Ian McShane

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017, Chad Stahelski)

If—and it's a big if—there's anything interesting about John Wick: Chapter Two as a sequel, it's how poorly the original filmmakers execute the sequel. It feels like a contractually obligated affair, only with the original principals returning.

Well, save David Leitch who produced the first film and was the (uncredited) co-director. Guess we know who brought all the energy. Because Chapter Two’s direction and action scenes are exactly what you'd expect from a contractually obligated sequel. There are big set pieces but with the locations, not the fight choreography, not the direction, not the editing (Evan Schiff’s cuts are middling at best). There's not even good (or enthusiastic) soundtrack selections. There aren't any sequences with distinct accompanying songs. The score’s no better; Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard’s score does a minimalist Western theme for unstoppable assassin Keanu Reeves and it's a bad choice. It doesn't bring anything. John Wick: Chapter 2: it doesn't bring anything.

The movie starts shortly after the first one. In the first one they killed his dog and stole his car; Chapter 2 begins with him getting the car back from an exceptionally bad Peter Stormare. One cameo from John Leguizamo later (the film would’ve been immeasurably improved with more Leguizamo, who’s likable in a film without much likable) and Reeves is retired. Moments after re-burying his suitcase of guns and assassin credits (the criminal underworld, globally, operates on single gold coins in John Wick world), bad guy Riccardo Scamarcio shows up at Reeves’s door with a job he can’t refuse because in John Wick world, the plots don’t work if there aren’t jobs you can’t refuse. Being an assassin means following the rules; returning Ian McShane, who’s possibly the only consistently welcome frequent supporting player, can’t shut up about the rules. At least he’s amusing with it. Common, who plays Reeves’s target’s bodyguard, can’t shut up about the rules and he’s terrible at it. The film’s bereft of good villains. Common’s not good to start then gets worse the more the film asks of him. Scarmarcio doesn’t seem terrible when he arrives, then gets worse as things progress, but some of the problem for him is the stupid plot being, you know, stupid.

After getting his house burnt down for initially refusing the offer he can’t resist, Reeves meets up with McShane (to get McShane in the movie before he needs to be), then has his equipment prep sequence, which has him getting a bulletproof suit—like, tailored suit, not special outfit, suit suit, just bulletproof—and guns from Peter Serafinowicz (whose Q cameo is one of the film’s better ones). Reeves of course using all the guns he gets, including the AR-15 the film includes to show its love for gun culture, which never gets actually exciting because they’re not gadgets or even distinct weapons. The bulletproof suit comes in handy for Reeves walking around twisting and adjusting his suit jacket to block during gun fights. Handy for Reeves. It looks really stupid.

Also stupid-looking is the big finale with the amped up hall of mirrors shootout. For a second it seems like director Stahelski is including the hall of mirrors to do something fresh or innovative with the trope. Instead, he just adds some CGI to it and calls it good. Then it goes on forever. A lot of John Wick 2 is tedious. Especially the fight scenes, which are never well-choreographed enough to be interesting on their own; they don’t have much dramatic weight as it seems unlikely any of the goons Reeves fights are going to be able to take him.

Speaking of Reeves… he’s really bad here. It’s Derek Kolstad’s script, which seems unfamiliar with how Derek Kolstad’s script for the first film dialogued Reeves. Reeves has a lot of action hero one-liners. They’re all bad, with some being stupider than others.

Can’t forget the Larry Fishburne cameo. He’s really bad. Obviously he’s a Matrix stunt cast but you’d think they’d make sure he and Reeves would at least be fun together. They’re not

I guess Ruby Rose, who plays a deaf (or possibly just mute, it’s unclear) assassin, gets away somewhat unscathed. She’s not good, but she’s also not bad. Not being bad is a rarity in John Wick: Chapter 2. It’s a great example of sequel as pejorative.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Chad Stahelski; written by Derek Kolstad; director of photography, Dan Laustsen; edited by Evan Schiff; music by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard; production designer, Kevin Kavanaugh; costume designer, Luca Mosca; produced by Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Keanu Reeves (John Wick), Riccardo Scamarcio (Santino D’Antonio), Ian McShane (Winston), Ruby Rose (Ares), Common (Cassian), Claudia Gerini (Gianna D’Antonio), Lance Reddick (Charon), Laurence Fishburne (Bowery King), and John Leguizamo (Aurelio).


