John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) / Z-View

John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum (2019)

Director: Chad Stahelski

Screenplay: Derek Kolstad and Shay Hatten and Chris Collins & Marc Abrams from a story by  Derek Kolstad

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick and Anjelica Huston.

The Pitch: “It’s time for the sequel”

Tagline: “Tick Tock, Mr. Wick”

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

John Wick [Reeves] is on the run after killing a member of the High Table on neutral ground.  With a $14 million bounty on his head, there’s danger at every turn.  Wick has a plan, but for it to work, he’ll have to fight his way out of the city and to the one person who can provide a possible option for his life.  The odds are against any of it working, but then again, this is John Wick we’re talking about.

The John Wick series is the best movie franchise in years.  Each new chapter (film) really feels like an extension of the previous films.  In other franchises each film often feels like a step up or slightly different world.  John Wick 3 raises the bar for action and provides a broader view of Wick’s world.  The new cast members (Berry, Dacascos and Dillon) are perfectly cast.

If you liked John Wick 1 and 2, you’ll dig Chapter 3.  They’ve already set a release date for John Wick 4 and that’s May 21, 2021.

Rating:

“Breaking In” / Z-View

Breaking In (2019)

Director: James McTeigue

Screenplay: Ryan Engle from a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan

Stars: Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral, Ajiona Alexus, Levi Meaden, Seth Carr and Mark Furze.

The Pitch: “Let’s turn Tim Lebbon’s novel into a movie.”

Tagline: Payback is a Mother.

The Overview:

After her father is killed in a hit-and-run, Shaun (Union) and her two children travel to his secluded house to prepare it to be sold.  Shortly after their arrival four criminals looking for a safe containing four million in cash show up.  The thugs take her children hostage, but Shaun is able to escape.  With no means of contacting anyone and the nearest help miles away, Shaun realizes she is her children’s only hope.

Gabrielle Union is extremely likable and believable as a mother looking to protect her children.  I was glad to see that they didn’t provide her with a martial arts, military or some other background with “special skills.”  She’s just a ticked off mom.

Breaking In is predictable in the broad strokes but there are a couple of unexpected surprises which make it a good way to spend an hour and a half.

Rating: 

“The Dark Side of the Ring” / Z-View

On April 1st, I posted The Dark Side of the Ring is a 6 episode series airing on Viceland with the series summary and trailer below…

From backstage controversies to mysterious deaths and unsolved homicides, this series explores the darkest stories from the golden age of professional wrestling, and tries to find truth at the intersection of fantasy and reality. From backstage controversies to mysterious deaths and unsolved homicides, this series explores the darkest stories from the golden age of professional wrestling, and tries to find truth at the intersection of fantasy and reality.

I’ve had a chance to watch the first two episodes and was impressed.  The series interviews the wrestlers, referees and behind-the-scenes folks that were actually involved in the events that each episode covers.  If you have any interest in the business of old school professional wrestling, then The Dark Side of the Ring is worth checking out.

Rating:

The Killer Collective by Barry Eisler / Z-View

The Killer Collective by Barry Eisler

Hardcover: 401 pages
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

First sentence…

That was the dirty little secret of 9/11, he thought.

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

When sex crimes detective, Livia Lone uncovers a child pornography ring with ties to government officials and a cover-up by the FBI, she becomes a target.  Barely avoiding assassination by a two person hit team, Lone reaches out to Dox, a mercenary and former Marine sniper.  When a second attack on Livia is thwarted, Dox contacts his former team:  John Rain, Rain’s ex-lover Delilah, black ops soldiers Ben Treven, Daniel Larison, and Colonel Scot “Hort” Horton.

Eisler is not only an excellent writer but his experience in a covert position for the CIA and black belt in judo provide authenticity to the action scenes.  He’s especially good at bringing out the underlying tension when a group of mercenaries are brought together under circumstances where any one (or more of them) may be secretly part of the group they are working to bring down.

The Killer Collective is an intelligent action novel that entertains.

