Bill & Ted Face the Music


So 29 years after our last dose of Bill and Ted, we get a sequel that is not needed for the story to feel complete, but feels like it is needed in these times. The world seems like it is a mess. Covid, violent protests, Political Division, and natural disasters galore. The whole planet could use a break and a movie like this fits the circumstances nicely. There is no agenda here, the closest the story comes to reflecting our times is the notion that reality as we know it is being threatened. Forget that silly coincidence and let the stupidity flow over you like a warm stream from a hot shower. The only way you will be changed by this is that you will have a slight smile on your face, and no memory of the world outside for 90 minutes. That is a reasonable respite for these times.


While Bill and Ted have aged physically in the story, their emotional growth is static. The two of them are joined at the hip, skimming through life, having missed the chance to turn their immense popularity at the end of the last film into something lasting. The problem may be expectations. Since they know that the future has been influenced by their work, they appear to have been chasing the dream of writing a song that will unify the world and bring balance. We all know how hard it is to fall asleep when we want to rather than when we need to. Nothing will keep you awake as much as thinking about how important it is for you to get to sleep. Well apply the same principle to just about anything else and it will be true there as well. In an effort to fulfill their potential, they have alienated their audience, isolated their life experience and generally grown less relevant. For the first twenty minutes of the movie, I felt that the characters and script were suffering from the same problem. The movie wants to be fun, but it takes a long time to set up the story, and by exaggerating some of the character traits by genetically passing them on, the screenwriters seem to be suffering from the same hubris. 


Once the set up is out of the way, the movie feels a lot more easy/breezy and the dofuss fun begins. Creatively, there is not much here. As in the first film, historical figures are being collected, but this time for a band rather than a history project. Also, as in the second film, we return to Hell and have to figure out how to escape the afterlife. The return of William Sadler as Death is the most welcome call back to the previous films. The storyline of estranged bandmates coming back together is one of the few organic elements of the film that fits. Some other side plots such as the counseling session with their wives, the two princesses rescued from the first  and second movies, may amuse but don’t connect well to the main story. If you thought Bill and Ted were deficient in IQ points back in 1989, it appears that there is no recessive gene, because the two daughters are even more vacuous. There were a few cute points about their similarities to the dads but combined with the story points, it does feel a bit like they are simply repeating themselves.


Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves don’t seem to have changed all that much. They are in on the joke and play it straight for us. Other returning characters seem to be there simply to show that the world we are seeing is an outgrowth of the previous films. Ted’s Dad, the boy’s Step Mother Missy, and the Joanna and Elizabeth, the wives/princesses, don’t do much for the story except provide continuity. I can’t decide if Dennis Caleb McCoy, the robot sent to kill Bill and Ted is more amusing or irritating. I think I got just enough laughs out of him to tip the balance slightly in his favor. I can tell you however, that as a

long time SoCal resident, San Dimas never appears as itself in this movie. There was one static shot in the credits of the real San Dimas High School, but all other physical similarities are non-existent.
The other thing that is missing from the movie is a song track that would be worth playing back. I did not notice any killer songs being used as background music, and the stuff that was supposed to be original, entirely lacked a hook. So how is it that after these criticisms, I can still say the movie was fun, thats simple. It is stupid and relishes it’s stupidity. I have no idea who Kid Cudi is, but I know that when he is given the exposition that is supposed to explain the physics of the plot line, it is supposed to be ironic. It was, because it is scientific mumbo jumbo spewed forth by a peripheral character, at an opportune moment, and we are just expected to let it go. I could do that, and did so with a number of other things in the film, because the two slackers and their cohort were making me smile and forget about the really dumb stuff happening in the world these days.    

John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum

Five years ago, I stumbled upon “John Wick” at a particularly low point in my life. A mindless action piece like that was just what the head doctor would order. I admired the commitment it made to the world that they had created and the fantasy of violence that resulted. Two years ago we got a second dose and it was a guilty pleasure that I never really felt guilty about. Revenge movies are probably my favorite go-to genre for relaxation and cathartic emotional action. As stories, these movies are not really deep or compelling. There is the barest sense of a plot. These are films that move on a few good characters, surrounded by about a million disposable ones. We watch as just about that many get disposed of.