John Wick (2014, Chad Stahelski)

John Wick is all right. It feels like if it’d been made in the nineties, it’d have been revolutionary. Instead, it uses all the revolutionary and not revolutionary film techniques since the nineties to make the ultimate in mainstream heavy metal neo-pulp, with a twist of seventies exploitation for good measure. It succeeds because of lead Keanu Reeves, who’s got the best pleasant angry face and does enough of his stunts—and director Stahelski knows how to showcase Reeves during those stunts—to keep the viewer engaged with his unstoppable killing machine as he moves through the video game of a story.

The film opens with Reeves seemingly fatally wounded, nothing left to do but watch a video of him and Bridget Moynahan on a beach. Cue flashback montage showing how Reeves and Moynahan were happily together (married we find out, post-montage), then she dies (from a long-term fatal illness), then she (posthumously) gets Reeves an adorable little puppy to keep him company. To this point, we haven’t seen Reeves do any action hero stuff. In fact, it feels like the film’s doing a riff on tearjerkers, only tongue in cheek.

Only then Russian mob weasel Alfie Allen steals Reeves’s car and kills the puppy so Reeves is going to get payback. The film’s first act is a lot better written than anything else, even when it feels like video game cutscenes. And John Leguizamo’s first act cameo as the first guy from the old life Reeves meets up with. Turns out Allen is son of Reeves’s former employer, Michael Nyqvist, who owes his empire to Reeves. Great performance from Nyqvist. Not a great part, unfortunately, but a great performance nonetheless.

The rest of the film, outside the detailed world-building with hotels in a Flatiron Building stand-in where all the assassins stay and it’s off limits for contracts and everyone pays each other in single gold coins and Reeves gets power-up pills because it’s kind of just Super Mario Bros. John Wick’s never very complicated. It’s got a lot of guns (without being too gun porn-y, Stahelski’s about the action not the details), a lot of bit characters, and a lot of thorough action scenes courtesy Stahelski, producer and apparently uncredited co-director David Leitch, cinematographer Jonathan Sela, but really editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir. Ronaldsdóttir, almost as much as Reeves, makes John Wick. Even when the movie’s too loud for too long—the heavy metal action thing is no joke, they have a new Marilyn Manson song for John Wick. The film’s incredibly committed to itself. Even when it gets a little much. Stahelski’s good at the action scenes but they’re not technically innovative, they’re just excellent. The film’s a series of successfully established techniques, in action, in storytelling, smartly arranged, given life by a perfectly stone-faced Reeves and an exceptional editor.

The supporting cast has some excellent extended cameos—Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe. Lance Reddick… fine, but not excellent because it’s a crap cameo. Adrianne Palicki is better than you’d think in her extended cameo as unscrupulous fellow assassin but she’s not particularly good. She’s fine. The only one not fine is Dean Winters, as Nyqvist’s chief flunky; he serves no purpose in the film other than to take up space. Someone could make something amusing out of it, Winters does not. And Allen’s decent as the standard failed son of great mobster but he ends up with nothing to do. Except somehow be the only person Reeves can’t manage to hit.

Finally, if you are going to give John Wick a watch, I feel I need to warn you about the subtitles. The film stylizes its subtitles in some truly obnoxious ways. The worst thing isn’t even the visual appearance—I mean, of course it is but the absurd visual appearance just draws attention to the pointlessness of the dialogue. If he’s not writing monologues for the guest stars, writer Derek Kolstad’s got no idea what to say. When it’s Reeves, who doesn’t have to say anything (in fact, most of his dialogue is eventually just him repeating back statements from his adversaries), it’s fine. When it’s guest stars monologuing, it’s fine. When it’s the bad guys talking about Reeves coming to kill them and what they need to do?