Rating:

“Black Summer” / Z-View

Black Summer (2019)

Creators: John Hyams, Karl Schaefer

Stars: Jaime King, Justin Chu Cary, Christine Lee, Sal Velez Jr., Kelsey Flower and Erika Hau.

The Pitch: “Let’s make a prequel to Z-Nation.”

The Overview:

Black Summer is a new Netflix series that serves as a prequel to Z-Nation. Since it’s a prequel it’s not necessary to have watched Z-Nation.  (Truth be told, I like Black Summer better than Z-Nation).

The series starts off following what appears to be random folks working to survive a zombie outbreak.  The cool thing is that as the episodes progress people that we see in the background might become the focus of the next installment.  Ultimately a band of survivors forms with the goal of getting to a stadium where they hope the military is waiting to transport them to safety.  Because Black Summer is (at this point) a limited series, there is no “star” that you just know is going to survive.  This raises the stakes and adds to the tension.

You’d think by now we’d have seen it all when it comes to zombie stories.  Black Summer is proof that just ain’t so.  I really liked this first season and hope that it returns for a second.  Guess who else likes Black Summer?  Stephen King said this today…

“BLACK SUMMER (Netflix): Just when you think there’s no more scare left in zombies, THIS comes along. Existential hell in the suburbs, stripped to the bone.”

So don’t just take my word for it, take Stephen King’s.

Rating: 

“The Silence” / Z-View

The Silence (2019)

Director: John R. Leonetti

Screenplay: Carey Van Dyke & Shane Van Dyke based on the novel by Tim Lebbon.

Stars: Stanley Tucci, Kiernan Shipka, Miranda Otto, Kate Trotter, John Corbett, Kyle Breitkopf, Dempsey Bryk and Billy MacLellan.

The Pitch: “Let’s turn Tim Lebbon’s novel into a movie.”

Tagline: They’re listening.

The Overview:

The Silence can be summarized as Pitch Black meets A Quiet Place but unfortunately The Silence is not on the same level as either.

The creatures in The Silence are like smaller versions of those in Pitch Black.  And like the monsters in Vin Diesel’s best movie, they are accidentally released from underground.

The similarities to A Quiet Place include: monsters that are blind and hunt by sound, a young girl who is deaf and a family struggling to survive.  I’m sure many folks will think The Silence was made to cash in on the success of A Quiet Place but the truth is Tim Lebbon’s novel and filming on The Silence came first.

The Silence follows a family (father, mother, son, daughter and grandma) as they work to survive in a world where prehistoric flying creatures who hunt by sound are wiping out cities.  In addition, sometimes the other people hoping to survive are as dangerous as the monsters.

The Silence works best when things are first starting to go sideways.  What is happening?  How do we survive?  What is the best course of action?  Things should be off and running but it’s more like off and walking.

I enjoyed The Silence but not to the degree I had hoped.

Rating: 

All the Way Down by Eric Beetner / Z-View

All the Way Down by Eric Beetner

TPB: 276 pages
Publisher: Down and Out Books

First sentence…

As Dale rode up in the elevator he thought, This is it, they know everything.  I’m fired and then off to jail.

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

Dale is a crooked cop who gets a chance at redemption if he can save the mayor’s daughter, Lauren. She’s being held captive in an abandoned building by a local gang.  Being on the gang leader’s payroll will get Dale in the building and to the top floor where Lauren is being held.  It will take a miracle and a lot of people dying for Dale and Lauren to get out alive.

All the Way Down, reads like a cross between Game of Death, Die Hard and The Raid: Redemption.  It’s an action-packed page-turner as Dale and Lauren work their way down, floor-to-floor meeting different folks out to kill them.  To complicate matters, thanks to Dale’s efforts, his wife is now in the crosshairs of gang members who want her dead… and does the Mayor really want Lauren brought out alive?

I’m a big Eric Beetner fan and All the Way Down doesn’t disappoint.

Rating:

“Us” / Z-View

Us (2019)

Director: Jordan Peele

Screenplay: Jordan Peele

Stars: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex.

