Review of “John Wick: Chapter4”

I don’t know about your workplace, but mine is thankfully free of interoffice politics. There aren’t any cliques or work BFF’s that try to horde all the power and glory to themselves at the exclusion of anyone that doesn’t fit their criteria. I’ve heard of such places, even within my industry, but having worked at the same place for 28 years, I haven’t been forced to deal with such a thing. I guess I should consider myself lucky, both for having the longevity that I do and for working somewhere people know we all succeed or fail as a group, no individuals. Sadly, over the course of four films, John Wick has had to survive the whims and vendettas of various mobs, contract killers and the High Table. Going into “John Wick: Chapter 4,” I hoped that our hero would finally find the peace and freedom he has killed so many nameless bad guys to achieve, while also entertainingly killing a bunch more nameless bad guys. The body count is high in the film, but does it accomplish its ultimate goal?

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is trying to free himself from the revenge and obligations of the High Table. He’s been hiding in the underground, protected by the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), since Winston (Ian McShane) shot him off the roof of the Continental Hotel. Wick goes to Morocco to ask the Elder (George Georgiou), who is above the High Table, to grant his freedom. When the Elder refuses, John kills him. The death causes the High Table, under the leadership of the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard) to deconsecrate and demolish the New York Continental and declare Winston persona non grata. Wick has a bounty of tens of millions of dollars put on his head. Heading to Japan, Wick seeks help from the manager of the Osaka Continental, Shimazu Koji (Hiroyuki Sanada), an old friend of Wick’s. But the High Table sends a team to kill Wick while also pulling another Wick friend, blind assassin Caine (Donnie Yen), out of retirement to track and kill him as well. There is another killer, Mr. Nobody (Shamier Anderson), along with his trained German Sheppard support animal, that isn’t part of the High Table and is protecting Wick, waiting for the bounty to get big enough to interest him. Winston comes up with an idea to free Wick of the High Table and get the Continental rebuilt, and himself reinstated as manager, but Wick must go through a gauntlet of trained assassins, troops in head-to-toe body armor, and the ever changing politics of the High Table.

Keanu Reeves is, again, a man of few words in “John Wick: Chapter 4.” He lets his fighting and shooting do most of the talking. Reeves is the reason this series works as well as it does. While any leading man could be taught to do the choreography required to film the action scenes, Reeves is able to make the audience care about the fate of John Wick. Wick is a tragic character, doomed to an existence of violence and killing, while only wishing to have his wife and dog back. In case you forgot, or didn’t know, in the first film, Wick’s wife dies of an unnamed illness that takes her without warning. She had arranged for a beagle puppy to be delivered for him to pour his love and grief into after her death. An encounter with some Russian mob guys at a gas station, and their home invasion where the puppy is killed, leads Wick to pick up his guns and start killing again. As several people ask in most of the films, yes, this started because of a puppy. A dog is a big part of the action in “John Wick: Chapter 4” and leads to the development of a new ally.

What most people going to see “John Wick: Chapter 4” are interested in are the action scenes. This sequel delivers the action in spades. Fist fights, shootouts, sword fights and a very long series of falls down a very long set of stairs makes “John Wick: Chapter 4” one of the most action-packed films in history. Even with several long scenes with plot and dialog always feel as if a brawl or shootout could erupt at any moment. Reeves, and what appears to be several hundred stunt performers, put on a ballet of violent mayhem. There are a few moments when, after several people have swung a fist, sword and foot over the top of John Wick’s head, one wonders why they don’t aim lower? And after shooting him numerous times in the torse covered by his Kevlar-infused suit, why don’t they aim for the head? Of course, no one sees a “John Wick” film because of the logic of the action. The audience wants to see a bunch of bad guys dispatched in numerous entertaining ways, especially the one henchman that is the biggest thorn in Wick’s side. On that level, “John Wick: Chapter 4” delivers.

I suppose the question that could be asked about “John Wick: Chapter 4” and the entire film series is what does it all mean? What has Wick accomplished with all the death he’s inflicted on the world? Is it a better place due to the number of people willing to take a life being eliminated from it? Is the cheapness of life in the “John Wick” universe supposed to make the audience reconsider how we look at others and how we take them for granted? I guess there’s a philosophical debate to be had about what the ”John Wick” movies mean within our society. The amplification of violence to the point of it being mind-numbing for the audience may bring out the pop culture and entertainment commentators to complain about the influence of violent media on society. This despite numerous studies that find no correlation between violent entertainment and crime. A troubled person is going to do something horrific whether he’s watched the “John Wick” films or not. Some people are just broken.

“John Wick: Chapter 4” is rated R for pervasive strong violence and some language. I could not begin to list all the ways people are killed in the film. In a nutshell, they are shot, stabbed and, in probably the most graphic death, land on their head after being thrown off a balcony. They also are struck by cars, sending them flying through the air, and killed by a trained attack dog. Foul language is relatively scattered with limited uses of the “F-bomb.”

I have enjoyed all the “John Wick” films. The first established the bare bones of Wick’s assassins’ world. The universe has grown and become more complex from film to film. One wonders just how many hired killers there are in the world as the films have shown text messaging networks and, in the fourth film, a radio station, all the hit people are connected to. Also, considering the number of deaths in these movies, the recruitment effort must be enormous to keep their numbers up. As we see wave after wave of killers coming after Wick and being neutralized in short order, I can’t imagine there being much incentive to train for a career in assassination, unless they include health, vision and dental insurance at no cost, but that seems unlikely. However, this movie isn’t created for the characters in it, it is meant for the audience to enjoy all 169 minutes of it, including a post-credits scene for the first time in the series. Fans of the series will find no complaint about this possibly final installment.