“Parabellum” is the latest chapter in the series, a franchise that looks like it is going to be around for a long while. Keanu Reeves just gets more desperate, more beat up and more angry with every entry. The fantasy criminal society that he travels in is so ridiculously complex and interdependent that it defies credulity and simply has to be taken at face value.  The international nature of organized crime is something that makes SPECTRE look like amateur hour. That’s okay though, it’s cool to have your own mint, and to be able to turn every beggar, cab driver or bellman in a town, into a cog in a criminal enterprise. The idea of the “Continental” hotel working as a five star Marriot for crooks in multiple locations around the world gives some structure to we outsiders as we try to navigate the intricacies of criminal etiquette.

So if story is largely irrelevant, and the world building is fascinating obtuse, what makes the films work as well as they do? The answer is the star  and the action choreography. Keanu Reeves at one time was likely to be remembered as “Neo” in the Matrix movies. That may have been a bit unfortunate since only the first one was very good. I think however, that character will be replaced in his obituary with the role of grieving hitman John Wick. These movies are getting better rather than worse with each entry, and they are doing better business as well. That is a successful franchise worth being remembered for. His thespian skills mat operate in a narrow range, but his action skills expand every year. He is more polished and accomplished with the martial arts moves in these films and the choreography of the gun play is handled by him with aplomb.

There are new characters added to the story as we go along and one of them is played by Halle Berry. Some of you may have doubts about her, but rest assured, after this movie, her action credentials are in order and she has an open passport to kick ass in movies for the next decade. Her character only appears in the film for about twenty minutes, but it was a jam packed twenty minutes that sets up just enough backstory to make what happens feel natural if not credible. This sequence includes two other co-stars that shall remain nameless but who provide a great link between her character and John Wick. They get each other, even if they don’t much like one another.

The first section of the movie is a chase through NYC. We go through parts of Manhattan that are not covered on the “Big Apple Tour” bus schedule. John Wick runs, drives, rides and sometimes flies through the night, engaging in one fantastic confrontation after another. There is an extended knife scene that finally includes a moment of gore that will make you squint your eyes. The deaths in these films are usually so rapid and continuous that we don’t get much time to contemplate how they would really feel, this one is an exception. My two favorite “kills”, to use the horror vernacular, are provided by an animal that John encounters as he is running from all the pursuing assassins [this seems to include at least a third of the people in the five boroughs.] Don’t want to give too much away, but it is quick, unexpected, painful and hysterical all at once.

The closing fights with the Asian gang members played by the two badasses from “The Raid” films were terrific. The character of Zero, as played by actor/martial artist Mark Dacasos is intimidating and charmingly funny at the same time. This film moves into a more super stylized presentation than even the first two chapters, so much so that the jokes actually work as a result. Plain and simple, if you liked the first two films, you will certainly like this one, and there is a great chance that you will like it even more because the director, Chad Stahelski has added humor to his arsenal of weapons. I’ ready for Chapter 4 when it gets here.

50 Shades of John Wick

Movie blogging is an act of self disclosure. You tell the world what your thoughts are, what your feelings might be and you make yourself subject to all types of evaluation by anyone who chooses to read your work. This post will probably reveal more about me than is prudent. I basically spent the afternoon watching two pieces of pornography. They each have a different canvas that they are painting on, but both are designed to get you off in a way that you would probably not be proud discussing with your mother.

First of all, each of these movies in a second installment of a recent “franchise”. “Fifty Shades Darker” is the visualization on the mommy porn phenomena that seemed to sweep the country three or four years ago. The books have been widely criticized as poorly written fan fiction. I can’t remember if I read the first book or not, which tells you a bit about how impressive it was. I can say that although the first film was no piece of art, it is not nearly the travesty of cinema that many make it out to be. “Fifty Shades of Grey” supposedly left us with a cliffhanger ending, but the new film dispenses with the conflict that was so meant to be traumatic at the conclusion of the first movie. Anastasia and Christian get over their tiff within minutes, and she is one more anxious to be his plaything.

 

The second chapter of “John Wick” starts off with an immediate action sequence that is meant to be a continuation to some degree of the revenge plot in the first movie.  Just as with the Sex based romance, the initial story end abruptly and a new story begins. This time Wick, or “The Boogeyman” as he is known in the underworld, gets dragged back to his former profession, unwillingly, to make good on a personal debt. The code of ethics in this fantasy criminal world excuses all sorts of unpleasant behavior, but one of the two rules that they live by is that a marker must be made good. [We’ll discuss the other rule a bit later.] So Keanu Reeves is back in action, set to kill out of professional obligation this time rather than revenge [at least immediately]

Both of these movies live in a fantasy world where wealth and privilege are taken for granted. Christian’s red room full of BDSM equipment is neatly shelved and apparently dusted by a chipper housekeeper who knows what a pervert he really is. John has his basement floor vault, while buried under a messy concrete pile, it is contained in a trunk with a neat slot for every gun, passport, and gold coin of his profession. Both of them also have dog collars but they use them very differently thank goodness. As part of the foreplay in both of these pieces of pornography, there are long sections devoted to dressing the participants correctly. Anastasia gets a corset, garter belt, stockings and a ball gown. John has two custom suits made which have lightweight armor between the lining and the cut of the suit. He has one made for day wear and one for the evenings.

