JOHN WICK 3: Is John Wick The Bad Guy?

This contains spoilers for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.

What does a John Wick movie owe us? Action, for sure, and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, gives us that in spades. It is some of the most accomplished hand-to-hand fighting action we’ve ever seen in an American film; I’ve seen it compared to the work in The Raid, which is high praise and – while I wouldn’t quite go that far – indicates just how excellent the fight choreography is in this film.

But I think a John Wick movie owes us more. What has made this franchise so successful – the third film is the biggest earner yet – is the strange combination of ass-kicking, weirdo world building and a deep emotional core that motivated it all. The first John Wick was a sleeper hit not because Keanu Reeves was a star – the film came out in one of the occasional valleys in Reeves’ mainstream popularity – but rather because we cared about what happened. It took a standard revenge plot and made it special by making it about a dead dog. We’ve seen revenge fantasies driven by dead wives and children, but there was something so tender about the dead dog that we all fell head over heels for John Wick, the assassin who really just wanted out of the game. 

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POKEMON: DETECTIVE PIKACHU Is The Most Aesthetically Important Blockbuster Of The Century

We have the technology to create anything on the screen, and we keep using that technology to create realistic things. JJ Abrams helped usher in an era of monsters that are based on real biology, that look like they could really exist, which has led to a glut of boring and samey looking CGI monsters. The Transformers movies gave us robots that had every single gear, piston and rivet that would be needed to change from a humanoid to a vehicle, and that meant incomprehensibly complicated designs that had no personality. And even going beyond CGI, our superhero movies have these depressingly low-imagination tendency of keeping the characters in tactical outfits, basically less colorful and less wild versions of their iconic comic book costumes.

Realism is the disease. Detective Pikachu is the cure.

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AVENGERS ENDGAME: More Event Than Movie

This contains spoilers for Avengers Endgame.

When is a movie not movie? This isn’t some kind of riddle, but rather an attempt to figure out how to approach a film like Avengers Endgame, which feels not quite like a motion picture as we define them and more like an event. It’s an experience first and foremost, a movie second… and I wonder how much that matters. How much does it matter that the ending works more as fan service than as logic? How much does it matter that the movie completely betrays Steve Rogers’ character to get to a teary-eyed smile at the end?

Thinking about Endgame I find myself thinking about It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World, the epic blockbuster comedy from Stanley Kramer. It’s stuffed to the gills with superstars, and it was originally bladder-shatteringly long (197 minutes! A comedy!). In terms of things like ‘plot’ and ‘structure’ it isn’t strong, but it makes up for all of that with the charm of Milton Berle and Buddy Hackett and Ethel Merman and Phil Silver. It features a stunning parade of cameos, including Jack Benny, ZaSu Pitts and Buster Keaton It’s not nuanced or subtle, and it’s hugeness and broadness is part of the point; it’s a big screen comedy released at a time when the movies were feeling TV nipping at their heels. 

It’s all really familiar. 

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Now On Patreon: THE BEACH BUM Takes Us On The Road Of Excess

“I’m a reverse paranoid. I believe the world is conspiring to make me happy.”

– Moondog, The Beach Bum

This review contains full spoilers for The Beach Bum.

That a new Harmony Korine movie should be morally disagreeable, juvenile and more than occasionally offensive is no surprise. That it should it be joyfully wise, subversively kind and the single most anti-materialistic work of a moment in time steeped in bourgeois socialism is actually very surprising, and The Beach Bum is perhaps one of the most wonderfully and uniquely meaningful movies of the moment, which is also a profound surprise. 

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US: Face Your Jungian Shadow… And A Bad Ending

This review contains complete spoilers for Us.

When Get Out got to the Coagula my heart sank. The movie had been doing so well and then it got to this explanation for the underlying mind-switching and I was deeply concerned. You can really kill the magic of a story by going here, and too often filmmakers don’t understand that we don’t actually care how the magical stuff in a movie happens, we just want to be assured there is a reason.

Thankfully, Jordan Peele kept Get Out moving at such a clip – and kept the Coagula so weird and so aesthetically connected to the film’s themes – that it was only a bump in the road. The movie didn’t get bogged down in the Coagula, and I didn’t walk out with the logistics of the Coagula itching at my brain.

I wish I could say the same about Us.

