Action

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

First Hit: Entertaining, full of unbelievable action, and an excellent setup for Chapter 4.

One can only enter the theater knowing you're going to see lots of shooting, hand to hand combat and knife fighting. This film doesn’t fail at delivering this.

When we last saw Mr. Wick (Keanu Reeves) in Chapter 2, John had broken the rules of the Continental Hotel and Winston (Ian McShane), proprietor, was ready to put out a contract on Wick’s life.

This is where Chapter 3 opens. John is running through New York City, looking for a place to hide from the assassins that are ready to kill him for the $14M that is being offered for his extermination.

There is a countdown, and when the 6:00 PM execution time happens, the world seems to be after Wick. In this world, assassins are everywhere. Yes, I only gave glancing thought to this real-world possibility because this is an unreal world story, and even your neighbor is an assassin.

The ludicrousness of many of the fights Wick gets into and wins was out loud laughable (which I and others did) but no less engaging. Yes, some of the choreography was a little stiff with people hesitating for the next lunge, thrust or throw but it was delightful.

That, for me, is the point of this series of films. It is full of entertainment, has little basis in reality and is not presented to make a point. These films make Wick a voice of a man who was drawn back into the violent life, he left for a woman and subsequently a dog (“it’s not just a puppy.”) and now is fighting for his survival.

All the scenes are shot in dark tones, there are few daylight scenes. This aside, I liked many of the sets, from Bowery King’s (Laurence Fishburne) building basement and pigeon coops to the elegance of the Continental Hotel, and all are sets in darkened tones.

Reeves was fun to watch, but as I watched him run, especially at the beginning of the film, I found his running labored and slightly awkward. However, his quips along the way were great, and he only continues to develop and mine this character for pure entertainment. Halle Berry, as Sofia, was fun as the person who owed Wick a favor. Her dogs were a fun part of her scenes. McShane was perfect as the Continental’s proprietor. His role was expanded for this film and will be an integral part of the next. Fishbourne as the elegant Bowery King was memorable. His presence is critical here and will be in the next chapter. Mark Dacascos as Zero, the assassin the High Table uses as the principle assassin to take down Wick, was excellent. Asia Kate Dillon as the High Table’s Adjudicator was good. There wasn’t enough background of her to give me the impression she held all the cards she projected she held. This meant she had to build credibility in this role with her actions, dialogue, and screen presence, and she pulled it off. There’s an authority in her look that makes this role work. Lance Reddick (as Charon, the hotel’s desk man) expanded his previous role to become an excellent protector of the hotel, Winston, and Wick. Derek Kolstad and Shay Hatten wrote an action-oriented script that brought out more of the principal characters. Chad Stahelski directed this film in a way that kept the story and feel of the past films while propelling it into the future.

Overall: This film is a world of its own, and it works as entertainment.

Avengers: Endgame

Fist Hit: A long swan song with highly predictable scenes and very little cohesive clarity.

I’m glad it’s over, and I hope I don’t have to see another Avengers film in my lifetime. Yes, that is how I feel after sitting there for three hours and one minute just to give everyone, in the Avengers franchise catalog, a scene where they could shine a little.

Were there good parts? Yes, a few. I did think Thor (Chris Hemsworth) getting fat from drinking too much beer and lying around playing video games was slightly amusing. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) was showing his age while fading graciously into the great beyond was poignant.

Everyone had their day in the sun in this story. This includes but not limited to; Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Hope Van Dyne/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), and at least twenty other known Avengers, fighting Thanos (Josh Brolin) who had destroyed one-half of the people on Earth as a way to have the inhabitants wake up.

The petty fighting between factions in this group of Avengers was brought forth and forgiven. Simmering mistrusts were rectified. Everything seemed to be tied up in a beautiful neat bow.

But the story was rather meek and dividing up the defeat of Thanos by the various personalities and powers diluted the entire reason for the franchise.

I won’t bother calling out a group or sub-group of actors and their performances as there are too many people to name. Overall, there were no outstanding performances. Everyone did what they were supposed to do, make their screen time be about their character’s strengths and weaknesses, no more no less. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote this overly ambitious screenplay: Make every Avenger have a say in the story and its ending. What they forgot about that this sort of story loses focus, the audience cannot attach themselves to a single hero, and it makes for a really long experience in mediocrity. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo co-directed this, and in the end, they did what the producers wanted.

Overall: I couldn’t wait for the end because the movie came across as an amorphous mass of ideas.

