John Wick: Chapter 4

Posted on March 19, 2023 at 4:23 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and violence
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and very graphic peril and violence, many characters injured and killed, disturbing and gory images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 24, 2023
Date Released to DVD: June 12, 2023
Copyright Lionsgate 2023

I will begin with a quote from another Keanu Reeves movie: “Whoa.”

John Wick: Chapter 4,” almost twice as long as the original, is, like its three predecessors, non-stop action with just enough story and character to establish the stakes. And endless style. As important as the stunts, and reminder, this series was conceived by stunt coordinators, is the demimondaine, the world within a world it occupies. This is the world of assassins. They have their own rules, their own leaders, their own currency, their own telecommunications, a fascinating blend of high and low tech, and their own ultra-luxurious and ultra-discreet hotels. We will not worry about how they support themselves since most of their assassinating seems to be other members of their community, or why none of their chases and shoot-outs never attract anyone from law enforcement.

The rules are made and enforced by a group called The Table, and the person in charge is now an effete French Marquis (Bill Skarsgård just as creepy without the clown make-up as he was in “It”). He is always shown in the grandest possible settings, enjoying exquisite food, drink, art, and music.

And he has a hit out on John Wick. Many many hits out on John Wick.

That’s basically it. A lot of people are highly motivated to kill John Wick, and he goes to various places to avoid being killed and they keep coming after him and he keeps being the takes-a-licking-and-keeps-on-ticking John Wick we know and love.

The Marquis is more in the burn it all to the ground category. He de-sanctifies the Continental Hotel, the sanctuary for all Table-ers. This puts Winston (Keith David) back on John Wick’s side. Most of the intrigue in the film comes from the shifting realignments of the characters’ loyalties. We even get a glimpse of a backstory for John Wick, as he has to re-connect with his family to position himself to resolve things with the Table, permanently.

The Marquis has deployed a former colleague and friend to kill John Wick, the blind assassin Cane (a galvanizing performance by Donnie Yen). It is not about money; that would not be enough. It is the safety of Cane’s daughter. John Wick understands and even respects that. The fights with the two of them are simply spectacular and there is one falling down the steps scene that is an instant classic.

There is a new character in this film who almost steals the movie. He says he is nobody, and that is the only name he has. He has a dog sidekick. Somehow he can find John Wick when no one else has any idea where he is. And he is dazzlingly played by Shamier Anderson. Spin-off, please.

There are many striking locations. There are so so many fight scenes, featuring guns, knives, bigger guns, cars, nunchucks, martial arts, old-school punching, and swords, often combined. And an attack dog. Like all the best action/stunt scenes, they are choreographed like a ballet, even down to the spurts of blood. Even at almost three hours, the franchise has the combination of exciting stunts, expertly paced (if contrary to the laws of physics and, well, reality — and look out for that fall down the steps) and the intriguing world the characters occupy makes this all the fans could wish for.

NOTE: Stay through the credits for an extra scene.

Parents should know that this film is about assassins. There is non-stop action and peril with many characters injured and killed, including major characters, and gory, disturbing images, plus strong language

Family discussion: Why did John Wick want to be known as “loving husband?” What do you think is the meaning of “such is life?” If the series continues, who should be in the next chapter?

If you like this, try: the other John Wick movies and the Matrix series

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Action/Adventure DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel

Last Flag Flying

Posted on November 9, 2017 at 9:28 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout including some sexual references
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and alcohol abuse, smoking, references to drug abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Themes of military service in wartime, sad deaths offscreen
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 10, 2017
Date Released to DVD: January 29, 2018
Copyright 2017 Amazon Studios

Three of the best actors in the world give immense depth and humanity to characters who might so easily have been caricatures in “Last Flag Flying,” about three veterans on a sad personal mission. It’s got a backstory that might be worth a movie of its own. “The Last Detail,” based on the book by Darryl Ponicsan, starred Jack Nicholson and Otis Young as Marines ordered to escort a naive teenaged sailor (Randy Quaid) to serve an eight-year prison sentence for a trivial offense. It was a critical and commercial success due to Nicholson’s performance and a picaresque tone that suited the era. 4 years later, another Ponicsan book about three military men (now long retired from service) on a sad journey with some comic detours comes to the screen, directed by Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”). It is not a sequel, though some of the characters have the same names and some similar histories.

It is 2003. A man carrying a manilla envelope walks into a dodgy little dive bar and orders a beer. The bartender barely glances at him, in the midst of a one-sided conversation with the bar’s only other customer, a regular. “You don’t remember me, do you?” asks the man with the envelope. The bartender, who is also the owner of the bar, takes a good look. “Doc!” he crows. “No one has called me that in years.” Doc is Larry Shepherd (Steve Carell) and the man behind the bar is Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston). They eat pizza, talk about old times, and fall asleep in a booth. The next day, Larry takes Sal to a church, where the Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) is conducting services. The men have not seen each other in decades, but they served together in Vietnam, Nealon and Mueller in the Marines and Shepherd in the Navy.

Mueller is not especially happy to see friends from the days when he was known as Mueller the Mauler, but he invites them to dinner at his home with his wife, Ruth (a splendid Deanna Reed-Foster, warm and wise). It is there that Shepherd explains why he wanted to find them. His son has been killed in action and he wants Mueller and Nealon to accompany him to the funeral. Nealon goes because he wants to do something different. Mueller goes, reluctantly, because he wants to be of service. “They represent a dark period in my life,” he tells Ruth, “a very dark period.” “And you represent God,” she replies.

