John Wick (2014)

Director: Chad Stahelski Cast: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki

An ex-assassin is forced back into work when a gang rob him in his own home. Unfortunately for them, his wife has also just died so he’s on the rampage.

You know those days when you’re already in a bad mood, it’s raining, it’s Monday, and then a colleague that you don’t like anyway does something to set you off? We’ve all been there, John Wick, we’ve all been there. Aside from the clearly very relatable nature of the film, John Wick is a very slick and very cool movie with the perfect balance of action and storyline. I remember when I watched Top Gun way back I loved the action scenes but there just weren’t enough of them, while there was far too much romance and bleurgh that just was not interesting. John Wick however provides just enough characterisation for us to sympathise with John and to know who the baddies are, but most of the film is just super-cool fighting and shots of New York. Because of this, there is very little plot and it’s extremely easy to follow, but you don’t necessarily always want intricate storytelling which takes effort to follow- especially with such amazing cinematography and style to keep you entertained.

Now, mention Keanu Reeves and it’s fair to say many people will be put off. However, in this he’s perfect for the part. Keanu’s not known for his dramatism and ability to convey deep emotion, but that’s why he works so well in this. He’s great at the action sequences (not too different from the Far-Eastern style that inspired The Matrix), and his serious and unflappable nature befits an assassin well. Willem Dafoe makes almost a cameo appearance, because he’s in it so little. Not totally sure his character added much to plot and whether anything really would have changed if he was taken out, but still he was pretty cool so we’ll let him off.

I would absolutely recommend this as the perfect Saturday night at home movie. Easy to follow, beautifully shot, loads of action, no time wasted on romance and drama- and did I mention very cool?

4 stars

12 Angry Men (1957)

12-angry-men

Director: Sidney Lumet Cast: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall, Martin Balsam

Twelve jurors are tasked with deciding on the case of a young boy who is accused of murdering his father. While eleven are confident of his guilt, one doesn’t think the evidence is enough to convict the boy for sure, and it’s up to him to convince the others.

As I’m gradually ticking off films in IMDb’s top 250, 12 Angry Men was next on my list. I had to build myself up to watch it, because I knew it was one of those films with lots of talking that requires attention throughout- and finally got around to it on a relaxed Sunday evening.

Actually, it turned out not to be as much of a difficult watch as I’d thought. It didn’t feel too long (after all it is only about an hour and a half), and as the jurors changed their mind one by one there were clear pointers to show the plot moving on. With it being a group of twelve middle-aged white men, and the film in black and white, it started off slightly difficult to identify certain characters individually. However as the film progresses each juror shows their particular personalities, and fairly soon I was able to pick out who was still saying guilty or not guilty. The script is obviously split up between twelve different people so each character doesn’t necessarily get many lines, but still the writing allows for their different personalities to come through.

The issue I did have- and this may well be just me- was that once one person picks a hole in the prosecution’s argument, there’s clearly an element of doubt and so they have to go for not guilty. The main character’s points were enough for me to doubt the guilt of the accused, but it took more than that to sway the other jurors. Not having ever been a juror myself, I can’t say how realistic this would be. Having said that, some of the characters (notably the last one to sway to not guilty) had personal reasons for starting off with a guilty verdict, however unreasonable, which adds to the characterisation and so gives the film some depth.

As I say, this is a thinking person’s film and there’s a lot of dialogue, so don’t watch it when you’re tired or looking for something to watch lightly. If you’re in the right frame of mind, it’s easy to follow and enjoyable. Definitely one to watch to examine different characters and how a script can build up characterisation.

4 stars

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

rogue-one

Director: Gareth Edwards Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mandelsohn, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed

Set between Episodes III and IV of the Star Wars films, we follow the group of rebels that set out to find the plans to destroy the Empire’s Death Star in order to destroy it.

FINALLY, you must be thinking, it’s a review for Rogue One. I’ve been very very slow on this one- I’d like to say it’s because I wanted more time to really digest the film but in reality I’ve just been very very lazy. Anyway, I’ve now seen it twice so feel reasonably well-informed, and here we are.

