Tag Archives: Willem Dafoe

‘Wick’-ed, Dude!

Slam-bang revenge thriller puts Keanu Reeves back in action

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John Wick

Starring Keanu Reeves

Rated R

He became a star in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Speed and The Matrix. But as the years clicked by and Hollywood kept churning out newer stars, Reeves—and his best movies—came to feel more and more like relics of a bygone era.

But not anymore, as the 50-year old actor stages one of the year’s most robust comebacks in a movie that defies many of Hollywood’s most basic conventions while covering some of its most familiar ground. In the action-packed John Wick, he plays a retired assassin drawn back into the underworld, where his lethal skills once struck fear into everyone unwise—or unfortunate—enough to cross his path.

TMN_8943.NEFAfter Wick, recovering from the death of his wife, is assailed by a group of young Russian mobsters, it reawakens his dormant killer instincts. What the thugs do his adorable new puppy and his ’69 Mustang has a lot to do with it, too.

Although the revenge/assassin plotline is a very familiar one, what makes John Wick feel so refreshingly original is how directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, and writer Derek Kolsatad, handle it. Stahelski, making his directorial debut after serving as Reeve’s stunt double on all the Matrix movies, funnels all his rough-and-tumble experience into a powerful, sometimes astonishing display of artfully orchestrated, staccato violence—close-rang shooting, grappling, kickboxing, punching, biting, bashing and stabbing. (Kudos as well to cinematographer Jonathan Sela, a veteran of Law Abiding Citizen, Die Hard, Max Payne and other adrenaline-fueled flicks.) It’s an all-out action junkie’s buffet, served up with the finessed intensity of a master chef. You’d never guess the director had never been “behind” a camera before.

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Adrianne Palicki

Writer Kolstad’s story, although following a somewhat traditional trajectory, reveals some colorful original flourishes, especially the “world” of the movie: a teeming contemporary metropolis populated entirely by crooks, mobsters, hit men and those who provide them goods and services—a pulpy Sin City of hip nightclubs, elegant hotels and dens of iniquity fronting as churches, all of them stylishly, slavishly corrupt, although operating within a “code of honor.” It’s a place that the movie brings vividly, originally to life, with a supporting cast of Willem Dafoe, Alfie Allen (from Game of Thrones), Dean Winters, Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki and Michael Nyqvist.

And Reeves—wow. For a man squarely at the mid-century mark, he’s amazingly athletic, and he absolutely “sells” every punch, blow, thud, slam, stab, wham and bam. He’s never been the most expressive of actors, but this role suits just him fine—mysterious, brooding, silent, sullen and super-cool, but capable of releasing an unstoppable torrent of deadly force in an instant.

_1JW7056.NEFAt one point, Wick is warned about continuing his spree of vengeance, one that takes him deeper into his former life with at every turn. “You dip so much as a pinkie back into this pond,” he’s cautioned, “you might find something reaches out to drag you back down into the depths.”

But in he goes, and it’s quite a dive. Like a lot of action movies these days, this one ends in a way that suggests another might follow. That’s OK: I’d gladly return to John Wick’s (under)world for another adventure with an actor who’s obviously so ready, rejuvenated and rarin’ to go. It was a blast!

—Neil Pond, Parade & American Profile Magazines

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Grand Getaway

All-star cast scrambles in quirky romp against storybook backdrop

Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Blu-ray $39.99, DVD $29.98 (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

 

Director Wes Anderson’s latest quirky romp, set against the storybook-like backdrop of a once-grand Eastern European resort hotel, sends its all-star cast of F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Saoirse Ronan scrambling after a priceless stolen painting, trying to solve a puzzling murder mystery, and skittering across the snowy landscape on sleds, skis, trains, and motorcycles. Blu-ray bonus content includes several behind-the-scenes and making-of features, including an on-location guided tour with Bill Murray, who has appeared in every movie the director has ever made.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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We Are Stardust

The sweet teenage suffering of 11 million fans hits the big screen

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The Fault in Our Stars

Starring Shailene Woodley & Ansel Elgort

Directed by Josh Boone

PG-13, 125 min.

 

“What’s your story?” Augustus “Gus” Waters asks 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster early in this highly anticipated movie adaptation of the wildly popular novel by author John Green that’s sold almost 11 million copies and been on the New York Times bestseller list for almost three years.

In answering the question about “her” story, then dissecting it, Hazel (Shailene Woodley), who’s fought cancer nearly her entire life, and Gus (Ansel Elgort), the 18-year-old fellow cancer survivor who becomes her soul mate, set the stage for a much bigger story—about two young people determined to make their story more than just a “cancer” story, refusing to let their disease rule their lives or their future.

