*NEW* JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 REVIEW *NEW*

He’s back! But bigger and better?

After returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) discovers that a large bounty has been put on his life.

They certainly cranked the gun-fu up to 11 BUT “The Raid 2 of action movies”. I don’t think so.

The opening threw us right into the mix following straight on from the first film with our main man chasing after a motorcyclist to retrieve some medallion or something.

It didn’t really matter what he chasing after because it was all for a car. Remember the car? He didn’t actually get it back.

Does Peter Stormare (Prison Break) even realise he’s becoming a cliche of his own cliched character? Another hilarious generic Eastern European mob boss.

His comical rendition of his last encounter with the Matrix machismo was too much; “He killed a guy with a pencil. A f*cking pencil!”

The scrap yard sequence was ridiculous, OTT but it set up one thing. Old Keanu can still kick ass. It was like something out of a video game. Entrapped in a mosh pit of taxi cabs, waiting for a bigger and nastier villain to deliver the next punch.

The action set pieces were intense enough. BUT the only problem was that the first John Wick came out of the blue and revamped some of the old action cliches and made it into something different.

With the expectations a little higher, Chapter 2 didn’t quite meet up to them this time around. Don’t get me wrong, it still did the job and it is what it is.

A high octane punch em shoot em up but it still toyed aspects of Wick’s past that I wanted exploring. What was this impossible task?! Who decided these rules on territories and why isn’t Ian McShane (Deadwood) in this more?

Riccardo Scamarcio (Burnt) played the smug Santino well. Another unwanted blast from the past. Calling on an old debt to demand one last job from the Boogeyman.

Unfortunately, this was where the pace lagged for me. We had to watch Wick’s inevitable refusal and the predictable outcome that followed. Before reluctantly accepting the task at hand.

The Rome reconnaissance was watchable enough BUT the director stretched out the build up to the point that I was screaming for a shootout.

Less of the flat cryptic dialogue, more of the bang for your buck please!

For the animal lovers, the Boogeyman has a new companion in a loveable blue staffie. Does he suffer the same fate as his furry predecessor?

Well, there’s only one way to find out BUT I’m not saying.

The gun kung fu or gung-fu was brilliantly choreographed. Just when I thought certain scenes were getting a little repetitive, there would suddenly be a new creative and ultra-violent kill that had me wincing.

Stormare wasn’t kidding about that pencil!

Common (Smokin’ Aces) played a worthy adversary. I loved the camaraderie between him and Wick; “Consider this a professional courtesy”.

However, their initial (and incredibly brutal) fist fights soon went on too long and felt more like something out of the Peter Griffin vs Giant Chicken saga. Especially when they were rolling down the stairs. My God!

Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black) had potential as a mute assassin BUT never really got going. Shame.

Laurence Fishburne was not in this enough. He stole the show in his minute cameo. I was disappointed that we couldn’t get one little Matrix quote from ol’ Morpheus.

A shady friend in Wick’s desperate time of need with an alarmingly impressive army of militant homeless men.

The fiery and frenetic closing act certainly made up for the lumbering middle act. It was everything I hoped from the get go.

Relentless, violent and bloody fun. Especially when the bounty was put on Wick’s head. Everybody in New York given the green light to take out Neo.

Mental. I don’t think it would be a spoiler to say that things have been left open for another.

And despite my grumbles, I will be looking forward to the next installment.

BUT is pace and a little more exploration into Wick’s past too much to ask? Don’t make just another generic shooter.

3/5

*NEW* AMERICAN PASTORAL REVIEW *NEW*

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The pace may have tested BUT Ewan McGregor delivered a solid debut and an outstanding performance.

In 1968, a hardworking man (McGregor), whose been a staple in his quaint community for years, watches his seemingly perfect middle class life fall apart as his daughter’s (Dakota Fanning) new radical political affiliation threatens to destroy their family.

The slow burning opener didn’t really get things going as David Strathairn’s (Good Night, and Good Luck) journalist Nathan Zuckerman (A Roth stalwart) attended a high school reunion. It was watchable if a little corny with the narrator reminiscing about the days of old. Wondering what happened to the high school hero who looked set to have it all; Swede Levov.

Cue a flashback to the idyllic suburban town of Rimrock. Described as “a Republican countryside” by Swede’s father (Peter Riegert – Local Hero).

I wasn’t familiar with Philip Roth’s works BUT within two months, I’ve now seen two feature adaptations (Indignation being the other). After 15 minutes, I could already check off his traits. The thought provoking social commentary (Check), the public outcries of war (Check), the overbearing Jewish father (Played to perfection by Riegert).

McGregor was brilliant. His accent may have been a little patchy BUT he was still a charismatic presence.

We went through the highs and lows of Swede and Merry’s relationship as Merry battled her speech impediment and underwent therapy to deal with her social awkwardness.

It was interesting how McGregor captured several scenes as Merry misconstrued the closeness with her father and suffered nightmares from distressing war images from Vietnam. Was that the moment where things went wrong? Her silly teen rebel phase taking a darker turn as a pipe bomb destroyed the local petrol station.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Dakota Fanning in a film. I feared the child star would disappear into obscurity. Thankfully, we had a (almost) resurgent return from the young actress as the radicalized trouble maker.

Politically active and wanting to fight the system. Taking the train and joining protests behind her parents’ backs. If anything, Fanning’s confused Merry reflected and voiced a good portion of the frustrated youth now.

Her political spats turning from healthy debates to aggressive stand-offs with Swede desperate to keep the peace. You could feel for him as he tried to reason with his daughter. Wondering why she despised him for having a business and providing a roof over her head. Fearing that these warped revolutionist views will get her hurt or worse.