It’s nonsense.

In the end, Wick’s nonsense and its successes basically even out. It’s definitely a successful action movie, but maybe not a significant one… because it’s just built on previous films’ significant successes. Wick riffs on a number of them, just with the technology and ability to execute them flawlessly, but without any character and without any risk.

So thank goodness for Reeves and Ronaldsdóttir. And Nyqvist.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Chad Stahelski; written by Derek Kolstad; director of photography, Jonathan Sela;edited by Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir; music by Tyler Bates and Joel J. Richard; production designer, Dan Leigh; costume designer, Luca Mosca; produced by Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria, and Mike Witherill; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Keanu Reeves (John Wick), Michael Nyqvist (Viggo Tarasov), Alfie Allen (Iosef Tarasov), Willem Dafoe (Marcus), Dean Winters (Avi), Adrianne Palicki (Ms. Perkins), Omer Barnea (Gregori), Toby Leonard Moore (Victor), Daniel Bernhardt (Kirill), Bridget Moynahan (Helen), John Leguizamo (Aurelio), Ian McShane (Winston), Bridget Regan (Addy), and Lance Reddick (Charon).


The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1986, Jeannot Szwarc)

If it weren’t for director Szwarc actually being French, The Murders in the Rue Morgue might be the perfect post-modern adaptation.

It’s Americans pretending (without accents, thankfully) to be French. Poe, an American, had never been to France when he wrote the original story. So there’s an artificiality to it, which really fits the story as it turns out.

Unfortunately, Poe’s short story was an earnest attempt. This film version–produced for television–is not. It appears to be an American attempt to capture the ambience of the Granada Television’s “Sherlock Holmes” television series. Rue Morgue‘s producers fail.

The biggest problem is the script; screenwriter Epstein pads the adaptation with rote melodrama (Dupin, played by George C. Scott, not only has a daughter–Rebecca De Mornay–with romance troubles, he’s also got a professional adversary in Ian McShane). Most of the additions play as to Scott being a grumpy old man. I assume aging Dupin was to fit Scott, as a bit of stunt casting.

As far as the acting goes, I suppose McShane gives the film’s only good performance. He’s a slimy politician and he enjoys it. Kilmer and De Mornay are both earnest, but not any good in poorly written roles. Kilmer has these wild, theatrical arm gestures in his scenes with Scott… almost as though he’s trying to get Scott’s attention.

Scott’s performance is lifeless, somewhat appealing out of respect for his ability, but utterly empty.

Szwarc’s direction is similarly limp.

It’s a trying ninety minutes.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc; teleplay by David Epstein, based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe; director of photography, Bruno de Keyzer; edited by Eric Albertson; music by Charles Gross; produced by Robert Halmi Jr.; released by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring George C. Scott (Auguste Dupin), Val Kilmer (Phillipe Huron), Rebecca De Mornay (Claire Dupin), Ian McShane (Prefect of Police), Neil Dickson (Adolphe Le Bon), Maud Rayer (Melle L’Espanaye), Maxence Mailfort (Inspector Alphonse), Fernand Guiot (Dupar) and Patrick Floersheim (The Sailor).


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Death Race (2008, Paul W.S. Anderson)

Death Race opens with an almost too classy intro text (reminiscent of Escape from New York, intentionally I’m sure) informing the viewer in 2012, the U.S. economy collapses. Death Race opened in August 2008… is Paul W.S. Anderson now a seer? With all-powerful, insulated corporations and cops beating protesters… it’s the perfect movie for this year. It’s just too bad they were using rubber bullets instead of Tasers, so I guess Anderson isn’t always spot-on in his fortune telling.

