Marlow's Movie Reviews
READY OR NOT
The only reason I don't call Ready or Not the "Best Horror Film of the Year!" is that the appellation has lost its luster after being too often used. The Babadook, The Witch, and Midsommar are not bad movies, but their reputations rest on precious conceits that give pretentious viewers a reason to condescend into the genre.
Ready or Not is a film that gleefully embraces its genre trappings without relying on thematic subtext. Of course, the subtext is still there; it's just not used as a crutch, because the outrageous narrative and explosions of grue stand on their own. Ready or Not is so bloody, funny, scary, hysterical that no one needs to manufacture a rationale for liking it.
The setup: Grace (Samara Weaving) is marrying into the Le Domas family, which made its millions by selling board games after a late paterfamilias had a fateful meeting with a travelling companion on a train ride. The film reveals that Grace's new in-laws believe this stranger on a train was a Mephistophelian character who demands an occasional sacrifice in exchange for the family's wealth. This takes the form of a ritual in which the new member of the family picks a card to determine a game that will be played. Most are innocuous, but Hide and Seek is a matter of life or death - with Grace struggling to remain hidden until dawn.
The premise is difficult to take seriously; fortunately, we don't have to, because neither do the filmmakers and the cast. There is an arch tone to the performances - not exactly camp but definitely knowing. Weaving is excellent at registering Grace's incredulity regarding the absurd initiation even while her character goes along with it. As Grace's husband Alex, Mark O'Brien conveys just enough sincerity to make us want to like him. Adam Brody generates sardonic laughter as Alex's alcoholic but supportive brother Daniel, a self-pitying drunk in search of a backbone. Henry Czerny captures the crazed determination of their father, Tony, who is completely committed to preserving the family fortune. Andie MacDowell strikes a note of contrast as Tony's wife, who genuinely likes Grace but only enough to regret having to hunt her.
Directors Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin stage the ensuing "most dangerous game" for maximum impact. Thankfully, the script by Guy Busick & Ryan Murphy provides plenty of good reason for why the Le Domas family might not be practiced hunters (it's been a long time since anyone picked the "Hide and Seek" card; the would-be killers are, frankly, incompetent morons, more likely to kill each other than Grace.
The result is violent and graphic but not disturbing. In Ready Or Not, all the right people get shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, and impaled, and you'll love every minute of it.
A decadent rich family preserves its wealth by preying on others, the lives of outsiders subordinate to their own survival. And it's not just a matter of genetics: previous spouses, who were lucky enough not to pick the fatal "Hide and Seek" card, are fully on board with protecting their status among the rich and powerful.
Part of the film's running joke is that, in order to survive, Grace gradually tears away the wardrobe that designates her as a bride, first kicking off her shoes and latter ripping away her skirt to make it easier to run. By the end, she is quite literally the Blood-Spattered Bride, her white gown stained red, transforming the symbol of virginal innocence into a figurative medal of self-reliance and strength, showing that her stature as a survivor has outgrown her need for her new husband, whose love turns out to be a major turning point for the plot, lending some much needed uncertainty about where the ending will lead.
Every shot fired in Ready Or Not hits the target, but once or twice the film misses the bull's-eye. Too many characters make "surprise" comebacks when they should be at least incapacitated. An opening prologue gives away the family secret too soon, undermining the subsequent pre-wedding scenes, in which we, along with Grace, should have been wondering about the strained familial relationships and subtle but ominous hints that something is off with Alex's family.
The other misfire relates to the ending, which has to settle once and for all whether the Le Domas family's mythology is real: are they all going to die if they do not complete the human sacrifice? The payoff is over-the-top in a ghastly, giddy way, but it slightly robs Grace of the triumph she has earned throughout the film: if she kills everyone there would be no Le Domas left alive to face the music when the sun rises the following morning, and we would never know for sure whether the Devil would come to claim his due. (Please note: I'm not saying, one way or the other, that his Satanic Majesty makes an appearance, merely that the film is forced to settle the question rather than letting Grace level everyone's karma before daybreak.)
