The Founder: Michael Keaton at his best

A great unknown tale with a dynamic Keaton performance.

“Business is war. It’s dog eat dog and rat eat rat. If you are drowning, I’ll come over and stick a hose in your mouth.”-The Founder

The American Dream means something different for everyone. For Mick and Mac McDonald, the dream was simple; opening a popular way to deliver fast food with quality and efficiency. They did that in San Bernardino, California after a few failed endeavors. For Ray Kroc, a struggling salesman: the dream was to find something truly revolutionary, grasp it, and never let go.

When these three men met, the world and the fast food industry changed forever. The Founder is an entertaining, if light and tone deaf, ride for cinema audiences to endure. Director John Lee Hancock doesn’t aim for the Oscars here with his routine retelling of a bittersweet tale, but that doesn’t mean it is worth skipping. The film works for a few good reasons.  Continue reading “The Founder: Michael Keaton at his best”

Hidden Figures: An entertaining history lesson

While not Oscar worthy, the film delivers the goods.

Perception is a dangerous thing. Sometimes, it can rob you of what really lies beneath the surface. Welcome to “Hidden Figures”; a film with purpose and swagger that informs without tiring the soul.

In 1961, three African American women helped John Glenn reach outer space. They were smarter than most and were relentless in their drive to become “the first” to do something extraordinary. Without them, space travel wouldn’t have reached its peak fast enough and the United States may have lost the race to space to Russia. Perception nearly robbed America of a monstrous leap forward and advancement in a field that few could conquer back then. Continue reading “Hidden Figures: An entertaining history lesson”

John Wick 2: Proof that great action films still exist

Everything served here is better than the original.

“Do you want a war, or do you want to just give me a gun?”-John Wick

Let’s hope that John Wick never really retires, because the action lovers need him.

“John Wick: Chapter 2” is proof that great action films still exist. You will leave this film on a high that few films can produce, and you will exit the theater needing more of it. In a day and age where pure guilty pleasure action adventures are dying nearly as quick a death as westerns, here comes a sequel to the best action film of the past decade(the original “John Wick”) that doesn’t just earn its place, but improves on the original. You heard me right: “John Wick: Chapter 2” takes the world of the original and expands on it with great delight and panache.

Thank goodness a studio head allowed former stunt man Chad Stahelski to direct a film and recruit the actor he doubled for in The Matrix; Keanu Reeves. Watching the action-lover’s ballet that takes place in this film is like revisiting an old friend that you thought died a while back. The exact dose of adrenaline that it takes to acknowledge that a film is doing its job is on display here. Stahelski and Reeves deserve an Oscar for the stunts they create and execute here. It’s the little things that stand out. The roles that a waterfall and a row of cars on a declining street play in a gunfight. The way that a crowded room can turn into a dedication to a 1980’s John Woo action flick. Too much action and blood in “John Wick” is simply not enough.

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All I hear about Reeves is how he is a wooden actor and he doesn’t do a good job, but those people don’t get the point. Action stars aren’t required to act. They need to convince, have a presence and do the grunt work. Keanu Reeves didn’t enter Hollywood to win an Oscar, so he puts in the hard work of an action star, and that is where he flourishes.

“Speed”, “Point Break” and “The Matrix” are good doses of Reeves, but his best work is playing John Wick with restraint and confidence. He doesn’t have a lot of dialogue as this character, but the greatest action heroes in the history of cinema didn’t either. He goes to work when the bullets fly and the knee caps snap. Reeves is 50 and simply doesn’t care anymore. He’s leaning into what he knows best.

Derek Kolstad’s script is a perfect tool for the outrageous stunts and kinetic energy of the franchise, and the little quirks are the real kickers. The way these deadly assassins live by certain codes, and have the honor that bad guys in other films don’t have. The action stretches from New York to Rome in this film, and fans of the first film get to see a new Continental Hotel in action. A particular sequence that shines is where Wick is walking wounded down a street and has to take out hitman after hitman, because they all get the open contract on his head at once. The script is precise without losing the touch of what made the original great. Make the action the star.

The supporting cast is great, and pairs well with Reeves. Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and John Leguizamo have small — yet vital — parts. There’s a wonderful Neo-Morpheus reunion with Laurence Fishburne, and Common has a few killer battles with Reeves. Everybody fits into their roles seamlessly.

The action is like a well-written symphony, with layered entertainment that doesn’t just end with a bullet or punch. You’ll chuckle at the sight of Wick sending a man flying with his car door, or an extended fight that gathers intensity as it escalates or the patience of a final gun battle between Wick and his main adversary in a diverse maze of mirrors and doors. John Wick enters the dragon at one point in this film, and it’s a great homage to action films that cut the nonsense and delivered the goods.

That is what “John Wick: Chapter 2” does so well. It expands on the plot of the original, brings in new players, assembles two gadgets, but retain the direct entertainment process that made the 2014 film so good. There are no romantic subplots or slowing devices. At two hours, the film moves quick, and doesn’t waste a second of your time.

If you have a fever and a methodical action film made with true artistry is the cure, “John Wick: Chapter 2” is the prescription. It is the rare sequel that wasn’t just required and desired, but improves on the original and leaves you asking for a third dose.

2017 Oscars: Envelope mix-up disguises boring show, tired formula, and breakthrough wins

Next year’s show needs to be a lot better.

When people look back on the 2017 Academy Awards, they will remember two films being announced as Best Picture and a pair of producing groups huddling on stage like a couple sports teams confused after a coin-flip. That’s it, painfully.

It wasn’t exactly Bonnie and Clyde: Part Two on stage with Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, but it was a bizarre scene.  The 79 year old actor was given the wrong envelope for the night’s biggest award, but were movie fans given the wrong show on Hollywood’s biggest night?

First, Jimmy Kimmel didn’t leave a mark as host, and that’s on him and the writing team. Perhaps people find him funny near the stroke of midnight or after dark, but on Sunday he was anything but funny. He’s the guy who gets up on the stage at open mic night at an underground comedy club, and literally slices through the room with his dry wit and arsenal of recycled jokes that had been overcooked by someone else already.

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On a night where Donald Trump’s new role as executive in chief was mocked more (not that much more though) than Oscar winner Mahershala Ali’s first name, Kimmel didn’t do much to impress. He was a popular yet tired dish as the Academy ordered.

As thoughts begin to move around the room for next year’s host, it’s important to look back on a show that was a spectacle for all the wrong reasons: the show’s late gaffe and mismanagement of a very long show. When it was all said and done, the channel was flipped and a smirk was on my face, and I love the movies.  Continue reading “2017 Oscars: Envelope mix-up disguises boring show, tired formula, and breakthrough wins”