“John Wick: Chapter 4” gets five stars out of five.

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Review of “Mr. Holmes”

Having been out of the consulting detective business for 30 years, a 93-year old Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) fills his days at a home in the English countryside tending his beehives. His mental faculties are beginning to leave him and he is desperate to find a way to reverse his decline. A letter from a Japanese fan of his book on royal jelly begins a correspondence between Holmes and Tamiki Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada). Umezaki tells Holmes about a plant in Japan that is supposed to possess restorative powers for the mind and circulation, leading the detective to travel to the land of the rising sun. After returning from that trip with a sample of the prickly ash plant, Holmes begins using a concoction made from it to aid his memory. Holmes, who was never pleased with his depiction in Dr. Watson’s writings, is desperate to remember the details of his final case so he may set the record straight. Holmes housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker), live with him. Mrs. Munro is a simple, hardworking woman that doesn’t have much need or time for hobbies. Roger is filled with curiosity and, when he’s done with his chores, enjoys spending time with Holmes, learning about the bees and helping him when he can. Holmes, who can be impatient, enjoys spending time with and answering questions from Roger. Holmes gives Roger pages from the story of his last case as Holmes finishes them; but he’s having more and more trouble recalling the details. Holmes knows there’s something about the case that drove him into retirement and longs to discover what he did wrong. He has fond memories of the subject of his investigation, Mrs. Ann Kelmot (Hattie Morahan), but also feels sadness and regret. Holmes is anxious to remember all he can of the case before his mind is completely gone and his time on Earth is over.

Don’t confuse “Mr. Holmes” with the Robert Downey, Jr. portrayal of the consulting detective as they are different as night and day. Where Downey’s Sherlock is quick repartee and action, Sir Ian McKellen’s Holmes is quiet, reserved and more than a bit sad. This Sherlock Holmes is reflective and knows his days are dwindling down to a precious few. At times, Holmes is pitiful and lost in the wilderness of dementia; however, there are moments when the old Sherlock manages to break through and impress those around him with his powers of deduction.

Jumping back and forth in time and from Japan to England, “Mr. Holmes” is a low-key affair that is more about loss, regret and longing than detection. That’s fine as Ian McKellen is brilliant as Sherlock and Milo Parker makes Roger more than just a precocious brat. Their time on screen together is often both magic and melancholy. Holmes sees something of his younger self in Roger: A boy longing to be more than just the product of his surroundings yearning for knowledge and adventure. Holmes also sees the dark side of that desire when Roger lashes out at his mother when she announces she’s accepted a job at a hotel requiring them to move to a different part of the country. Holmes has spent most of his life alone or at least feeling alone and sees a chance that Roger may be headed down this same solitary road. His reaction to Roger’s outburst may be seen as decidedly un-Holmsian but it shows the character as something other than the calculating automaton as he’s frequently portrayed in the books.

McKellen also performs the role of an elderly individual on the verge of their final decline with unusual accuracy and poignancy. Sadly, I have seen what the ravages of time and illness can do with my own father. His decline was at times slow and hardly noticeable and then he seemed to wither and deteriorate right before my eyes. McKellen, who is 76, is himself looking into the last of his days. While he is still vibrant and active he also has the presence of mind to know he has fewer days in front of him than behind. This obviously informed his performance in the scenes where Holmes is his most decrepit. Sherlock Holmes is a superhero of the mind and his arch nemesis is time. A far more dangerous villain than Moriarity and one he can’t outthink no matter how hard he tries. Seeing Holmes at his most vulnerable is heartbreaking on various levels.

As much as I enjoyed “Mr. Holmes” and Sir Ian McKellen’s performance, I had one problem with the movie. As the story winds down an event occurs involving Roger. I won’t give any more detail than that as to not spoil it for those that wish to see the film; however, I will say it feels more than a little manipulative. We already have warm feelings for Holmes, Roger and even Mrs. Munro who is portrayed as militantly ignorant and wants Roger to be that way as well. We learn she feels this way out of fear (again, I won’t spoil it more than that) but the audience views her as cold and mean towards both Roger and Holmes. Things have warmed up a bit in their relationship when this event occurs causing a great deal of fear and anger along with the possible destruction of something Holmes loves like family. It’s all very melodramatic and heart wrenching and seems completely unnecessary. The movie is based on a book called “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin. I’m unsure of how closely the movie follows the book but this final bit of drama feels tacked on for cinematic purposes. Maybe the translation from the page to the screen amplified the emotion or the necessary truncation of events in a book being adapted to a script left out other similarly earthshattering happenings. Whatever the case, it seems out of proportion with the rest of the movie.

“Mr. Holmes” is rated PG for thematic elements, some disturbing images and incidental smoking. We see some survivors of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima with severely scarred faces. Depression and suicide are featured in parts of the story. People are shown smoking in a movie theatre and in a few other locations. Foul language isn’t an issue.

Ian McKellen would have made a fantastic Sherlock Holmes in his younger years. His subtly expressive face and biting sarcasm could possibly have been the defining portrayal of Holmes for the 20th and 21st centuries. While he’s burned into the collective consciousness as Gandalf and Magneto, McKellen’s distinctive features should have been equally as recognizable as the occupant of 221B Baker Street. It’s a shame we’ll never get to see his performance in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” or “A Study in Scarlet.” Fortunately, we do get to see him in the title role of “Mr. Holmes” and that is special and memorable in its own way. While I hold no sway in such things, I believe Sir Ian McKellen deserves a nod for Best Actor when the Oscars roll around again.

“Mr. Holmes” gets five stars.

A couple of films continue their franchises this week. I’ll see and review at least one of them.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation—


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