker.”

When it comes to remakes, filmmakers and studio heads these days seem determined to play things straight. But looking at this remake of “Point Break” serves as a reminder of how it helps to not take things ever so seriously. Furthermore, Bigelow’s film has aged well over the years to where we are more than ready to accept Reeves as an action hero. While it helps to have a ton of money to make any motion picture, the budget on this remake did little to keep us on the edge of our seats. Just remember this the next time you feel like the budget for your flick is not nearly enough.

By the way, James LeGros who played Roach in the original “Point Break” appears here as FBI Deputy Director #2. I just thought you might be interested to know this.

* * out of * * * *

‘Toy Story 4’ is Yet Another Animated Masterpiece from Pixar

Toy Story 4 movie poster

Did the world really need another “Toy Story” movie, especially after the third one wrapped everything up with a beautiful ribbon? Well, it turns out we did. The news of a “Toy Story 4” sounded like a cash grab, and it’s not like Pixar is lacking in money or funds even after the box office failure of “The Good Dinosaur.” But to my surprise, the fourth movie in this ever so popular franchise quickly proves there is indeed another highly entertaining adventure involving the group of toys led by Woody and Buzz Lightyear.

Unlike other Pixar movies, “Toy Story 4” does not start off with an animated short, but this is because the opening sequence more or less serves as one. We go back several years before the previous sequel as we watch Woody (Tom Hanks) and the others work feverishly to save a remote-controlled car which is about to be washed away into the sewer. With the aid of Bo Peep (Annie Potts), Woody drags the car away from certain destruction, but then things take a sharp left turn when Molly, Andy’s sister, suddenly takes Bo Peep away from the window and donates her to a man eager to share this doll with his own daughter. Woody tries to rescue Bo Peep, but she assures him it is time for her to be someone else’s toy. Still, the deeply heartbreaking moment from “Toy Story 2” in which Jessie (Joan Cusack) is discarded by her owner to the tune of a Sarah McLachlan song immediately quickly comes to mind as this scene proves to be almost as painful.

Moving ahead years later, these toys are now in the care of Bonnie, and we catch up with her when she is about to make a big transition in her life: start going to school. Her kindergarten orientation marks the first time she is separated from her parents and her toys, and she is understandably crippled by separation anxiety like any other kid would be. Woody, having been neglected by Bonnie recently, sneaks himself into her backpack and throws some craft materials onto her table, and with them she creates a new toy out of a spork whom she names Forky (voiced by Tony Hale). This toy quickly becomes her most beloved, and Woody encourages the other toys to make Forky feel welcome in his new environment.

Forky, however, experiences an existential crisis as he feels he was never meant to be someone’s toy, but instead destined for the nearest trash can. Sporks are meant to be used once and then thrown away, but Woody desperately tries to make Forky see how important he is to Bonnie’s well-being. Still, it’s hard to think of another character in animation or family entertainment other than Oscar the Grouch who has had such a passionate love affair with a trash can, or any trash receptacle for that matter.

The “Toy Story” movies all have the same kind of story as the toys, for one reason or another, become separated from their owner and do whatever they can to return to them before it’s too late. Still, each one deals with very intriguing questions about what it means to be a toy and of the importance they play in anyone’s life. What I love about these questions is how deeply they involve the viewer to where you are as caught as the characters as they stress over the right move to make. Either that, or watching these movies really messes with my anxiety.

As always, Pixar provides us with brilliantly animated images, and “Toy Story 4” is full of them throughout. Our gang of toys ends up at a carnival while Bonnie and her parents are on a road trip, and Woody ends up in antique store which is filled with one easter egg after another. Some I recognized like the soda bottle cap from “Up,” but a second viewing is definitely required as there are many more I have yet to discover in this sequel. Just when I thought Pixar could not wow me anymore than they already had, they do.

The big news in this sequel is Woody ends up running into Bo Peep again for the first time in years. She appears to revel in being a free toy after her latest owner gave her away, and now she spends her days with her sheep. Billy, Goat and Gruff, traveling in a remote-controlled skunk in sequences I want to believe were inspired by similar ones in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Woody reuniting with Bo Peep is a wonderful moment as those who have followed this franchise from the beginning know how affectionate these two toys were with one another, and we spend a good deal of this sequel’s running time wondering if these two can possibly stay together or suffer yet another sudden goodbye.

