Tag Archives: Keanu Reeves

‘Knock Knock’ intense, frustrating

Here are the two reasons to watch Eli Roth’s Knock Knock:

  1. Keanu Reeves. Reeves gets knocked a lot for a lack of range. I prefer to think of Reeves as the DMX of acting: DMX doesn’t have the greatest range as a rapper, but he knows what he does well and he maximizes that. Reeves tends to be at his best reeled in, stoic, controlled. In Knock Knock, when shit starts to get hectic, we get to see cheating architect Evan (Reeves) rage against his tormentors, Bell (Ana de Armas) and Genesis (Lorenza Izzo). And when it looks like the deal is done, Evan’s fear is palpable. Even at his more subtle moments – such when Evan is trying to both be a polite host and keep himself from compromising his marital vows – Reeves kills it.  It may be the best performance by Reeves in a decade or so.
  2. This isn’t a horror movie. Don’t get me wrong: There are some traditional horror elements in Knock Knock. But really, the movie is an old school morality tale. Can’t resist temptation? Then you will pay, and you will pay dearly, even Biblically. Knock Knock doesn’t necessarily end how we, the audience, have been lead to believe it will throughout the course of the film. But one way or the other, Evan is ruined to the point where he might not ever come back from it simply because he wouldn’t remain faithful. I’m not a huge fan of Roth – I really like Hostel, am pretty lukewarm about Cabin in the Woods and Hostel Part II, haven’t seen Green Inferno and still think the best thing he has done was as an actor, the Bear Jew in Inglorious Basterds – but, save for one issue (see below), I was really impressed with his work here. Roth lays out the space of Evan’s home – our lone setting – impressively with the camera in the early going so we know the lay of the land once the action kicks in, and does a nice job of building the suspense and terror.

The lone drawback of Knock Knock:

  1. Rules, rules, rules. Genesis, the alpha female of our psychotic duo, talks frequently about rules. She mocks Evan for violating the bounds of marriage, noting that the lunacy she and Bell are raining down on him is the same punishment that they have given to other married men, none of whom have ever resisted the temptation of she and her sexy pal. Genesis punishes Evan for not answering questions, because it’s that time, and the rules are he has to answer her queries. And so on. The girls are very pointed about the necessity to keep to the rules, whether they are the accepted rules of matrimony or their own personal rules for this sort of encounter. But then the young women don’t follow their own rules. If the point is to punish Evan, why let Louis die? Louis, a friend/co-worker of Evan’s wife, shows up to gather some of her work for her gallery exhibit. The girls steal his asthma inhaler, work him up to the point where he has an attack, he loses his footing and falls, slamming his head into the heavy base of a sculpture and dies. Louis isn’t unfaithful. Louis isn’t really an ally of Evan’s. He’s just a guy doing a job. Then why is he punished? Sure, you can argue the girls are psychopaths, so of course they kill him and laugh at his death, because that’s what psychopaths do. But if you’re going to have killers with rules, the killers should follow the rules. Louis isn’t the target, and his death doesn’t really punish Evan (although it could have repercussions for him beyond the scope of the movie). It seems to be an arbitrary violation of the structure set forth by the killers and the filmmaker, undercutting what’s been established, and one that doesn’t really do much to further the story.
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Two out of three ain’t bad, I guess

Tiger Chen flips, dips and fights his way through a variety of bad-ass fighters in Man of Tai Chi.

Tiger Chen flips, dips and rips his way through a variety of bad-ass fighters in “Man of Tai Chi.”

Oh, Keanu. You were so close.

I enjoyed the genre-smashing 47 Ronin (see here) and had a ball watching the outrageous John Wick (see here). So I was really looking forward to Man of Tai Chi. Keanu directing and playing a bad guy? Sign me up.

But Tai Chi isn’t much of a movie. The fight scenes, with lead Tiger Chen, were damn fine. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen tai chi in a combat setting, so that was new. The movie pits Chen against fighters from a variety of styles, from masters of other martial arts to pure brawlers. So each fight offered unique visuals as the styles went fist to fist.

Problem is, other than the combat, there’s not much to love. The plot isn’t much, and stylistically, Reeves’ choices seem to be to cool or conservative when he should be letting things get out of control and crazy, one example being Chen’s final underground fight of the film against Iko Uwais of The Raid and The Raid 2 fame, which is a dud despite it being the most promising battle of the film. Keanu is serviceable as Donaka, the man behind the fight club, but the script doesn’t give him much to work with. The final battle versus Donaka is good, but a bit of a let-down. And so on.

Bummer. Still, it’s been nice to ride the Keanu train as long as I have. It’ll be interesting to see where it stops next.

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Getting a kick out of ‘Wick’

You kicked my ass. You stole my car. You killed my dog. And now you will pay.