Woman at War

First Hit: A quirky and compelling story about one woman’s fight against the destruction of her homeland, Iceland.

Halla (Halldora Geirharosdottir) is a music choir teacher, and she conducts her choir group in singing native Icelandic songs of joy. However, she’s also a deeply committed activist who is willing to put her life on the line to stop Rio Tinto aluminum plant from producing products that harm the environment.

This plant is located in the rugged highlands of her native country and to stop its production Halla finds ways of shorting out the electric power grid used to run the plant.

This is how the film opens: Halla using a bow and arrow to short the high voltage electrical lines feeding the plant. Then we follow her escape and evade the government’s helicopters which are searching for the person or group of people destroying the factory’s electrical power source.

Then she shows up, well-dressed and out of her rugged clothing, to teach her choir students light-hearted songs. One of the choir member’s Baldvin (Jorundur Ragnarsson) is a member of the government, and he is working closely with Halla to fight the intrusion of this Chinese company into their Icelandic culture. They are cautious when they speak together, as noted by how they put their cell phones in the refrigerator each time they meet to talk strategy of Hella’s next actions.

During an escape from the government helicopters, Hella finds herself on the farm of Sveinbjorn (Johann Siguroarson). He lives alone and calls his dog “Woman.” Sizing up Hella, he decides to help her escape the agents that are looking for her.

Sveinbjorn and Hella develop a trust and friendship which is developed throughout the remaining part of the film. This is a lovely part of the story. Hella also has a sister, Asa (also played by Geirharosdottir), who teaches meditation and yoga.

Four years earlier, both Asa and Hella had applied to become adoptive parents. And just when Hella’s activist events are becoming more involved, she gets a letter and telephone call that there is a young Ukrainian girl ready for her to adopt.

The rest of the film takes us on the conflicted ride of Hella the activist versus Hella the soon to be a mother and letting us see how she attempts to reconcile the difficulties of doing both. It is a wonderful ride, as all the players have an active influence in her next steps.

The quirkiness of the story is added to by a three-piece band that arrives and is staged prominently in particular scenes to add an odd emphasis to each scene. Additionally, there is a three-girl chorus dressed in traditional clothing, that pop-up in scenes to give flavor to the scene’s importance. However, it is the odd interjection of Juan Camillo (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada) a Spanish man traveling through Iceland on his bicycle that brings both unusual enjoyment and how it doesn’t always pay to be in a particular place at a specific time.

I loved seeing the stark ruggedness of the Icelandic countryside, and it was beautifully shot by the cinematographer. The story was wonderfully paced, and the point of one person having an impact was clearly made.

Geirharosdottir was fantastic as both Hella and Asa. She embodied the strength and determination of Hella’s character and the more subtle spiritual aspect of Asa. Ragnarsson was excellent of the partially paranoid government operative who wanted to support Hella’s war against the aluminum company. Siguroarson was amazing. I loved his character and presence in the film. He embodied the single well-entrenched farmer who loved the land he worked as well as the compassion for Hella’s mission. Estrada was wonderful in his role as a sort of an accidental tourist. Olafur Egilsson and Benedikt Erlingsson wrote a very original screenplay. Erlingsson directed this quirky film with aplomb, and the ending was perfect to the cause.

Overall: This film will stay with me as it was both enjoyable and pointedly purposeful.

Alita: Battle Angel

First Hit: The integration of human CG characters and humans in film reached a new level here.

In the past, computer graphic (CG) characters have not, visually or emotionally, felt human enough to engage the emotional or deep feeling part of the audience. Despite the action-oriented basis of this film and the main character, Alita: Battle Angel effectively makes this leap and crosses this border.

We begin with Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) is wandering through a massive pile of debris which is being created by Zalem, a tethered city floating about a mile above the earth’s surface. The waste pile is the discard of Zalem.

Ido finds and picks up the remnants of an android that has a human face, but without a body and an engaged brain that appears undamaged. Taking it home, he attaches a body that he’d built for his now deceased daughter and names the girl Alita, after his dead daughter.

He and his ex-wife Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) had a daughter whom they called Alita. She didn’t have use of her body, and Dr. Ido was building a mechanical body to attach to her head so that she would survive. The daughter died too before he could finish. Bitterness between Ido and Chiren developed, and Chiren joined Vector (Mahershala Ali) to control the earth’s inhabitants. Vector gets his direction and commands from Nova (Edward Norton) who is the supreme being on Zalem.