With any new “Toy Story” movie, there are always new characters to be found, and this was one has several. In the antique store, we meet a beautiful doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) who looks friendly enough at first, but who quickly reveals herself to be a bit devious as she attempts to obtain Woody’s voice box for her own uses. There is also Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), friendly Canadian daredevil who suffers from low self-esteem as his owner ditched him when he could not perform the same stunt he performed on a television commercial. Oh the pitfalls of advertising,

But when it comes to my favorite new toys, they are Ducky and Bunny, a pair who resent playing second fiddle to Buzz Lightyear in a carnival game. They are voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, the comedic duo we all know and love as Key & Peele, and it is great fun to see them reunited here. These two toys come to aid our heroes, and their methods prove to be hilariously unorthodox as they are quick to attack others in a way they mistakenly believe will be ever so effective.

When “Toy Story 4” comes to its conclusion, I found myself choked up even more than I was with the climax of “Toy Story 3.” With the previous sequel, we saw the end of one era, and with this one has us witnessing the end of another. It’s a deeply emotional finale to where it’s impossible not to feel like you are on the verge of crying as these toys have now been with us for over 20 years. They are like family, and they are now taking another big step into the unknown.

Could there be a “Toy Story 5?” Well, this sequel reminds us of how anything is possible. But if this is to be the final one, it certainly ends things on a tremendously high note. All the voice actors are excellent as they each find the depth in their characters to where not a single one is unforgettable. Josh Cooley makes a tremendous feature film directorial debut with this sequel, Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton have given it an excellent screenplay, and the great Randy Newman provides us yet again with another great score and songs this franchise has thrived upon.

2019 has not been a great year for sequels thus far, but along with “John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum,” “Toy Story 4” proves you at the very least need Keanu Reeves to make your sequel the least bit successful in an overcrowded market. Seriously, you cannot deny this fact after what this summer has given us so far.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ is an Action Movie Buff’s Wet Dream

John Wick Chapter 3 movie poster

The “John Wick” movies have been an action movie buff’s wet dream, and “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. It is an exhilarating ride featuring a vast assortment of brutal fight sequences with all kinds of weapons being utilized, and even horses are around to provide painful injuries to assassins eager to terminate the ex-hitman who hasn’t lost a beat since his retirement. Yes, the body count is high, and taking this into account reminded me of what Col. Trautman told Sheriff Will Teasle will need to have handy while trying to capture John Rambo in “First Blood:”

“A good supply of body bags.”

Yes, and you need a really good supply of body bags when it comes to taking down John Wick. This ex-hitman has been legendary from the get-go to where crime lords, once they realize who they are up against, can only say “oh shit” when his name is mentioned. Going into “John Wick: Chapter 3,” I hoped those looking to take out Mr. Wick bought their body bags in bulk from Costco. Better yet, they still sell coffins, right?

“John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” begins shortly after Mr. Wick was declared excommunicado by his handlers at the High Table after killing a crime lord on the grounds of the New York City Continental. Winston (Ian McShane) has given John an hour head start, and this chapter starts off with only a half hour so remaining before the $14 million bounty is made public to all assassins. As John runs furiously through the streets of New York City, even a homeless bum is aware that the contract on his life is about to begin, so who can he possibly trust?

Even before his hour is up0, we find John fighting the first of many adversaries with only a book. It certainly worked for Matt Damon in the “Jason Bourne” movies, but Keanu Reeves takes things a step further by killing someone by breaking the guy’s neck with the book, and it is a brutal kill which had me saying “ouch” out loud in the theater. I love action movies which have me reacting viscerally to the violence on screen, and this is definitely one of them. Sitting back and passively observing routine action sequences is something I have long since grown weary of watching, so it’s always reassuring when something like “John Wick” comes along as the filmmakers make you feel all the punches, bullets, knives and horse kicks which come to be inflicted on dozens upon dozens of characters, most of whom have no idea who they are dealing with.

In “John Wick: Chapter 2,” it quickly became clear that it would take more than one bullet to take out an opponent. In this chapter, the same rule applies to when knives are used as it takes three or four to stop your assailant dead in their tracks. One of the first big action sequences involves characters hurling the sharpest of knives at one another, and I’m guessing it was adrenaline which kept some going even after the second knife inserted into their bodies failed to put them down. And just when you think a knife isn’t going to be shoved into a certain part of the body, it does. It’s nice to see an action movie which not only defies your expectations, but also refuses to set limits in terms of which body parts get damaged.