The Pitch: “Jordan Peele is ready to do his next film.  It’s about – ” “Do it!”

Tagline: From Jordan Peele, writer/director of ‘Get Out,’ comes a New Nightmare.

The Overview:

Us is a beautifully crafted movie that works on two levels:

1) It provides just under two hours of entertainment for those looking for a scary movie
2) It provides plenty of food for thought after the movie is over looking at the symbolism and depth of thought Peele put into creating a great horror film.  In fact, I liked Us even better the more I thought about it.

Gabe Wilson has decided to surprise his wife (Adelaide) and two children (Zora and Jason) with a Santa Cruz beach vacation.  Surprisingly, Adelaide is against the trip because of a frightening event that happened to her there when she was a child.  Despite, her concerns, Adelaide relents and the family heads for the beach on a vacation that they may not survive.

There’s no denying that a major part of the appeal of Us is writer / director Jordan Peele.  Peele knows how to create a suspenseful scene, uses just the right amount of humor, cranks up the tension and layers the story so there’s more than just what’s happening on the screen for those who take the time to look.  Peele should also be credited for surrounding himself with an awesome cast. Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke are excellent actors and come across as just plain likeable (I hope that’s not just acting.)  As do Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex  who play the kids.

Us is one of those movies that will entertain and provide the audience plenty to talk about long after the film has ended.  Because I like my reviews to be spoiler free,  I’m not going to say more but I definitely recommend /Film’s ‘Us’ Movie Explained: Exploring the Biggest Questions and Craziest Twists in Jordan Peele’s Film.   I’d be more than happy to discuss symbolism, plot twists, your opinions of Us and more in the comments section of this post — so if you venture there beware of spoilers.

Rating:

“Free Solo” / Z-View

Free Solo (2018)

Directors: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth, Chai Vasarhelyi

Stars: Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Jimmy Chin and Sanni McCandless

The Pitch: “Alex Honnold plans to free solo climb Yosemite’s 3,000 ft high El Capitan and will let us film it!”

Tagline: Live Beyond Fear

The Overview: Beware of Spoilers…

Alex Honnold is one of the most skilled mountain climbers of all time.  His love of climbing has taken him to the best known and most dangerous peaks anywhere.  His ability to climb these  mountains has made him one of the very few professional climbers in the world.

Honnold often climbs “free solo” — without ropes or any safety gear.  Many of the best known free solo climbers have died, which isn’t surprising considering that any mistake that causes a fall is usually fatal.  Honnold plans to do what no one has ever done before – –  to free solo climb Yosemite’s 3,000 ft high El Capitan or die trying.

This documentary does an excellent job of introducing the audience to Honnold and his eccentricities.  Honnold’s personal quirks have cost him relationships but help with his focus and drive.  The film makers are tasked with presenting the climb and staying out of Honnold’s way.

Watching Honnold’s climb is scary, exhilerating and will leave you in awe at how close to the edge (literally and figuartively) free solo climbers live.  If you plan to watch I promise moments where you will push back away from the screen and find yourself wiping the sweat from your palms.

Rating:

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018) / Z-View

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Director:  Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

Screenplay: Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman from a story by Phil Lord

Stars: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Zoë Kravitz, Nicholas Cage, Liev Schreiber and Chris Pine.

The Pitch: “Let’s make an amazing animated Spider-Man movie featuring all of the various versions of Spidey!”

Tagline: Enter a universe where more than one wears the mask.

The Overview: Beware of Spoilers…

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a beautifully animated movie that is a joy to watch and a love letter to comic books.  That’s because Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is unlike any other animated movie ever.  It actually looks like a comic book come to life right down to the zip-a-tone dot patterns, captions and sound effects come to life.