All joking aside, Death Race has to be Anderson’s best film. He manages to fully embrace his own mediocrity, but here he infuses it with a more capable cast than usual and his action scenes are good. They aren’t exciting, but they’re masterfully executed, which is more than enough to engage the viewer. It’s the only time I’ve ever thought of Anderson in the same vein as Carpenter–but whereas Carpenter was inventive, Anderson’s simply a competent recycler of other people’s better ideas.

There isn’t a single interesting thing Anderson does in Death Race, except maybe go soft for his ending. But it’s slick and well-produced.

The key is Jason Statham. Statham can make Anderson’s dialogue sound good. There are other good performances in the movie, but only Statham’s delivery rises above the material. The secret to Statham’s solid performance–as usual for him–is his ability to appear to be an intelligent actor but never condescend the material. The more respectable actors in the cast–Joan Allen and Ian McShane–are both aware of Death Race‘s artistic import (specifically, its lack thereof). Allen seems to be slumming for fun and has a great time, while McShane is miscast. While he’s fine, he doesn’t embrace the movie’s absurdity. He isn’t having fun and all Death Race is about is fun.

Another solid performance comes from Tyrese Gibson. I’ve never seen him in anything before–wait, I guess he was in Transformers but didn’t make an impression; his performance is strong. He’s a likable antagonist. He doesn’t manage to escape all of Anderson’s lousy dialogue–in some ways, he has the worst of it–but his good moments far exceed his bad. Anderson always ends Gibson’s scenes with some exit line and the exit lines are always terrible. Some of them even look like they were added in post-production, which is unfortunate.

Death Race actually comes close–during the racing scenes, where Anderson is running a pure filmic adrenaline line–to being a good movie. Because these are the best scenes and are unrelated to the larger story, it’s obviously not going to work out. But they’re good enough to convince some magic might occur. After all, he did see the future of the economy. The ending disappoints in some ways–despite handling Allen so well, he objectifies Natalie Martinez (after spending the whole movie not treating her in that manner). I forgot about Martinez above; she’s okay, some bad scenes, some good… but better than expected. Just like the rest of the movie.

Wait, I’m wrong. Anderson does do something really interesting with Death Race. He implies Gibson’s character is gay. One scene gives Gibson the opportunity to deny it and he doesn’t. It’s a bold move for a b-movie pseudo-blockbuster….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; screenplay and screen story by Anderson, based on a screenplay by Robert Thom and Charles B. Griffith and a story by Ib Melchior; director of photography, Scott Kevan; edited by Niven Howie; music by Paul Haslinger; production designer, Paul D. Austerberry; produced by Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Roger Corman and Paula Wagner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jason Statham (Jensen Ames), Joan Allen (Hennessey), Ian McShane (Coach), Tyrese Gibson (Machine Gun Joe Mason), Natalie Martinez (Elizabeth Case), Max Ryan (Pachenko), Jacob Vargas (Gunner), Jason Clarke (Ulrich), Frederick Koehler (Lists), Justin Mader (Travis Colt), Robert LaSardo (Grimm) and Robin Shou (14K).


The Last of Sheila (1973, Herbert Ross)

The Last of Sheila has the most constantly deceptive structure I’ve seen in a while. Watching the time code on the DVD player (and on the laserdisc and VHS players before it, and the clock for televised films even before those inventions) really changes the way one experiences a film. I’m always telling my fiancée we watch films at home and see them at the theater. It’s a measure of control. One can pause, rewind–and stop (I guess this website is more about video-watching than theatergoing, otherwise it’d be called The Walk Receipt or something–it’d actually be called The Golden Ticket after a particular theater’s refund ticket). Anyway, during The Last of Sheila I kept frequent note of the time. It’s a mystery with a cast of familiar stars going somewhere and… mystery ensuing. Since it’s a closed location (a yacht) and Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins wrote (don’t know why I’m attributing this assumption to them, but I am), I figured it’d be stagy, like an adapted play. Obviously, I shouldn’t have made that assumption, just because the film’s all about Hollywood people. The film isn’t traditional–one could sit and use the time code alone to discuss how the story works. Lots of things happen at the thirty minute mark and then a lot happens around ninety minutes. It’s a two hour movie. Even with that frequent observation of the time code, I couldn’t tell where The Last of Sheila was going. I guessed at the culprit, but I never guessed at the eventual resolution, or how the film got there. It’s remarkable, especially since the film started out with director Herbert Ross doing all the lame stuff I associate with his name and it’s incredibly unfortunate Sondheim and Perkins didn’t go on to anything else. It’d be impossible for them to have topped Sheila, because one would have expected it from them–and the casting is incredibly important in ways I can’t possibly discuss without spoiling something–but I would watch a film, written by those two, about two kids who decide to open a pickle-farm. I imagine it would have been wonderfully effective.