But in the midst of all the crazy action scenes, there is a story and characters worth following. With what seems like the whole world coming after John Wick, you have to wonder why he still wants to have a pulse after all he has been through. His answer is he wants to preserve the memory of his late wife, Helen, and to earn the right to do so. The question is, will he be willing to pay the price to make this happen?

Keanu Reeves is an actor most people are quick to ridicule as they don’t see him as having much range, and that’s putting it nicelt. We first got to know him as Ted Theodore Logan in the “Bill & Ted” movies, and since then many have been quite to call him a terrible actor as he appears to give only one-note performances. I myself am willing to defend Reeves more than my friends are willing to on a regular basis. He has given memorable performances in “Permanent Record,” “Speed,” “Point Break,” “My Own Private Idaho” and “The Matrix.” Still, there are those who are quick to remind us of the work he did in “The Whole Truth” and “Knock Knock,” and watching him in those movies proves to be as painful as the bruises he suffers throughout this sequel.

Reeves really hits it out of the park here, and he throws himself into this role in both a literal and figurative sense. I also have to say he handles guns with such ferocity and precision to where I cannot think of another actor who can accomplish the same feat so effectively. I had no problem accepting him as a hardened assassin who is lethal beyond repair, and he has long since turned this tragic figure into much, much more than the B-movie antihero he started out as. And considering how Reeves has suffered more tragedy in his personal life than any one person should ever have to endure, he has a full understanding of John’s loss and of the importance to stay alive to keep the memory of his late wife alive. Yes, it is hard to think of another actor who could inhabit this character as effectively as he does.

Oscar winner Halle Berry shows up as Sofia, a close friend of John’s and an assassin just like him, and she handles firearms every bit as well as Reeves does. Too bad she disappears from this sequel far too soon.

The great Anjelica Huston steals every scene she has as the Director, a strict dance instructor and member of the Ruska Roma who offers John safe passage. Even as Huston makes this character look cold as steel, she allows you to see the brief glimmers of humanity she is forced to show at her most painful moments.

And as always, it is great to see Ian McShane back as Winston, the owner and manager of the Continental Hotel in New York. Ever since I first saw him in the brilliant “Sexy Beast,” McShane has never failed to make the slimiest and nefarious of characters all the more intriguing to where you can’t take your eyes off of him for a second. The same goes here as he makes Winston an enigma as the character holds his cards close to his chest while manipulating those around him with a controlled glee.

I came out of “John Wick: Chapter 2” wondering if there was any way director Chad Stahelski could top the insane mayhem that sequel had to offer. While this third chapter has a slightly lower body count, I think he has succeeded in doing so as the ways Mr. Wick dispatches his enemies are infinite to where no one can or even should feel safe around him. The only thing more insane is how it sets the ground work for a fourth chapter which is now set to be released in 2021. Personally, I cannot wait for the next chapter as this third one proves to be the kind of exhilarating and exhausting action movie I am always hoping to see at the local multiplex.

It’s almost a shame “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” is coming out now as we can only pray the other movies of the 2019 movie season can measure up to this one in terms of endless excitement and the adrenaline rush. This one was well worth the wait, and it continues to provide Keanu Reeves with some of the best work in his long career.

I also have to say this sequel may very well have more scenes of exploding glass or characters being thrown into glass with epic shattering effect since “Another 48 Hours,” and that sequel came out in 1990. If there has been another movie since then which topped it before this “John Wick” chapter did, please let me know.

* * * * out of * * * *

Eli Roth Explores the Home Invasion Genre with ‘Knock Knock’

Knock Konck movie poster

It has been eight years since “Hostel: Part II,” and the phrase “directed by Eli Roth” has been largely absent as the horror filmmaker has focused more on producing and acting, but 2015 saw him return to the director’s chair with a vengeance. First, he gave us the cannibal horror film “The Green Inferno” which saw its release delayed for a couple of years, and he quickly followed it up with the home invasion thriller “Knock Knock.” Keanu Reeves stars as Evan Webber, an architect and happily married husband and father whose family leaves him alone at home one weekend so he can work on his latest project. But Evan soon makes the biggest mistake of his life when he lets two young women into his home after they claim to be lost, and they come to play a number of psychosexual games which have him begging for his life.

