Tag Archives: Lawrence Fishburne

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

(Video On-Demand, August 2017) The first John Wick was a small surprise: a lean and mean action film the likes of which hadn’t been seen in a while from big studios. It made Keanu Reeves cool again, showed why stunt-minded filmmakers could thrive in an age of CGI and made nearly everyone hungry for more. John Wick 2 arrives with self-awareness of what fans want to see, and the result is obvious from the opening action sequence bringing car stunts to the table. After that, the plot kicks in high gear by delving deeper in the comic-book-inspired mythology of the series, which features a shadowy underworld of professional assassins with hard-coded rules. The plot isn’t complex, but it works and its minimalism narrative leaves enough space for maximalist execution. Once again, the details and small action beats help sell the wild fantasy of the premise, such as pinning down an opponent while reloading, in the same movie where two assassins have a silenced gunfight in the middle of a subway station or a hallucinogenic hall-of-mirror sequence. Reeves is, once again, very good as the titular assassin, trying to get out of the hired-kill life but being drawn back even deeper. There are able supporting turns by Lawrence Fishburne and Ruby Rose. John Wick: Chapter 2 concludes on a note that is either an exhilarating set-up for a third volume, or a realistic acknowledgement that there is no end to violence and no happy ending for the character. Much of the original film’s surprise is gone, but it’s been supplanted with bigger-budget execution and much more of what made the first film so effective. There will be a third movie, and it’s eagerly awaited.

Boyz n the Hood (1991)

(On Blu-Ray, December 2015) There have been so many imitators and spiritual successors to Boyz n the Hood (all the way to 2015’s Dope) that it can be hard today to see the film as it must have appeared in 1991, abruptly bringing South Central L.A. to the suburban multiplex.  But revisiting the film is more than worth it even twenty-five years later, because John Singleton’s debut feature has the kind of depth and subtlety that most of its imitators forgot about.  It’s a film dominated by crime, for instance, but it is not primarily a criminal film: The drama is strong, multifaceted and the film never loses sight that its authority figure (Lawrence Fishburne, in a terrific role) is right in counseling his son to stay away from even the slightest disregard for the law.  The rest of the cast is fantastic, from Angela Basset to Ice Cube to Cuba Gooding Jr. to Nia Long.  The film stock grain is obvious on the Blu-Ray disc, but the film is shot cleanly and features a number of sly visual jokes, from the first STOP sign to Reagan references.  No doubt about it: Boyz n the Hood remains an impressive piece of work despite time and imitators.

The Signal (2014)

(On Cable TV, February 2015)  Saying that The Signal has a Twist may itself be a spoiler in itself, but I think an essential one, because knowledge of a Twist may help is bridging the gap between a very slow and annoying beginning, and the more intriguing elements of its conclusion.  It is also a warning of sorts that the Twist is borderline-nonsensical, shining an unflattering light on the events of the film and diminishing it by way of an answer that doesn’t make any sense.  Along the way, though, there is an interesting mystery, Lawrence Fishburne in a somewhat villainous role, a Lin Shaye quasi-cameo, clever visuals on a limited budget and a big, big finale.  I’m certainly curious to see what’s next for Writer/director William Eubank.  Unfortunately, The Signal itself doesn’t make much sense.  (And reading the “Themes” section on the film’s Wikipedia page reveals more pretentiousness than clues.)  It’s all fine and well that science-fiction is attracting new filmmakers willing to play with spectacular ideas on limited budgets… but that’s not an excuse to forgo story logic and satisfying conclusions to a movie-long mystery.  Ah, if only the surface sheen of The Signal could have been matched by an appropriate depth…