As I said, talking about the cast is difficult, but there are some people I can point out. Obviously, Joan Hackett is quite good, but so is Ian McShane, who was once young and slim. James Mason is good. James Coburn I’ve never been able to figure out. He’s good in some stuff, but in other stuff he’s unbearably campy. I thought he was going to go campy for Sheila, but doesn’t. The only weak actor is Raquel Welch, who’s essentially playing herself. She can’t do it.

I was going to say one would have to be familiar with some film history to fully appreciate The Last of Sheila, but that judgment was wrong. It’s just a really good mystery. Even if the locations (and sets) bring more to it than Herbert Ross did.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Herbert Ross; screenplay by Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins; director of photography, Gerry Turpin; edited by Edward Warschilka; music by Billy Goldenberg; distributed by Warner Bros.

Starring Richard Benjamin (Tom), Dyan Cannon (Christine), James Coburn (Clinton), Joan Hackett (Lee), James Mason (Philip), Ian McShane (Anthony) and Raquel Welch (Alice).


Scoop (2006, Woody Allen)

Scoop starts out on awkward footing. The film follows Ian McShane’s recently deceased reporter on the boat across the Styx, where he gets a great scoop. McShane’s great and Woody makes the scene a lot of fun. Unfortunately, when Scarlett Johansson and Woody the actor show up in the next scenes, they can’t compare to the McShane scenes. For the first act, Scoop doesn’t work right. Woody can’t decide whether Johansson’s a ditz or not. When she is the ditz, it’s good stuff, the most realistic ditz I’ve seen in a while, but the character alternates during the scenes. Even more, during the first act, Woody and Johansson don’t act well together. At first, I thought it was because I couldn’t separate Woody the actor and Woody the director, but then he started masquerading as Johansson’s father in English society and I was too busy laughing to think about it anymore.

Woody plays a complete jackass, embarrassing the mortified Johansson over and over. She’s being romanced by Hugh Jackman during these scenes, which just makes it more horrifying. From this point, the film gets a lot better, getting itself on a firm narrative. Johansson comes off as less of a Woody muse in Scoop than she did in Match Point (he gives himself just as much to do) and, while appealing, her performance is kind of flat–if they’d been going for the character as a ditz, she’d be great, but they don’t. Woody’s hilarious, fully comfortable now in the non-romantic goof-ball lead. As the possible bad guy, Hugh Jackman’s great. I already mentioned McShane’s great performance…

At ninety-six minutes, I suppose Scoop takes too long before it gets started–and that accelerating isn’t the most pleasant–but it’s steady once it gets going, even getting better as it enters the third act. Still, I prefer it when the “light” Woody Allen films have a little more meat.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Remi Adefarasin; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Maria Djurkovic; produced by Letty Aronson and Gareth Wiley; released by Focus Features.

Starring Woody Allen (Sid Waterman), Hugh Jackman (Peter Lyman), Scarlett Johansson (Sondra Pransky), Ian McShane (Joe Strombel), Charles Dance (Mr. Malcom), Romola Garai (Vivian), Kevin R. McNally (Mike Tinsley), Julian Glover (Lord Lyman), Victoria Hamilton (Jan) and Fenella Woolgar (Jane Cook).


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