Roth was at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California to do a press conference on “Knock Knock,” and he was very verbose in discussing what motivated him to make this film. Now whereas his previous movies “Cabin Fever,” “Hostel” and “The Green Inferno” featured young adults heading out of their comfort zones and into the world for a dose of excitement and danger, “Knock Knock” is very different in that it rarely strays from Evan’s comfort zone which is his home. I asked Roth if this scenario presented any new challenges for him as a writer, and his answer was far more descriptive than I expected.

Eli Roth: No, I mean I liked the idea. Obviously I was very interested, probably because I grew up in Massachusetts with that kind of over sheltered, over-privileged and overeducated upper middle-class kid image that yearns for that life experience. In “Cabin Fever” they want irresponsible partying and drinking and drugs, in “Hostel” they want sex they think they can’t find, and in “The Green Inferno” they want validation through this vanity act and they want Twitter followers and it all comes back to bite them in the ass, literally in “Green Inferno.” But with this one, it is about what happens when you let that force into your life that you’re suddenly like, oh my God there’s a crazy person in my house. What have I done? You realize that, because you’re smart, that’s actually what makes you vulnerable. You think well I know how to handle this situation because I’m a smart person and look how well I’ve done so far, and then you drop your guard and then maybe there is some situation where someone’s in your home for whatever reason and you realize, oh my God, this person could take my stuff. There are my alarm codes and they could just really unravel me, and they could do it in such a short amount of time. And then Nicolas (Lopez) and I decided to add the social media aspect. We also were interested in the generational difference in sexuality. Girls in their teens or their 20’s, they must be so much crazier because of internet pornography. There is this grass is always greener mentality and looking at the way teenagers sexualize themselves on Instagram for likes and follows, we’re looking at some people like, in the cast and crew, their young sisters that are 15 or 16 and looking at their friends. You can’t tell in your 40’s if that girl is 16 or 36, and I’m playing on that difference of the sexuality in generations. Now nothing is private anymore, so when we were writing it we just thought about all of the things about modern fears. I wrote “Cabin Fever” when I was 22, I wrote “Hostel” when I was 32, and I wrote “Knock Knock” when I was 42, so they are all very much written about my fears at those ages.

Well, whether he is directing a movie or just producing or acting in one, Roth is certainly not a filmmaker you should ever call lazy. He remains as prolific as ever, and he has a large number of projects he is working on. Among them is “Meg,” an adaptation of Steve Alten’s science fiction novel about an ancient 60-foot long shark which terrorizes a small coastal town. Some critics have described the book as the “Moby Dick” of killer shark novels, so it will be interesting to see Roth’s take on it.

Knock Knock” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.

The Whole Truth

the-whole-truth-poster

Watching “The Whole Truth,” I wondered if I had seen way too many courtroom dramas over the years to have the energy to appreciate this one. Then again, this movie does start off with a narration which had me laughing unintentionally, and its plot of a young man on trial for patricide felt like I was experiencing a severe case of déjà vu. How many episodes of “Law & Order” dealt with this kind of crime? Furthermore, how many of them proved to be more enthralling than this motion picture? Considering the talent involved in front of and behind the screen, “The Whole Truth” is a major disappointment.

Perhaps one of the main problems comes from an opening image which has a snake slithering on the ground as Keanu Reeves’ lawyer character of Richard Ramsay rides his motorcycle up the road. As soon as Richard goes by, the snake slithers right after him. From there, we have a good idea of the kind of people this movie will inhabit, and realizing this makes one realize there will be no real surprises in store for us.

Richard is a defense attorney, and he is defending young Mike Lassiter (Gabriel Basso) who is accused of murdering his father, Boone Lassiter (Jim Belushi). Things are not going well for these two as Mike refuses to speak about anything regarding his father’s death, and Richard tries to make him see they are on their way to a guilty verdict. All this time, Mike’s mother, Loretta (Rene Zellweger) sits in the courtroom looking on impassively. Did Mike really kill his father? Oh, come on, you already know the answer to this.

For those familiar with the novels of John Grisham and Scott Turow or the movies based on their works, the path “The Whole Truth” takes is one which has been traveled endlessly. We know something is up from the start, and it just makes us all the more impatient for the big reveal we know is coming. And while I’m no lawyer, I can see so many plot holes in this case which defy all reasonable logic. Mike himself makes a revelation on the stand which turns everything upside down, but the prosecuting attorney doesn’t even order a medical evaluation to verify it.