The story involves young Miles Morales bitten by a radioactive spider and empowered with, you guessed it, spider-like powers.  Miles finds himself the heir to Spider-Man when Peter Parker is killed trying to stop Wilson The Kingpin Fisk from opening up a portal to other dimensions.  Miles has no idea how to use his new powers or to stop Fisk.  Fortunately, when the portal opened alternate universe versions of Spider-Man came through.  These versions of Spider-Man team with Miles to try to stop Fisk and get back to their rightful dimensions before they disintegrate.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has well-developed characters, humor and suspense.  It’s beautiful to watch and a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Rating:

“Bird Box” / Z-View

Bird Box (2018)

Director: Susanne Bier

Screenplay: Eric Heisserer based on the novel by Josh Malerman

Stars: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, Jacki Weaver and B.D. Wong.

The Pitch: “Let’s turn the apocalyptic novel Bird Box into a movie!”

Tagline: Never Lose Sight of Survival.

The Overview: Beware of Spoilers…

When an unknown global pandemic strikes a diverse group of strangers find themselves barricaded in a house.  They soon discover that unknown entities are causing people who see them to go crazy and kill themselves or others.  As the time they’re holed up grows longer and supplies grow smaller, they become as much a threat to each other as the unknown that awaits outside.

I’m a huge fan of apocalyptic movies where strangers must find a way to get along to survive.  Bird Box falls into this category and doesn’t disappoint.  Although this is clearly a Sandra Bullock showcase, she is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast.   Trevante Rhodes is especially good.

Fans of The Mist, World War Z and the like should really enjoy this new twist on the apocalypse.

Rating:

Midnight Mystery #1 / Z-View

Midnight Mystery #1 is part of a four-issue mini-series published by Alterna Comics.

Writer: Bernie Gonzalez
Artist: Bernie Gonzalez
Colorist: Bernie Gonzalez
Letterer: Wes Lochner
Cover Artist: Bernie Gonzalez

*** Beware – spoilers may be found below ***

Follow the strange adventures of detective Zeke King as he goes from case to horrifying case. In this issue: King’s latest case goes from freaky to fatal when he’s hired to find the lost son of a deceased horror host! The mystery begins in this new supernatural horror series!

Bernie Gonzalez’s Midnight Mystery is the Alterna series I was most looking forward to and it lived up to all of my expectations.  Gonzalez created a fun issue that quickly introduces us to Zeke King’s world and things to come.  I grew up watching Sammy Terry introduce late night monster movies and love that Count Karloff (a perfect name for a horror host) is used in the first Zeke King arc.  The issue ends with a cliffhanger and left me wanting more.  What better praise for a comic?

Gonzalez’s writing, like his art, is clear and supports the story in a lean, efficient way.  Many folks compare Gonzalez’s art to Darwyne Cooke and I don’t disagree but I also see the influence of Alex Toth and Paul Grist.

Bring on issue 2!
Rating:

“Creed II” (2018) / Z-View

Creed II (2018)

Director: Steven Caple Jr.

Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone,  Juel Taylor

Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu, Russell Hornsby, Wood Harris, Milo Ventimiglia, Andre Ward and Brigitte Nielsen.

The Pitch: “The Rocky/Creed saga continues!”

Tagline: None.

The Overview: Beware of Spoilers…

After winning the Heavyweight Championship, Adonis Creed under the tutelage of Rocky Balboa is on top of the world.  He’s ready to marry Bianca and start a family, his step-mother has accepted that he’s a fighter and Rocky is doing better with his cancer battle.  The bad thing about being on top of the world is there is always someone who wants to take your spot.

Victor Drago, son of Ivan Drago is a monster of a man.  He’s been winning fights by devastating knockouts and has his sights on Creed’s title.  A Drago/Creed match-up would be a boxing fan’s and promoter’s dream.  Ivan Drago killed Apollo Creed in an exhibition boxing match.  Rocky traveled to Russia to fight and beat Ivan Drago in a follow-up match.  After that fight Rocky was never quite the same and Drago disappeared from the boxing scene.  A fight between Apollo’s son (who is trained by Rocky) against Victor Drago, (trained by his father, the man who killed Apollo) is a bout that sells itself.