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CAPTAIN MARVEL Never Quite Takes Off

At some point in Captain Marvel it dawned on me: this movie is set in the 90s. Maybe it was when Carol Danvers stood in front of a wall plastered with posters for Smashing Pumpkins, Bush and PJ Harvey. Maybe it was when she wore a Nine Inch Nails shirt and Nick Fury told her the grunge look was good on her. Maybe it was when every song that played in the movie was a well-worn 90s track. Maybe it was when everybody sat around comically waiting for a CD-ROM to load. Maybe it was when Carol looked up info on Alta Vista. Maybe it was when the movie had a close-up of a record player playing Nevermind.

The movie’s brutal reliance on 90s references could be just an irritating tic, but I think it actually gets at the fundamental problem that lies under the surface of Captain Marvel – this is a movie more constructed than crafted, and those needle drops feel like part of the construction, a knowing attempt to get in on the ‘90s kid’ generation and their desire to have their own childhood chewed up and spit back into their faces. Big parts of this movie feel inorganic and airdropped in, and those big parts are especially frustrating because Captain Marvel is peppered with small moments of absolutely organic beauty and charm.

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APOLLO 11: Audacious, Triumphant And Necessary

Early in Apollo 11 there is this impossibly clear, incredibly close-up shot of the Saturn booster rocket taking off, lifting the Apollo 11 mission towards space. In this shot you can see the enormous nozzles which funnel the thunderous fire created in the main cylinder of the rocket, and the clarity of this shot lets you see every rivet, every overlapping plate, every spot where human hands had to touch and manipulate this metal to create the miracle you’re seeing before you.

It’s an overpowering moment, especially in IMAX. The screen is so huge that you almost get a sense of the scale of the thing (almost – it’s clear that these rockets are so big and the thrust so immense that even the IMAX screen shrinks them down), and the sound is so intense that the deep bass rumble almost disrupts your atoms. But it isn’t just the physical scale of it all that is overpowering; what makes Apollo 11 a brilliant film is how it captures both the material achievement of the mission and the spiritual achievement. In moments like that we are not only in awe of the size and fury of the rocket, we are overwhelmed with the knowledge that humans came together to do this thing, and to do it well.

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HORROR NOIRE Does What All Great Film Docs Do: Make You Want To Watch Movies

Disclosure: I know one of the producers of this film.

One of the more gratifying things over the past few years has been seeing so many places online come to understand that politics and entertainment are inextricably linked. Years ago, when my career was at its peak, I would be told to keep the politics out of my writing, often by colleagues whose entire sites are now given over to social justice content. But there’s no way to write about entertainment without writing about the world that produced the entertainment; our most basic assumptions about what makes a person heroic are inherently political.

That doesn’t mean everything needs to be a fucking drag. You can talk about the cultural and political ground out of which entertainment grew without making it a polemic. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror gets it absolutely, 100% right, investigating the connections between the American Black experience while also having fun with some wild, crazy and even brilliant horror movies.

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Now On Patreon: INFERNO (1980) Review

Did you know I have a Patreon that helps support me and my writing? Patrons at the $10 and above levels get exclusive writing. This week they got a review of Dario Argento’s Inferno,which I’ve excerpted below. If you want to read the whole thing, become a patron at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha!

This does contain spoilers for Inferno.

Almost no one in the US has seen Dario Argento’s Inferno on the big screen, and that is a crime. The sequel to Suspiria, one of Argento’s defining films, Inferno fell between the cracks during a studio restructuring and was released straight to video, getting only a short New York City theatrical run. But Inferno is very much a big screen movie, and I don’t just mean that in terms of visuals; the film plays best when it envelops you in its dream logic, when you’re away from your couch and forced to sink into its surreal and sometimes nonsensical moments. Inferno isn’t just a movie with scary scenes, Inferno is a movie that shows us the world as inherently twisted, skewed and frightening, a place that cannot be understood. The horror here is often exquisitely existential.

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VICE: How We Amused Ourselves Into An Eternal War On Terror

“In a free society some are guilty, all are responsible.” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

You have to face your role in the problems in your life. That’s a hard lesson to learn, because the instinct is to always blame others for your problems. But the reality is that you can’t control others, you can only control yourself, and so you need to look back at all the fucked up stuff in your life and say “What was my role in that?” By doing this you can move forward without making that same mistake again – whether it’s trusting someone you shouldn’t trust, staying in a relationship you shouldn’t stay in, or not taking part in the political process for a solid decade and change.

See, that’s a big part of what Adam McKay’s Vice is about – the way that all of us, out here amusing ourselves to death, let the Phantom of the Neocons slide into power and totally knock the Earth off its axis, creating the century of chaos in which we now live. It’s not an easy message – and maybe it’s coming at us with a little too much force by the end of the movie, a little too much finger pointing – but it’s a vital message for us all to internalize if we have any hope of saving the world at all.

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