The sex toys in “Fifty Shades Darker” are shown to us first. We are treated to a brief expository discussion of ben wa  balls and nipple clamps. Since this is a theatrically released film we a spared a close up of the balls being inserted and later removed, although it is acted out for us in both cases. A leg yoke is introduced and then visually demonstrated for us so we do get a money shot with that. With John Wick, we see him select, fetishize and dress himself with a number of weapons. Much like might happen with food porn, we are lead through this process by an expert. Referred to as the “sommelier “, he describes each weapon in detail and highlights the characteristics that make it special. In the action films of the 80s, Arnold or Sly might spend two minutes of  montage getting ready for action by arming themselves. John Wick is a connoisseur of  violence so his prep time takes almost four times as long. Ultimately, both films are trying to build our anticipation for the use of the selected devices. In Fifty Shades, those sequences are relatively brief and only slightly erotic. In Chapter Two of John Wick, the payoff is long, varied and intensely satisfying. [Do you see what I mean by these posts being so revealing about the author?]

Apparently another fantasy of these two different porn worlds is “the Party”. When you are a billionaire sadist with very rich parents, it’s possible to have a masked charity ball one night, and then a few days later throw a birthday party for your boy with a couple hundred of your closest friends attending. In the criminal underground fantasy, crime families meet at a coronation of sorts that is designed to officially crown the heir to a criminal nation. Such an event would include a pretentious rock act caterwauling while overdressed stereotypes dance to the music.  A second coronation must be held in a museum filled with renaissance versions of Greek figures in one room and a fun house of mirrors disguised as an art exhibit at the end of the hall. The trappings of both the elite rich and the criminal rich are not that far apart, except that their tastes differ slightly.

So having set up the fact that the movies are both about titillation, one concerning sex and the other violence, the question remains, do they achieve their objectives?

“Fifty Shades Darker” is more bold in it’s confrontation of the sex hangups of the title character than it’s predecessor was. The implied use of the tools of the trade is more frequently explicit , and the foreplay was the better part of the sex. The disrobing part of the movie is usually where things turn a little dull. The two leads are attractive enough but the simulated sex rarely feels passionate in spite of all the writhing and moaning. When the conflicts between the two are so rapidly dispensed with so that another scene featuring them rolling around naked on sheets with incredibly high thread counts, the movie just feels like a slog through a series of sex dioramas.

At least John Wick gets it right, and from the very beginning. If you are an action fan and muscle cars turn you on, the opening of Chapter Two is great. We don’t really see that it is John Wick driving the Chevelle SS that is being used like a pair of nun-chucks on some bad guys, but we know it is him. When he recovers his beloved Mustang, it too becomes a weapon against an overwhelming number of foes in cars, on motorcycles and on the ground. The payoff is satisfying and makes you yearn for another evening with your mystery date. Wick kills more people in this movie than died in that battle scene in “Hacksaw Ridge”.  It is done so stylishly as well. There are multiple martial arts killings, plenty of stabbing and slashing, and of course for an action movie, the plain vanilla sex of gun shots, repeated incessantly.  I thought it was a very nice touch in the penultimate climax of the film, all of the henchmen lined up to be killed by Wick were in nice matching white dinner jackets. The better to see the spaltter as each money shot is delivered.

I don’t think it gives anything away to note that both series have third films planned. There is a hoe hum denouement, as two side characters appear to be set up for complex machinations in the final chapter of the Mommy porn. Maybe if you were interested in these films for the plot, you should stick to the books. There is just not much energy here. John Wick Chapter Two’s conclusion, sets up a clear story to anticipate with a promise of even more violence than we have had in the first two films [as hard as that is to believe]. There is a slow burn energy as the film ends creating a desire to watch what comes next. I know that “Fifty Shades Freed” is due a year from now, I hope that “John Wick Chapter Three” is not far behind it. Another hybrid review would be fun to write, and maybe next time I can say it was the sex rather than the violence that did it for me. This Valentine’s week, I’m afraid I enjoyed the fifty shades of red splattered on the screen much more than the heaving bosom of Christian Grey. See, I’ve said too much.