And so the odyssey begins, with many adventures along the way, and, as Linklater does so well (the “Before” trilogy, “Waking Life”), many wide-ranging conversations, here including discussions of the past and present, the newish technology of the cell phone, sex, sleep, race, order, chaos, war, lies, choices, and consequences. Accompanying them for part of the trip is a Marine who was a close friend of Shepherd’s son (J. Quinton Johnson of “Everybody Wants Some!!!” excellent).

Near the end, Linklater gives us two scenes showing that what might have seemed episodic and slight was deliberate, thoughtful, and meaningful. It is his actors’ respect for the flawed characters they play and Linklater’s own respect for their choices, challenges, and regrets, that show us what we ask of the people who go to war on the other side of the planet because someone thought it would keep us safe, and what we owe them as well.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, drinking, smoking, references to drug abuse, references to wartime violence, and very crude sexual references including prostitution.

Family discussion: What should they have told Mrs. Hightower? Why did Larry want to bring his son home? Who would you call for a journey like that one?

If you like this, try: “The Last Detail” and “Taking Chance”

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Based on a book Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week movie review Movies -- Reviews War

Passengers

Posted on December 21, 2016 at 8:47 pm

Copyright Columbia Pictures 2016

“Passengers” is beautiful to look at, a pretty story about pretty people in a pretty (outer space) setting, but it cannot overcome the ick factor of its premise.

Everyone’s favorite boy we wish lived next door, Chris Pratt, plays a likeable ordinary guy who works with his hands named Jim Preston, one of 5000 passengers and 250 crew in a spaceship on a hundred-year journey to a hospitable colonized planet. Like the spaceship in “Wall-E,” it is set up with every luxury, from sushi restaurant to a genial robot bartender (Michael Sheen). The people on board are in suspended animation for a hundred years, to be awakened four months before arrival, to enjoy the ship’s amenities and prepare for their new home. The ship is gorgeous, though I am not sure how practical it is.

But somehow Jim awakens 90 years early and there is no way to return to his hibernation. He is alone on the spaceship and his plan to emigrate to the new planet is not going to happen. Instead of being a pioneer in a fresh, optimistic new world, he is doomed to spend the rest of his days stranded, sure to die before anyone else on the ship is awake. The ship’s help kiosks briskly inform him that malfunction of the hibernation units is impossible, a reminder of the Titanic’s “unsinkable” hubris. He tries to send a message to the home base on earth, only to learn that it will be more than 30 years before he can get an answer.

So, he basically turns the spaceship into a man cave, living in dirty sweats, growing a beard, drinking, and playing one on no one basketball and one on avatar dance video game. Finally, almost mad with loneliness, he starts looking at the files of the 4999 people still sleeping on the ship, and finds himself captivated with one of them, a journalist from New York with the fantasy name Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). After many discussions with the robot bartender, he can no longer help himself. He knows it is wrong, but he wakes her up, and he lets her think it was due to the same malfunction that woke him.

Decades ago, movies used to have scenes where the guy grabbed the girl and she beat her fists helplessly against his chest, crying, “I hate you!” until he forced her into a passionate kiss, after which she melted into his arms. These were mostly romantic comedies, but we saw some of this and worse in drama, too. Remember Rhett carrying Scarlett up the stairs in “Gone With the Wind,” and 30 years later, Laura falling for her rapist, Luke, on “General Hospital.” (Also see: Zeus and Europa, the Sabine women, the silent classics “The Sheik” and “Son of the Sheik”) But that just doesn’t work any more.

Aurora is entirely a fantasy figure. Even her nudity is highly sexualized, where his is not. By taking away any shred of agency or consent the script sets up an insurmountable obstacle to any kind of relationship for Jim and Aurora, which it makes the fatal mistake of treating as surmountable. There’s the getting-to-know-you part, and then she she-learns-the-truth part and then the not-talking-to-him part, and then the work-together-or-everyone-dies part, but nothing can really support the idea of the romance it tries to persuade us is happening.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi action and peril, sad death with characters injured and a sad death, some disturbing images, issues of predatory behavior and consent, brief strong language, alcohol, sexual references and situations, and nudity.

Family discussion: Why did Aurora make that choice at the end of the film? What would you do if you were left alone?

If you like this, try: “Gravity” and “The Martian”

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Romance Science-Fiction

New on ABC: Black-ish

Posted on September 22, 2014 at 10:20 pm

One of the best new shows of the year is Anthony Anderson’s “Black-ish.”  Anderson plays Andre “Dre” Johnson has a great job, a beautiful mixed-race doctor wife, Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), four kids, and a colonial home in the mostly-white suburbs.  But now that he has given his children a better life, he worries that they are so assimilated into upper middle class white culture that they are losing their identity as African Americans, that they are only “black-ish.”  

The people behind the show have prepared some discussion materials for church and school groups and families.  If you’d like a copy, send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with Black-ish in the subject line.

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Race and Diversity Television
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Have a Little Faith

Posted on November 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Writer Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson) got a very unusual request.  A terminally ill rabbi asked if Albom would write and deliver his eulogy.  “As is often the case with faith, I thought I was being asked a favor,” Albom says.  “In truth, I was being given one.”  At around the same time, Albom met an African-American drug addict and drug dealer turned pastor leading a ministry to Detroit’s homeless population.  Albom’s experiences with these two inspiring men led to the book Have a Little Faith: A True Story, now a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, starring Martin Landau and Laurence Fishburne that will be shown tonight on ABC.

 

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