The new Alita has no previous memories of where she came from and who she is so when she tries an orange for the first time, is blown away by the flavor. Although later she tries chocolate and thinks this taste is far better than the orange.

Alita soon learns she has skills as a fighter and after meeting Hugo (Keean Johnson) begins to show signs of being able to have and show deep feelings. Hugo wants to go up to Zalem that is dumping the garbage on earth because he thinks his life will be better there. Alita is not so sure that this is a good thing as she begins to understand that Zalem is where she came from, she was a weapon.

Where the film excels is watching Alita grow into her emotions and having some emotional intelligence as a young teenage looking girl is impressive. Showing her love for Hugo and her father is so well done that often I didn’t think of Alita as a robot but as an odd looking human with amazingly expressive eyes and facial features even though she had a body made of Nanotechnology components.

The script also gives Alita plenty of opportunities to show her fighting skills. She becomes a Hunter-Warrior. Hunter-Warriors kill enemies of the people and are paid by representatives of Zalem. All the other Hunter-Warriors think Alita is incapable of fighting until they challenge her. Throughout the film, she proves them wrong about her abilities. Through these battles, Alita proves she’s the best warrior on the planet when she wins the famous Motorball game in which the winner gets a free pass to Zalem. The fights are fun to watch, but they are typical CG in that most of the movements are humanly impossible. However, it is her humanness that makes this better than your standard CG fighter film.

Rosa Salazar as Alita was used as the model to develop the facial features and movements for the CG personnel. Waltz is excellent as Dr. Ido, Alita’s creator and father. He does so much with his facial expressions which help us to believe that Alita is real. Connelly is good as Ido’s ex-wife and right-hand person to Vector. Ali was outstanding as Vector the being who controls earth for Nova. Johnson was excellent as Hugo, the young man who has misguided ideas and falls in love with Alita. James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis, and Robert Rodriguez wrote the complicated screenplay that also indicates follow-up films will be made. Rodriguez did a great job of using CG technology to bridge the human/machine gap.

Overall: The enjoyment is in the emotional context of the film as the action scenes are typical.

Cold Pursuit

First Hit: This film was a cross between a Liam Neeson Taken thriller and a black comedy using a Taken like storyline.

The film starts as a typical Liam Neeson film about him making violent amends for wrongdoing to his family.

Here as Nels Coxman (Neeson), his job is running a snow plow for the city of Kehoe Colorado, a small glitzy resort town up in the Rocky Mountains an hour or two outside of Denver. His wife Grace (Laura Dern) hangs around the house, smokes pot and has virtually no lines or involvement in this film. She disappears shortly after their son Kyle (Micheal Richardson) is found dead because of a heroin overdose.

Problem is Kyle doesn’t do drugs which Nels holds on to and determines that someone murdered his son. Because of this, he decides to find and kill the people who did this.

Starting at the bottom of the food chain, he begins with the guy who was with his son and actually set up the problem in the first place when he stole 10 kilos of cocaine from the area the kingpin Trevor ‘Viking’ Calcote (Tom Bateman). Nels, works up the food chain killing people higher up in the Viking organization.

Viking is a controlling arrogant bizarre drug dealer. He’s got a son from a former marriage who spends half of his time with him. His ex-wife is an American Indian. The importance of this is that Viking’s father made a deal with White Bull to split up the drug dealing territory.

When Viking wrongly kills White Bull’s son thinking that the son took his drugs, White Bull and his gang go after Viking.

So now the plot has Nels killing Viking’s gang, one by one, and Viking going after White Bull’s people and White Bull planning to do a significant hit on Viking’s gang for killing his son.

Convoluted? Yes, but when the director creates scenes with hang gliding Indians, hotel front desks with white fur on them, and bizarre killing scenes, one has to really wonder what the director was thinking.

I started laughing out loud at some of the audacious dialogue and strange scenes. It took a few minutes, but then others in the theater joined me in seeing the dark humor of this film.

Neeson did his best to keep the Taken guy in play for this film, but Nels is no Bryan Mills. It would have been interesting to hear the direction he got for this role; be Mills but be ready for dark humor. Dern was not used, had virtually no dialogue, and left me wondering why she even took this role unless to get paid. Bateman was OK in this over the top part. Frank Baldwin wrote an oddly constructed screenplay because of the way the actors said the lines. Hans Petter Moland had an odd vision of this film especially when the Taken series was tracked so differently.

Overall: This film was amusing, although I’m not sure that was the intention along with, intense and Neeson delivered what was expected.