These nitpicks are just by way of explaining why Ready Or Not gets a 4.5 rating rather than 5 out of 5. The film's aim is not 100% perfect, but even when a shot goes slightly astray it still draws blood - bubbling up in gooey geysers that will leave you screaming with laughter. It is quite literally the best time I have had at a horror movie this year.
John Wick: Chapter 3
Movies can be simple. As the first “John Wick” showed, all you really need is a car, a gun, a dead dog and Keanu Reeves.
Alas, nothing in today’s movie-land stays minor. “John Wick” has spouted into a three-and-counting series. What was once a taut, minimalist action movie has grown into a franchise with a overcooked subtitle and de-rigueur world-building.
“Parabellum” finds Stahelski, who has directed all three films, moving beyond Wick’s origins and into a more extravagant action thriller. In its ever-expanding realm, “Parabellum” isn’t so dissimilar from a superhero movie, only one with blood, a body count and, yes, better action scenes.
It starts right where we left off. He’s on the run in New York having violated the enforced rules of the High Table, an international assassin’s guild. Ruthless as the world of John Wick is, it’s an ordered one, full of fidelity to a warrior code that’s part samurai, part magician. There’s a $14 million bounty on Wick’s head, posted by the High Table, which has begun a soon-to-conclude countdown to make Wick “excommunicado.” For every other bounty hunter, it’s open-season on John Wick.
The visual landscape of “Parabellum” — a nighttime New York downpour with dashes of neon — is vivid, nearly turning Time’s Square into Hong Kong. With little time, Wick heads to where all hitmen go in times of need: the library. Beginning with the Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library (where Wick, wielding a tome, fights a giant played by 76ers backup center Boban Marjanovic), “Parabellum” excels in its locations. Cinematography Dan Laustsen and production designer Kevin Kavanaugh are the movie’s potent weapons.
With pursuers all around, Wick stealthily seeks out old associates for help, including Anjelica Huston, as a kind of ballet-and-wrestling instructor, and Halle Berry, who has a fiefdom in Casablanca and a few lethal dogs that severely test the bounds of “good boy.” He appeals to them on the basis of old bonds.
Along with returning co-stars Laurence Fishburne, Lance Reddick and McShane, “Parabellum” is well-stocked in top-flight character actors. No movie that includes Fishburne bellowing “I am the Bowery!” isn’t without its acting pleasures — including Reeves, himself, who has found in Wick a match for his spare style and physical presence. Added to the mix here is Asia Kate Dillon as the Adjudicator, sent to arbitrate violators of the High Table’s code.
But most come to the “John Wick” films for the hyperkinetic action sequences. With a seamless mix of CGI and stunt work, Stahelski fluidly choreographs ballets of bullets and endless violent encounters across a grim cityscape. In some sequences, the action is clever, stylish and syncopated. There are sleek showdowns surrounded by reflective glass; inventive weapon selections, when assailants corner Wick in a corridor of antique knives; and chases on horse, under an elevated subway, and by motorcycle, in a blur across a bridge. In one moment, a tussle plunges underwater and the action takes on a slow-motion beauty.
There is no doubt that these sequences are a cut above what most any other action film is currently doing. But “Parabellum” often squanders its finesse by resorting, countless times, to execution-like killings. As the body count swells, the sound of gun blasts, and the occasional knife stuck in a skull, begins to pulverize. Fans will surely eat it all up, but the “John Wick” films have nothing to say about gun violence despite its absurd abundance. As laudable as the filmmaking is here, it’s an abdication — and one that’s hard to fathom, given the parade of shootings today — that sullies the whole enterprise.
You could say, well, it’s just a movie. That’s true. No one would confuse “the Wickian universe” for our own. But not because of all the gunplay. Because everyone plays by the rules.