Once Merry went on the run with Swede and the police looking for her, I was hooked. It was almost a tense thriller as Swede searched for the truth. Only receiving intel from a “friend”.

Valorie Curry (The Following) was brilliant as Merry’s accomplice Rita. The mind games and blackmail sending him into a frenzy. The paranoia settling in. Does she even know Merry? Is this a game? Things coming to a head in a tense and uncomfortable hotel rendezvous.

As much as I was engrossed with the pursuit, I felt everything else suffered. Anyone could have played Rupert Evans’ (The Man in the High Castle) character. Riegert wasn’t in it enough. His inability to avoid mouthing off a middle class jibe was a missed presence when the pace lagged.

McGregor certainly delivered a fractured depiction of the American dream. Something that couldn’t be more relevant for some people now. The awkward meeting with the widow of the petrol pump attendant was unsettling as Swede took the blame for Merry. Begging for forgiveness.

Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) was left on the sidelines far too much. As much as you could empathise with Dawn’s mental breakdown with the stress finally taking its toll, you felt the story was only really focused on Swede.

And that was it’s greatest strength and weakness. McGregor and writer John Romano may have highlighted crucial turning points through news stories BUT it wasn’t explored enough nor was it as hard hitting.

If anything, it was breezed over a little too quickly. Especially when Swede got caught up in the race riots. I almost didn’t recognize Uzo Aduba from Orange Is The New Black. I wish more was made out of her character as the loyal factory worker. BUT then again it would have been a different movie altogether.

I had to laugh at whoever did the make up in this movie. Considering their ages, McGregor and Connelly are still a very youthful looking couple. I don’t think tweaking their wrinkles with CGI and messing about with their noses was really needed and the ageing process as the film flashed forward was terrible. Swede and his brother (Evans) looked decrepit while Dawn only had a stray grey hair.

BUT the finale still packed an emotional punch with Swede reaching breaking point. Unearthing more than he could have ever anticipated. McGregor really delivered the heartbreak and anger perfectly as the film came to its sombre ending.

Despite it’s flaws, it was still an engaging and heartfelt drama that is worth a gander.

3/5

*NEW* THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN REVIEW *NEW*

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I’ll think I’ll wait for the next train.

A slow burning thriller that (with a little perseverance) delivered a decent pay-off.

A divorcee (Emily Blunt) becomes entangled in a missing persons investigation that promises to send shock waves throughout her life.

Based on the bestselling novel . . . How many more times are Hollywood going to scrape the barrel? I haven’t had the pleasure of reading the Paula Hawkins novel BUT have been told on good authority (by my Mum and Aunt who may or may not be scouting through this review) that it stayed pretty close to its source material.

The slow burning pace and flicking about subdued my griping. The fractured time frame spanning from six months to the present kept things interesting. Mainly because I had no idea what was going on.

BUT that was the main appeal for me as we were told tidbits of a disjointed story through an unreliable narrator; struggling alcoholic Rachel. Emily Blunt was brilliant as the plastered protagonist. You really felt for the broken beauty. Her fascination with a house, that the line stops by every day, soon borderlines on obsession.

It felt like a noir flick with all the shady characters; Rachel drinking to forget, the alluring but flawed Haley Bennett’s (The Magnificent Seven remake) fooling around and manipulating men to her own devices and Rebecca Ferguson’s (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation) depressed housewife not quite living the perfect life.

The different viewpoints from the three ladies left me trying to decipher whose story to believe. You could feel your empathy changing towards each character as we delved further into their pasts. BUT things reached boiling point when Rachel woke up (from another drunk train ride) covered in blood with no recollection of the night before.

If anything, The Girl on the Train was very much in the same vein as Before I Go To Sleep (Another recommended thriller) with Rachel’s drunken blackouts and inability to piece anything together plummeting her into a dangerous pursuit for the truth. Unwittingly setting herself up as the prime suspect in a murder case.

That’s not to say there weren’t enough red herrings. The small supporting cast played the parts perfectly. It was good to see Luke Evans play something other than a panto villain in a horror flick or Fast and Furious movie. He played Megan’s brooding and possessive husband well.

I was also impressed to see Alison Janney play a straight role as Detective Riley. Especially after her turn in that terrible sitcom Mom. Laura Prepon (Orange is The New Black) didn’t do a bad turn as Rachel’s supportive friend Cathy. Justin Theroux (The Leftovers) was a solid lead as Rachel’s ex Tom. Reluctant to completely shut Rachel out from his life.

I was disappointed that Phoebe from Friends (Lisa Kudrow) had such a small and dismal role. Anyone could played her. The same could be said for Bodhi from Point Break (Edgar Ramirez) as the sulky therapist who desperately tried to evade Megan’s flirtatious advances.

The unravelling was intriguing enough BUT the pace did tend to meander along, killing a good portion of the momentum, and the endless flashbacks soon became very repetitive. Especially the memory flashes to that blasted tunnel! We kept being shown the same images with no new information or progress.

However, once things began to piece together, the final 20 minutes was compelling and nail biting. Some will argue that with only a small number of characters; there are only so many possible outcomes. BUT I can honestly say I didn’t call the twist and even if people sussed it early, the aftermath was still pretty damn tense with a couple of revelations along the way.

Whether that rule will apply for fans of the book is another story. The Da Vinci Code did everything to the letter and I was bored to tears watching the film adaptation. Only because I knew everything that was going to happen. BUT the first two Harry Potter films on the other hand 👌🏻

I didn’t go in expecting much and came out pleasantly surprised.

A good cast, aided with some great suspense, did just enough to drudge through the lengthy pace and stuttering flashbacks to make this one to watch.

3/5