John Wick: Chapter 3 Parabellum is the latest sequel from the surprise hit from back in 2014 starring Keanu Reeves. This is the kind of movie where either you like the format, or don’t and there is very little in between. In many ways I liken this to the Kill Bill movies with Uma Thurman. Both have extreme violence, in quality and quantity, with increased complexity, moves, variations and number of bad guys. In both movies the main character is human, seeking revenge, and does sustain significant (and one would think) paralyzing injuries but manages to venture (and fight) on! John Wick likes the ensure his foes are actually dead by instituting the double head shot. I wish I had a dollar for every head shot that I saw within this movie. For me, that becomes the challenge. Eventually I am de-sensitized from it all. It’s too much, and more of the same. There are a couple striking and remarkable sequences, notably the one where there are numerous display cases filled with various historical knives and other such sharp weapons. Wick is attacked by I can’t remember how many people and it is an intense battle, where more than once I audibly cried out (like “Oooooh!” or “Owwwwww!”). I laugh at the graphic nature of it all, but it is uncomfortable.
All this action over three movies takes place because in the first movie his dog was killed. The ongoing joke is repeated here as well. But it is the truth. The movies are taking place almost in real time where one ends, then the next begins. Basically, because of what John Wick did in the second film, then he becomes a high priced target for all other assassins. There is a good supporting cast, now adding Halle Berry, to already strong Laurence Fishburne, and Ian McShane. A new intriguing character here is the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) who eventually you just want to see get punched in the face. That might be the aim, and clearly there will be more John Wick movies to come, but I am not sure if it is a really good thing to have that feeling. In this day and age, where one thinks that a gathering spot (like the NBA Championship Parade in the streets of Toronto) can be a dangerous place since terrorists and other freaks can see a million people in one place and salivate, perhaps we should be thinking about other means of issue resolution. I know some may say, “but Robbie, this is just entertainment, so just relax on that”, and I am sympathetic with the concept. Hell I have been a purveyor of the concept for years, especially in the context of 60s era cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn and Road Runner, where I argued kids today should be able to see these cartoons which were very violent (Daffy Duck’s bill rotated around his head when he was shot numerous times) but we as kids were able to distinguish between cartoon and real life. Or entertainment versus reality. I may have become desensitized to the violence when I was in grade school by seeing Elmer Fudd end the Rabbit Season/Duck Season debate with a shotgun shell — but I still get squeamish and uncomfortable of seeing endless, senseless, graphic violence and kills because of one dog.
Back in 1976, Sylvester Stallone put on screen an unlikely hit about an over-the-hill down and out boxer who gets his shot for the heavyweight championship of the world, by a Champion (Apollo Creed) who wants to put on a bicentennial show in Philadelphia. He likes the poetry of having an Italian Stallion fighting against him in what is a showcase, charity match. Rocky went on to win Best Picture, as well as a Directing and Film Editing Oscar. Notably the film beat out Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, which most would argue is the film that should have won that year (incidentally Peter Finch won for Network and NOT Robert De Niro too). But I digress. This film has spawned 6 Rocky films and then now tangentially Creed, and the latest Creed II. Rocky was greatly helped by fine supporting performances by Burgess Meredith (nominated for a Supporting Actor Award), Clarence Weathers as Creed, Burt Young as drunken friend Paulie and Talia Shire as Adrian. Meredith as Mickey was 71 years old back in 1976 and he looked every year of it, with his grey hair (what he had left of it) and his overall appearance. He looked frail, although he had a fiery spirit. Fast forward to 2019 and Creed II, where the son of Apollo Creed who just won the Heavyweight title himself is challenged by unknown Russian fighter Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago who killed Apollo Creed in the ring in Rocky III. Michael B Jordan (Black Panther) plays Adonis Johnson, Creed’s son who is getting his life together. He has the title, a girlfriend and his life is moving forward when the challenge comes through. Rocky is his trainer. He doesn’t believe that taking on a fighter with nothing to lose is a good match. All of this is reminiscent of what Apollo’s team said to him in the original Rocky. Rocky now is 73yo, and yet is still all buff, and has the hair weave going to still show how virile he is. Damn if he doesn’t look ready to throw a punch at Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago when they meet up. How trainers have changed and how trainers will look in their 70s!! I wonder if Stallon himself sees the irony in all of this? He actually has his former wife Brigitte Nielson show up as Drago’s former wife in the film to watch her son fight in Russia. In the end the question becomes, does the film work? And it does. The theme of fathers and sons is a strong one. From Stallone and Rocky acting as a father figure to Adonis, to Drago pushing his son ever forward to reclaim his own glory and status through him, to Rocky being estranged from his own son and grandson now that Adrian has since passed. It’s emotional. Rocky has always been that way. The ring provides a backdrop for what happens to these characters around them. Like Rocky, one cheers for Adonis, and wants him to do well (and not get killed). Michael B Jordan was the villian in Black Panther and you cheered to see him overthrown. He plays the hero now, and is good at making you sympathize with him and encourage him to get up when he gets knocked down by the much larger man Viktor Drago, who is a beast. I liked this better than I thought I would. Although the formula has remained much the same for all Rocky related pictures, this one is measured again in the characters and how well you care about them. They have motivations, and backstories and they are not just good and evil. So this is a story that is more uplifting than a John Wick as sequels go.
Finally on Crave I watched a film version of the Shakespearian play As You Like It, from back in 2006. It is directed by Kenneth Branaugh, and has an impressive list of stars including Alfred Molina, Kevin Kline, David Oyelowo, and Bryce Dallas Howard. Howard is likely one of the weaker elements to it. The UK cast members are seasoned and solid including Brian Blessed. I don’t recall the play being staged in Japan during trading times, but this is set there. I have always been drawn to Shakespeare and I wanted to seek out a more of those I have not seen. It was decent. It follows a familiar trail with an Uncle taking over a throne (or a family dynasty) and then there is a mixture of people not acting and behaving as themselves (women dressing and acting as men – however unbelievable it seems on screen) and various characters falling for one another. I had always thought that this was more of a comedy, but it really wasn’t all that funny. In the end, I am glad that I saw it, but I wouldn’t suggest that it needs to be sought out. I like other plays better from Shakespeare.