As for Reeves’ character, he seems much too close to the Lassiter family to represent them without bias. Then again, this probably doesn’t matter in the real world. It certainly didn’t matter when Johnnie Cochran represented O.J. Simpson in his murder trial, so why should it here? Still, with Richard so close to the family, it’s no surprise he is involved in this fiendish crime to where I just wanted him to admit the truth already.

The most dispiriting thing about “The Whole Truth” is it was directed by Courtney Hunt, the same person who gave us the terrific crime drama “Frozen River” back in 2008. That one starred Melissa Leo and the late Misty Upham as a pair of working-class women who smuggled illegal immigrants across the border into the United States. Hunt directed her actors to incredible performances, and she gave us a movie which felt alive and was never weighed down by clichés or illogical moments.

“The Whole Truth,” however, is the exact opposite as it is full of clichés and proves to be an insult to the intelligence even before the movie reaches its halfway point. The courtroom scenes are lifelessly staged, and the actors lack conviction in their performances. I expected Howard to bring something fresh to this material, and she even had a screenplay by Rafael Jackson to work from. But none of the energy and originality she brought to “Frozen River” can be found here. It’s been eight years since that film, and I can’t help but wonder why she chose this project as her follow up.

When it comes to Reeves as an actor, he either gives you the best or the worst he has to offer. His performance in “The Whole Truth” has him delivering courtroom speeches in an inauthentic manner which is depressing to watch, and his delivery of the voiceover narration is at times laughable. While he fares much better than he did in “Knock, Knock,” watching Reeves here makes me yearn for the “John Wick” sequel to come out sooner rather than later. Just from looking at the trailer for it, he looks far more alive in that sequel than he does here.

Then there’s Zellweger who makes Loretta far too enigmatic a character here. Furthermore, she looks very sick and emaciated here; very unhealthy. This all but takes away from the great performance she could have given but doesn’t. Loretta proves to be nothing more than another helpless wife and mother, and more could have been done to make this character complex and interesting. Instead, Zellweger is wasted in a role which gives her very little to work with. It’s great to see her back onscreen, but she deserves much better than this.

The only actor who gets off easy is Belushi as he succeeds in leaving his “According to Jim” persona in the dust by playing such an unlikable prick. His character of Boone is a jerk to put it mildly, but Belushi manages to make him more than that even with his limited screen time. Boone is like Aaron Paul’s character of Peter from “The 9th Life of Louis Drax” in that Boone initially comes across as a jerk, but we soon realize there is more going on with him than what’s on the surface. Belushi manages to convey this in a way the other actors are unable to, but it’s still not enough to life this movie out of the muck of mediocrity.

Popular culture has been and still is filled with court shows like “The People’s Court” and procedurals like “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” to where we know exactly what to expect from the trials presented to us. It’s tempting to say “The Whole Truth” suffers from being stuck in a time where we have long since been burned out from this kind of entertainment, but it still feels like so much more could have been done with this material. What ends up unfolding before us feels stale, derivative and easily forgettable. My hope is Howard will have more luck on her next film because this one does not represent a step in the right direction for her.

Daniel Craig was actually set to play Reeves’ role, but he ended up dropping out before filming began. Perhaps he realized the screenplay for “The Whole Truth” wasn’t as good as he originally thought. Jack Nicholson once yelled “you can’t handle the truth” in “A Few Good Men,” and there’s no reason why audiences should have to handle “The Whole Truth.” Courtroom dramas are a dime a dozen, and this one doesn’t even try to stand out from the pack.

* ½ out of * * * *

 

The Neon Demon

The Neon Demon poster

This is a motion picture you will either be on the same wavelength or not. That’s usually the case with any Nicolas Winding Refn film whether it’s “Bronson,” “Drive” or “Only God Forgives,” but I imagine “The Neon Demon” will be his most divisive movie yet. As for myself, I was entranced with this movie from start to finish as it combines the visual aesthetics of a Gaspar Noe film with the dreaminess of a David Lynch one, and those elements come together to form something that is uniquely Refn. In a sea of movies out right now which feel largely underwhelming, “The Neon Demon” is a refreshing one with its undeniably strong visuals, and that’s even though it takes a very sharp left turn in the last half.