First time around, I came out of the theatre thinking this was ok, pretty good, not as good as The Force Awakens, but enjoyable nonetheless. However, as time passed I started to appreciate more and more what this films adds to the cinematic Star Wars story, and now I think it was excellent. As many people have said, the first hour or so moves quite slowly as it takes time to line up all the tangents of storyline that are necessary for the second half of the film. Although it feels quite bitty, I’d much rather they did it this way than set aside a whole movie just to set up the actual subject matter of the film (as The Hobbit unfortunately did…). It was important to bring all the necessary elements together, so it’s worth sitting through.

Once we’ve got all our characters established, the film really gets going and it’s uphill from there. We have just enough back story of the main characters to feel sympathetic towards them, and we start to see how all this is heading towards the events of Episode IV. We see a side of the rebellion that isn’t really explored in the original trilogy, one that is more violent and involves *gasp* actual death. Plot-wise it all makes sense, and it fills the crucial plot hole that was why on earth did the Empire allow such a weakness on the Death Star that allowed the rebels to destroy it with relative ease. Well now we know, and no more sleepless nights for Star Wars fans.

The part that made me appreciate this film gradually was the use of Darth Vader. He only appears for a very short time, and if you’re not really a Star Wars fan I think much of the Vader sub-plot in Rogue One would go over your head, but it really builds upon his characterisation as the villain. We see Vader in his castle on Mustafar (the volcanic planet where Obi-Wan chopped off both of Anakin’s arms and legs in one legendary swish of his lightsaber), showing how much Vader is consumed by his pain and suffering from the past- which is what keeps him on the Dark Side of the Force. His spell in the bacta tank is a short relief from his physical (and mental?- deep) pain, emphasising his continuing struggle with being pulled between both sides of the Force. The final Vader scene was probably the most epic 60 seconds of cinema I have seen in a long while, cementing his place as my number one favourite villain (and even movie character?!) of all time.

Vader obsession aside, there are soooo many nods to the original films. I liked seeing Senator Bail Organa again (one of the few redeeming characters from the prequels), and the sound effects of X-Wings and TIE fighters will never get old, among many other little cameos.

Rogue One is absolutely a must-see for any Star Wars fan as it fills in a lot of holes and only adds good things to the wider Star Wars universe. If you haven’t seen the originals, probably not worth it (but then I would obviously recommend watching the originals anyway…). Family-friendly, fairly easy plot to follow, and of course Darth Vader who will only ever be awesome.

4.5 stars

The Third Man (1949)

Third Man

Director: Carol Reed Cast: Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, Alida Valli, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee

A man travels to post-war Vienna to visit an old friend, whom upon arrival he discovers to be dead. However, after a little digging the man thinks there’s more to his friend’s death than meets the eye. A classic film-noir thriller.

The Third Man is a great film to watch from a cinematographic point of view. The film has a really eerie and haunting feel due to the debris all across post-war Vienna, which is accentuated by the black and white shadows. The film certainly wouldn’t have the same impact if it were filmed in colour, especially the moment when we first see Orson Welles’ character, which is made hugely dramatic by the use of darkness to hide his face followed by light for the big reveal. The shadow make the buildings appear grand and looming, which makes the famous chase scene towards the end feel suitably disorientating.

In terms of plot, it’s a good story and I like the characters being morally ambiguous. However, I did figure out the plot almost immediately- even my mum worked it out, and that is saying something. I think this detracted away a little from the “thrilling” aspect of this classic thriller, as I wasn’t really on the edge of my seat. However, the story covers a number of interesting political and historical aspects, such as post-war corruption in the defeated nations such as Austria, the uncertainty of post-war Europe, and what it means to be “moral”. The following line sums up nicely the film’s mixture of black humour and thought-provoking messages: “Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

This is definitely a film for adults, not because of any inappropriate content but rather because its messages which might be easily missed. The plot also builds slowly so it’s not for those who want fast-paced action from start to finish, plus there’s a lot of dialogue which I found required a lot of concentration. The obvious storyline loses it a star from my perspective, but visually it’s a lovely film to watch and appreciate.

4 stars