The idea that Drago didn’t just lose the fight to Rocky Balboa, he lost everything – his standing in his country, the privilege being the best fighter brought him, the honor and prestige granted a superior athlete and most importantly his wife.  Drago has lived with this hurt and humiliation for over 30 years.  It has hardened him and made him bitter.  Drago has, as Rocky says, “raised (his son) in hate.”  Ivan and Victor travel to the US to issue a personal challenge to Adonis who instantly wants to take the fight.  Rocky doesn’t want it and refuses to train Adonis.  To give away more would be wrong.

Any time a sequel follows a successful, wildly popular movie, expectations are high.  Creed II lives up to them.  Of course the actors do a great job – the movie is again perfectly cast with all the main players returning to reprise their characters.  New additions, Russell Hornsby as promoter Buddy Marcell and Florian ‘Big Nasty’ Munteanu as Victor Drago are excellent in their roles and add to the Rocky/Creed universe.

The story rises well above the reprise of a Creed/Drago replay.  Creed Ihas (as it should) call backs to the earlier Rocky movies but they feel natural.  Hats off to screenwriters Stallone and Taylor for avoiding clichés, providing unexpected turns and excellent dialogue. Director, Steven Caple Jr., had big shoes to fill and does so.  Sly Stallone, nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Creed, should get a nomination for Creed II and this time he should win.  Also, Dolph Lundgren should be given kudos — his scene with Sly early on was my favorite of the movie.

The movie works so well because it doesn’t just focus on the fight drama.  Each of the major characters has a life beyond just the scenes that they appear in.   Milo Ventimiglia and Brigitte Nielsen appearances were icing on the cake.

Creed II will of course appeal to fans of the Rocky/Creed series, and to all who love great movies.  Bring on Creed III.

Rating:

“Overlord” (2018) / Z-View

Overlord (2018)

Director: Julius Avery

Screenplay: Billy Ray, Mark L. Smith from a story by Billy Ray

Stars: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbæk and Bokeem Woodbine.

The Pitch: “Think Saving Private Ryan meets Dawn of the Dead.

Tagline: None.

The Overview: Beware of Spoilers…

A team of soldiers is flown deep into enemy territory the night before D-Day.  Their mission to destroy a Nazi radio tower is essential to the success of the Allied invasion.  When their plane is blown from the sky, a few of the soldiers survive.  In order to complete their mission they will find themselves against a company of Nazis and something much, much worse.

Overlord starts out as a straight war movie, becomes a tense drama and then goes full tilt horror.  The action in each genre smoothly integrates and the end result is a scary, roller coaster of a movie that satisfies and leaves you hoping for another ride.  While Overlord‘s trailers give you the broad strokes, there are enough twists and turns to satisfy even the most jaded horror movie/zombie fan.

When the movie was over I turned to my wife and said, “The guy who played Ford would make a great Snake Plissken.”  She responded, “You know that he’s Kurt Russell’s son, right?”  Truth be told, I didn’t, but stand by my opinion that he would make a great Snake Plissken and Overlord will make a nice addition to my movie collection.

Rating:

Reviews That Resonate!

Recently Christopher McQuarrie sent out the following in a Tweet

After 25 years of making them, I’ve learned to measure movies not in terms of quality, but of resonance. Some resonate with me. Others don’t. Some resonate with the masses, others don’t. I wasted years of creative energy arguing quality. I was wrong even when I was right.

That quote really, pardon the expression, resonated with me.  So many times when I was reviewing a movie (book, tv show, etc.) and tried to grade it, the end result felt wrong.  There are movies (books, tv shows, etc.) I absolutely love that fall short of being classics, but I don’t love them any less.  At the other end of the spectrum there are movies (books, oh, you get what I mean) that are considered classics that I can’t stand.

Arguing the point with someone who felt differently was, ah, pointless.  So I’ve decided to change up my ratings.  The grades are gone.  Now we have a simple number system that indicates how the movie resonated with me.

Your mileage may be different.  And the cool thing is we’d both be right.