You kicked my ass. You stole my car. You killed my dog. And you did all of that right after my wife died. So I am in a colossally shitty mood. And now you will pay.

Are we experiencing a Keanu renaissance?

I have yet to see Man of Tai Chi, but between 47 Ronin and John Wick, I’ve been having a ball watch Reeves get his groove back. I wouldn’t argue that Ronin or Wick are great movies, but both are solid and Reeves is in his element.

Reeves isn’t an emoter. He can’t let it all hang out like Al Pacino or Nicholas Cage. It’s not how he works. He’s best reeled in, like Takeshi Kitano. One of Kitano’s finest works, Fireworks, is such because of how he limits his emotions externally. His character, Yoshitaka, has nothing left to give emotionally, spent after dealing with his wife’s poor health and problems on the job. He becomes nothing but action, his every movement in the now, his every thought about just handling the task before him. Reeves’ Wick is very similar, the death of his wife having sucked everything out of him. After Russian thugs, led by Isoef Tarasov (Alfie Allen of Game of Thrones), steal Wick’s badass Mustang, kill his dog and beat him senseless, Reeves doesn’t weep, scream, fall apart. There is nothing left for him but action, closure. And for the man known as “The Boogeyman” – not because he is the Boogeyman, but because he’s the man you send “to kill the Boogeyman” – that means blood, death and revenge.

It’s one of John Wick‘s greatest strengths, that clarity. When Wick finally fights his way through the Russian mob to get to Iosef, there is no long-winded diatribe, no confessions, no torture. Wick came to kill Iosef, so he does, quickly and without thought. Iosef is not worthy of Wick’s grief. He is a dangerous, vile pest to be crushed and tossed out with the trash.

Had it ended there, John Wick is a top-grade action flick. The humor related to the return/non-return of Wick to the hired killer game is dry and hilarious. The various players we meet all add something interesting to the mix, with solid performance by Wilhem DaFoe and Adrianne Palicki. Wick is also, as far as I know, is the only practitioner of gun-fu I’ve ever seen. Wick – in contrast to our old pal Neo – isn’t a great hand-to-hand fighter. But he’s a frigging Picasso with a firearm. So he’ll engage in some fisticuffs, but only to slow the attack, change the angle so that he can finish bad dudes with a gunshot to the head. Lots and lots of gunshots to heads. It’s a unique fighting style, one of the best features of Wick.

Unfortunately, John Wick didn’t end there. The final act gets dragged out, a few loose ends are dealt with unsurprisingly and Iosef’s gang leader father gets deeper into the mix until his anti-climactic final fist fight with our hero.

Don’t take this as a lack of endorsement of the entire film. If you’re an action fan, I’d recommend it. And if you heart Keanu, it’s well worth the time.

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Why ’47 Ronin’ is worth it

Let's get weird, shall we?

Let’s get weird, shall we?

I hate it when Hollywood chickens out on the ending.

Yes, Steven Spielberg, I’m looking at you. When I watched War of the Worlds for the first time, I was thrilled. It was the most fun I had watching a Spielberg flick since Jurassic Park. Yeah, it dragged a bit in crazy Tim Robbins’ basement, but still, it was mostly Tom Cruise, action sci-fi magic.

Until the end. You know, when the dead son magically reappeared for the big, warm, huggy family reunion. Because despite the evidence showing that all human life that was on the wrong side of the ridge when the aliens lit them up was incinerated to dust, Tom Cruise’s boy survived. Yippee.

I was miffed at best. I’ve pretty much refused to watch Spielberg since. It was just so galling, to undercut the tragedy of that moment and the degree to which it fueled Cruise’s character to work that much harder to save his daughter and himself.

(Spoilers ahead. You were warned.)

I thought that’s what director Carl Rinsch was pulling in 47 Ronin, as well. For acting against orders, the shogun demands the ritual suicides of the ronin. As they begin the ceremony and are about to disembowel themselves, the shogun halts the proceedings.

“Oh great. They’re going to $#@!& this up.”

But Rinsch didn’t. The shogun refused to end the bloodline of the chief ronin, allowing his son to be spared. Then, the ceremony resumed and the remaining ronin kill themselves.

Yes, it’s a tragic ending. But it’s true to the story. The ronin knew if they survived the attempt to free their lord’s daughter and avenge his death that their reward would be execution. That was the hill they had to climb. And they did so willingly and with honor.

If you’re looking for an Oscar winner, you’re in the wrong place. This movie has lots of genre-bending, supernatural, ass-kicking fun. It also has its faults. 47 Ronin attempts to do a little bit too much, there are some pacing issues and it’s probably too long. That said, it’s the best Keanu Reeves performance since The Matrix, and the movie as a whole stays enjoyably true to the kung fu and samurai film traditions from the far east.

And the ending brings it full circle, rewarding and, perhaps more importantly, respecting its viewers.

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