We are introduced to Jesse (Elle Fanning), an aspiring model looking to get into the Los Angeles modelling scene. Equipped with some striking pictures shot by her friend Dean (Karl Glusman), she succeeds in getting signed with top Hollywood agent Roberta Hoffman (Christina Hendricks) who encourages Jesse to lie about her age and is quick to dismiss other aspiring talents coldly and without a second thought. Soon Jesse comes to befriend makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) who introduces her to the kinky club scene as well as a pair of models, Sarah (Abbey Lee) and Gigi (Bella Heathcote), who are ruthless in their intent to stay relevant in an industry quick to chew them up and spit them out.

Essentially, “The Neon Demon” is Jesse’s descent into the hellish and shallow world of modelling as she becomes the envy of photographers and fashion designers in the industry and creates a cauldron of resentment for those who can only dream of having her natural beauty. That’s the thing; Jesse has a look that feels infinitely real compared to other models who have long since resorted to plastic surgery which has made them look like lifeless statues. How does a novice model make her way through such a cutthroat and friendless realm of existence? Well, Refn is not out to give us the definitive answer to that question, but the journey he takes us on gives us kind of an idea of what it could be like.

I loved the beautiful and yet clinical look Refn gives “The Neon Demon” as it is entrancing and immersive. We are sucked into a world that is not healthy for us, but we can’t turn away from it as, like Pandora’s Box, we have an insatiable desire to see what is inside. Colors abound as if he tried to combine the beautiful images from Noe’s and Dario Argento’s films (“Suspiria” in particular) and turn them into something original. This movie also benefits largely from the beautiful electronic score composed by Cliff Martinez which hugs these images while poking at the darkness lying beneath them.

Elle Fanning has long since distinguished herself from her equally famous sister Dakota, and her role here as Jesse is her most daring yet. Some will complain that all she does in “The Neon Demon” is just sit around and look beautiful, but that’s missing the point. What’s utterly fascinating about Elle’s portrayal is how she takes Jesse from being a seemingly innocent rookie in a business that can be quite cruel to someone who fiercely owns her beauty in a way that is as seamless as it is haunting. This is not a dialogue heavy movie, so Elle has to show this transition without words for the most part and she succeeds to where we cannot help but be horrified about what Jesse will become.

However, Elle is almost upstaged by Jena Malone who combines an earthly look with an almost alien one as makeup artist Ruby. Malone has always been a tremendous actress, and she makes Ruby a wondrous enigma of sorts as she reveals only so much about her character on the surface. As the movie goes on, Malone comes to exhibit a strong vulnerability as Ruby is denied the thing she desires most and ends up acting out in sheer desperation. Malone is riveting and fearless, and she shows no hesitation in embracing Ruby’s dark side.

Abbey Lee deserves credit for bringing unexpected depth to Sarah, a model slowly realizing she is now past her prime, as she sinks into a swamp of infinite envy and resentment. I liked how Bella Heathcote makes Gigi into a model who is unapologetic about the sacrifices she has made for her career and is fiercely defensive of her place in the industry. While Glusman doesn’t get to show a lot of range here as Dean, he does have some nice moments as a man trying to hold strong to his ideals of what real beauty should be. And even Keanu Reeves shows up as Jesse’s unsavory apartment manager Hank, a man John Wick would show no hesitation to beating the crap out of. Say what you will about Reeves’ acting skills; he’s much better here than he was in Eli Roth’s “Knock Knock.”

If there was anything that perplexed me the most about “The Neon Demon,” it was the last half where it suddenly turns into a Grand Guignol horror film. It’s like the movie suddenly turned into something completely different as we find the women in Jesse’s life determined to possess her natural beauty any way they can, and I mean any way. Granted, this is a Refn film so you have to expect the unexpected, but it bears repeating here as things take a direction that almost seems out of whack with what came before.

Many will keep trying to get answers from Refn in regards to the questions “The Neon Demon” casually leaves unanswered. Then again, this is not a movie designed to have easily answered questions as the viewer will have to use their own imaginations to decipher what they have just seen. The movie’s title alludes to an antagonist that can take on a variety of forms that even the real world can’t separate itself from. Or maybe it’s the one deep fear we have to conquer before moving on with life. Whatever the case, “The Neon Demon” in not a movie to be easily dismissed or forgotten. People will either like it or hate it, and I am not afraid to say that I liked it a lot.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.