It’s Thursday so it’s time to go to the movies with TMINE. This week, we’re both pretty modern and completely superhero-free as we’re going to be looking at:
- John Wick: Chapter Three – Parabellum (2019): Third instalment in the Keanu Reeves, unstoppable martial arts hitman franchise
- The Favourite (2018): Yorgos Lanthimos’ typically surreal take on the court of Queen Anne, featuring an Oscar-winning performance by Olivia Colman.
All that after the jump.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
Out in cinemas
After gunning down a member of the High Table – the shadowy rulers of the international assassin’s guild – legendary hit man John Wick finds himself stripped of the organisation’s protective services.
Now stuck with a $14 million bounty on his head, Wick must fight his way through the streets of New York as he becomes the target of the world’s most ruthless killers.
The John Wick movies have been one of the more pleasant surprises within the action genre over the past few years. A combination of ultra-grittiness and hyper-stylised action, they’ve mixed up martial arts with gun fights in a brutally realistic yet highly choreographed way, all to a somewhat sparse yet mythic background.
Wicks starts out as the former ‘baba yaga’ (Boogieman), who earned his way out of helping the Russian mafia so he could settle down with his wife. When his dog is killed and car stolen by the son of his former boss, he then extracts revenge, using all the skills he’s repressed.
And he’s not alone. There are other hitmen (and women) out there, with the Continental Hotel a supposed safe ground, run by Ian McShane and Lance Reddick.
The plot of all three movies has spiralled from that simple beginning, with more and more mythos added in the second movie, with other hotels , the High Table that runs the hitman profession and a ‘marker system’ introduced. We’ve seen more characters added, including Reeves’ Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne as an underground crime boss with a legion of homeless soldiers. And we’ve started to travel the world.
But throughout it all, although there’s been a certain air of “oh, come on! How did he survive that?” and “Really? A rules-based system for hitmen?”, the franchise has managed to maintain a certain realism. You’ve always felt that Wick was fighting for his life and if he messed up, he’d be properly dead.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum doesn’t do much different from what it did before. Everything’s just bigger, more expensive looking and with a more famous cast. The mythos of both Wick and the High Table gets expanded, with Wick’s Belarus history explored via Angelica Houston and the High Table turning out to have descended from Hashashin and ninja, and the story also draws on elements of samurai and yakuza lore.
We also get to go to Morocco and meet another hotel owner and manager – Jerome Flynn and Halle Berry. Lastly, on top of whole bunch of the actors from The Raid, we get a new big bad to fight. I didn’t notice until his name appeared in the credits that it was none other than Mark Dacascos, who might mean nothing to you, but to someone like me who immersed himself in crappy martial arts movies and TV shows in the 90s and early 2000s was a big wow.
All of which would be fine and good in isolation. The plot’s a little sillier, the mythos a little sillier, the things Wick survives are sillier and everyone’s ability to start using ninja powers to turn invisible raises the eyebrows.
But they’re all good enough to tolerate in and of themselves. Indeed, there’s a lot to praise about the cinematography, the choreography and the shootouts, and the final shootout with the bulletproof SWAT team is very entertaining.
On top of that, after John Wick 2‘s fabulous expedition into The Jiu Jitsu Foundation‘s judo syllabus, particularly its sacrifice throws, John Wick 3 decides to focus on wrist lock throws and even chucks in leg lock number 1 at one point. It genuinely is lovely to see my style of martial art on screen. Maybe a few left-handed attacks next time, too, though, John, and I’ll give you a fiver if you can do an o-guruma.
Wicky wicky wah!
But in combination with one another, these things start to challenge the ability to suspend disbelief. On top of that, that essential belief that Wick’s life is on the line in every fight goes out the window. People are letting him off from a quick death and even “squeeing” at him, just because he’s John Wick. It’s comedic when it really shouldn’t be.
None of that is fatal, but I found myself feeling quite disenchanted with the movie at times, especially in comparison to the two previous outings. There’s still a lot to commend it and the story will continue in Chapter 4, so I’ll no doubt be back for that. But John Wick 4 will really need to dial it all back a bit if there’s to be a John Wick 5.
The Favourite (2018)
In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail (Emma Stone), arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.
Τhe Favourite is Greek director’s Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest effort and many of the trademarks he’s established in other movies, such as Dogtooth and The Lobster, are repeated.
Here, we have a little known period of history, which allows Lanthimos to mix the true – the relationships between the three women – with the probably untrue (lesbianism) and the downright bizarre (and not just the men’s fashions of the times) to produce a satire of pretty much everything, but particularly politics, royalty, the 19th century, old people and rape.
Foremost is women’s relationships, and the film is great at depicting tensions, favouritism, social climbing, and how we may want others to lie to us rather than tell the truth. Colman is great as the crotchety and out of her depth Queen Anne, while Weisz is sharp as the brains behind the throne. Stone is eye-opening as the equally sharp would-be heart behind the throne and schemer in chief.
Γιατι; Και τι; Και πρόσεχετε! Κουνέλι!
But there’s a lingering ‘Why?’ that hangs over it. True, I feel that way about most period dramas, but the ending is so surprisingly unclear, you wonder what the drama’s message might be: that if you politick to be a favourite, you might achieve it, but ultimately you’re going to be at the whim of someone else and they could go off you just as quickly as they went on you?
Plus, honestly, I thought blood was going to come out of my ears, looking at that typography.
Still, the thing about comedy is that as long as it makes you laugh, it doesn’t really matter if it has a point or a message. And The Favourite is very good at making you laugh, if not think.
Probably not worth going out of your way for, but it’s unlikely – as with every Lanthimos movie – that you’ll ever see anything like it again if you do.