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

All Eyez on Me (2017)

Director: Benny Boom Cast: Demetrius Shipp Jr, Danai Gurira, Dominic Santana, Kat Graham, Annie Ilonzeh

Long time, no activity on ScreenSnap. Apologies for the hiatus- it’s been a hectic few months but what better way to ease back in than to review the biopic of one of my all time fave humans, Tupac Shakur. All Eyez on Me follows the story of the legendary rapper from his early childhood to his death in 1996, exploring the relationships and experiences that made him who he was.

As I’ve mentioned, I love 2pac and I was excited to see how his life would be represented on screen. On the whole, I was pretty pleased- people often underrate what a good writer and poet he actually was, (by tarring the whole hip-hop genre with one brush) and the movie did a good job of showing these aspects of his life, for example exploring his time at the Baltimore School of the Arts. For someone watching the film who didn’t know much about his life, I think this part would surprise them positively and I was glad they showed these more unknown bits.

Unfortunately though, the structure of the film made the whole thing a bit bitty and I felt like some scenes that could have gone somewhere were cut off, while other scenes lingered for too long. The first half of the film is structured mainly with flashbacks, with the present being an interview with Tupac while he’s in prison. Then once the flashbacks catch up with the present (prison), the rest of the film just follows a linear timeline. This felt a bit random- I felt it should have been one or the other, and it meant that the flashbacks were shorter and ended just as they were getting interesting, while the second half of the film felt like it went on and on. Consequently, some parts were missed and others were too over-the-top.

The stand-out character was Afeni, Tupac’s mother, and I was pleased that they did spend quite a bit of time exploring her story and their relationship, as this was essential to understanding the person that Tupac became. I was definitely most convinced by the performance of Danai Gurira (of The Walking Dead fame), who played Afeni. Following Straight Outta Compton, in which all the characters were cast superbly and the actors captured their characters almost flawlessly, All Eyez on Me wasn’t quite as good at this. The guy who played Tupac looked almost exactly like him and captured his mannerisms pretty well, but the others just weren’t quite as good. After watching Straight Outta Compton I came away amazed at how well they managed it, but this one didn’t have quite the same effect.

I would recommend this to people who already know a bit about Tupac and who are already fans, but generally if you’re not interested already it will probably be quite boring. As far as biopics go, I don’t think it would convince people to find out more about his life or music (whereas I thought the opposite about Straight Outta Compton). A solid effort but nothing outstanding. The soundtrack is pretty good though.

2.5 stars

Léon (1994)

Leon

Director: Luc Besson Cast: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman

After her drug-dealer father and other family members are murdered, 12-year-old Mathilda seeks refuge with her mysterious neighbour, Léon, who turns out to be a professional assassin. Mathilda persuades Léon to teach her how to kill, while they become, er, close friends.

Before getting into what I didn’t like, I’ll starts with some positives. Although the film covers some heady subject matter, it does so with a very dry sense of humour and you quickly warm to both Mathilda and Léon (and Léon’s best friend, a house plant). Mathilda’s persistence softens Léon and gives him a companion that he never had, which is a touching side of a story that is pretty much about murder. It’s probably my favourite performance of Natalie Portman’s (after my earliest experience of her acting was The Phantom Menace, which has permanently tarnished my view), and there’s no cringe factor like there often is with child actors. Additionally, Mathilda at only 12 years of age is probably the edgiest dresser I have ever seen.

However, while I don’t agree with the outcry about this film regarding Léon’s and Mathilda’s unconventional relationship, I don’t see why the script makes Mathilda believe that she is romantically in love with Léon. It would have been enough to just make her love him like a father, as he loves her like a daughter, and this wouldn’t have taken anything away from the plot. For them to simply grow to love each other like father and daughter would be enough to make us still sympathise with them and enjoy their character development. My other criticism is about Gary Oldman’s bad guy. Although he is suitably maniacal, we don’t really know too much about him and why he’s become like that, so it doesn’t really seem realistic.

I enjoyed this film overall and it has a satisfying ending. I wouldn’t say that it’s suitable for family viewing (in the slightest), but it’s not super heavy viewing so would be good for a Saturday night in.

3 stars

Whiplash (2014)

Whiplash

Director: Damien Chazelle Cast: J.K. Simmons, Miles Teller, Melissa Benoist

A drummer at a top music conservatory in New York is taken under the direction of a highly demanding tutor, who humiliates and terrifies his students when they don’t meet his high standards.

The plot synopsis of Whiplash doesn’t really sound like it offers mainstream appeal, as is so often the case with Oscar nominated films. However it won three Academy Awards in total (including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons who I have loved ever since he was in underrated HBO series Oz), so I thought it was worth a watch. The plot isn’t thrilling and fast-paced by any means, but it progresses quickly enough to keep attention throughout- although perhaps at the expense of some characterisation, as we don’t really know a lot about the background of the protagonists, which may cause a lack of sympathy especially in the case of Andrew, the student.

Having said that, the performances are highly intense and as someone who’s not hugely into music, I was still absorbed into the world of a music conservatory despite not usually having an interest in that type of thing. Fletcher, the tutor, is absolutely terrifying and J.K. Simmons was excellent at making him one of the least likeable characters I think I’ve ever witnessed on screen. Towards the end of the film when Andrew is hurrying to get to the concert on time was extremely tense, and it culminates in an intense final scene (although his drum playing did go on a little too long).

Whiplash is unlikely to be enjoyed by everyone, but for those looking for something a little more art-house and less mainstream it’s ideal. I would say that it requires a little more commitment from the viewer to sit through it (it’s not a film one can watch passively as it’s so intense), so probably better for an intentional Saturday evening movie night.

4 stars