A Fault In Our StarsGreen’s romantic, heart-aching, heartbreaking, poignant melodrama of two kids on a “star-crossed” course with fate has teen-DNA strands stretching all the way back to antiquity, running from Romeo and Juliet through the classic 1970s tear-jerker Love Story. The title, a twist on a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, refers to the world as a “profoundly unjust place where suffering is unfairly distributed,” according to Green.

As Hazel, Woodley is sensational, especially given that she’s got a breathing tube in her nostrils constantly and she lugs around a canister of oxygen the entire movie, physical limitations that focus us even more on the breadth of emotions she can coax out of even the smallest of facial expressions.

There’s a marvelous scene when Gus tells her that he loves her, and we watch her eyes well with emotion in the soft glow of a restaurant’s hundreds of twinkling (star-like) lights. It’s a moment that taps into all that the movie has been about up until that point, much more complex and nuanced that it might sound, and the camera lingers on Woodley’s radiant face, empowering it to carry the entire weight of everything that goes unsaid.

Her handsome, hunkish co-star, Elgort, who also appeared with her earlier this year in Divergent, is a bit hammy by comparison. But the book’s legions of (mostly) female fans likely won’t be grading his acting chops between sighs and swoons.

A Fault In Our Stars

Gus (Ansel Elgort), Issac (Nat Wolff) and Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) engage in an egg-throwing prank.

Laura Dern and Sam Trammell play Hazel’s loving, protective parents, and Willem Dafoe is the scotch-swilling author of that book Hazel adores. Nat Wolff portrays Gus’ friend Issac, who’s losing his eyesight, but not his droll wit, to cancer.

Smarter, sharper and deeper than most movies aimed at teens, The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t dumb down its story, its dialogue, or its realities for its target audience, and it blends in some heady existential nuggets—and metaphors—on death, dying, living, suffering, religion, theology, ethics, miracles, time, space, infinity, eternity and oblivion.

For everyone who’s already fallen under the spell of Green’s book, this movie will complete a magnificent arc that began with words on a page, bringing beloved characters, places and conversations vividly, emotionally to life, larger than life, on a giant screen. For everyone else, well, climb on board, better late than never, and get ready to find out what all the fuss has been about—and why, for millions, Hazel’s tale has become so much more than just a cancer story.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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A Great Escape

Wes Anderson’s latest romp is a quirky, colorful movie getaway

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori and Willem Dafoe

Directed by Wes Anderson

R, 100 min.

 

With director Wes Anderson, you either “get him” and his oddball characters, quirky plots and distinctive, whimsical visual style, or you don’t. A whole lot of people do, however, in his movies including The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums.

Now The Grand Budapest Hotel offers a bustling movie getaway most Wes Anderson fans will find irresistible.

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Tony Revolori & Saoirse Ronan

A wild romp set in a 1930s Eastern European mountain resort, it features a colorful assortment of players and a story within a story within a story that keeps burrowing deeper into its own silly seriousness. As with most Anderson projects, he works with cavernous open spaces as well as delicate, meticulously detailed miniatures.

His sights, like scenes carefully colored with pastel crayons from a storybook, are often sumptuous, and his actors move, and speak, with a clockwork cadence that adds to the sense of comedic orchestration.

The plot unfolds backwards, as unspooled by the owner of the hotel (F. Murray Abraham) to one of its guests (Jude Law), relating his beginnings as the establishment’s bellboy, Zero (played by newcomer Tony Revolori in his first starring role). Zero and his mentor, the hotel’s longtime, ladies-man concierge, the ultra-dapper Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Feinnes), become friends and co-conspirators in a spiraling, sprawling misadventure that includes a murder, a missing will, a purloined painting, an outlandish prison break, and the outbreak of something that resembles World War II.

Along the way, they encounter a spectrum of characters, played by actors including many who’ve cropped up in previous Anderson movies (Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray—who’s appeared in every Wes Anderson film—Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel), as well as Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson.

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

Bill Murray

Everyone seems to be having a big old time in the big old hotel, and everywhere else, and several scenes are real hoots, like the scampering prison escape—which feels like a live-action re-enactment of something from the stop-motion animation antics of The Fantastic Mr. Fox—and an extended sequence in which a secret cadre of other concierges drop everything to help one of their own out of a jam.

The story is based on a book by little-remembered Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Sweig, who was actually one of Europe’s most popular writers of the 1920s and ’30s. Anderson gives Sweig an “inspired by” credit at the end of the film.

Anderson’s detractors often think his movies are contrived, pretentious, gimmicky, too indy/arty or simply not nearly as funny as Mr. Anderson must think they are. OK, fair enough. But if you’re looking for a kooky, slightly off-kilter stopover in a place that can offer you an exhilarating, completely unique experience like nothing else at the multiplex, then I recommend you check in for a couple of free-wheeling hours—at The Grand Budapest Hotel.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

 

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