By Marc S. Sanders

Once you’re a parent, you’re always a parent.  You’re also always a child to someone.  No matter if you are close with your mom and dad, or estranged and not on speaking terms, or your parents have passed on, you are always a child to someone.  Parenthood from 1989 demonstrates that you never clock out from being a parent or a child.

The Buckmans consist of four adult children portrayed by Steve Martin, Dianne Weist, Harley Kozak and Tom Hulce. They all got little ones to tend to with respective partners (Martin with Mary Steenburgen, Kozak with Rick Moranis and the other two are currently on the single status).  Their parents are portrayed by Jason Robards and Eileen Ryan and even the generation before them is represented by Helen Shaw.

With a cast of characters this large, there are various storylines and dynamics of raising and supporting children to go around.  Each child, or in other words, each parent has daily struggles to deal with.  The nuclear family of Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen’s is given the most attention when it is uncovered that their eldest child of three is struggling with anxiety.  Elsewhere, Robards finds himself trying to rescue his immature, lying twenty-seven-year-old son, Hulce, from gambling addiction and debt.  Weist is doing her best to survive a sexless life after her letch of an ex-husband has left her to deal with a daughter (Martha Plimpton) pregnant and married to a stock-car racing airhead (Keanu Reeves) and a quiet, distant teenage son (Leaf, later known as Joaquin, Phoenix).  Kozak’s storyline really belongs to Rick Moranis as her genius, nerdy husband determined to raise their three-year-old daughter as a virtuoso prodigy.  Kafka is a bedtime story.

Wow, that’s a lot of baggage to unload in two hours’ time.  Yet, it works so efficiently in a film directed by Ron Howard.  I’ve used this compliment before, but it bears repeating.  You can write a full-length screenplay about any one of these characters.  I guess that is the goal you strive for when you produce a film featuring an all star cast filling the slots of a large collection of characters.  A film like Boogie Nights and Love, Actually accomplishes this feat so well.  Parenthood just the same.

Favorite moments for me occur with Jason Robards’ character.  It is evident that he was not the best father, particularly to Martin’s character, and his admiration is likely misdirected towards the kid who hasn’t made the best choices in life, played by an aloof Tom Hulce.  I really like the story arc of Robards and Hulce’s relationship when the truth rests like an ugly slime on the surface that just can’t be filtered away.  Suddenly, a man prepared for retirement and rest, has to acknowledge that his adult son needs help but is he worthy of support and love any longer?  This movie is arguably not even the highlight of Jason Robards career, but you can not deny what a gifted actor he was.  His timing and delivery are so recognizable as a hard-edged retiree parent.

Dianne Weist, the only cast member to be nominated for an Oscar for this film, has a couple of good storylines as well.  Much of her performance stems from all too common drama where a spouse leaves her and abandons any relationship he had with their children.  It’s so unfair for the child.  It’s hard on the mother who has to maintain a career while raising teenagers who are entering a new phase with regards to love and sex.  Plimpton gets into an argument with Reeves, her boyfriend, and Weist starts to swat him away.  Then Plimpton unexpectedly announces they just  got married and Weist turns to swatting Plimpton.  Weist is funny while the material holds dramatically.  It’s a real nice balance.  

Steve Martin has a good storyline as well.  He’s a hard working white collar executive who wants to prioritize attention for his son though it kills him to lose out on a promotion he knows he’s entitled to.  At the same time, he battles with how his own father (Robards) treated him at a young age.  He makes sure that his son’s birthday party is the best.  He encourages the boy to play second base on the little league team.  He attempts to do everything denied of his own childhood for his son, now.  Still, it’s not enough.  Parenthood can often feel like a winless battle. 

Martin also has good scenes with Steenburgen, and they remind me of my relationship with my wife.  She’s the sensible one.  I’m the one who gets trapped in insecurity and anxiety and low self esteem as a worker, a friend, a husband, and especially as a parent to our teenage daughter.  I excel at taking care of the bills though. 

Why am I making this personal all of the sudden?  Well, perhaps it is to call out the true nature of family and marriage that exists within the script for Parenthood, written by Babaloo Mandell, Lowell Ganz and Ron Howard.  There are some moments where Martin’s character daydreams of scenarios for his son.  One time the boy becomes a valedictorian with a speech offering complete recognition towards his father.  In another moment, he’s a rooftop sniper blaming dad for making him play second base and missing the game winning out.  When I get trapped listening to the thoughts in my head, I envision what could be.  More often than not I’m predicting dread, which almost never arrives.  Yet, I believe parents yearn to raise the perfect child that they never were.  It’s an impossible stretch.  I write that here and now, and still, I’ll try and try.  So what, though! While I’m working for perfection and absolute happiness for my daughter, I must remind myself that my efforts are contributing towards a successful path for her full of fulfillment and happiness.  More importantly, while at least half of my efforts could lead in failure on my part, my intentions are always done with absolute love and care for her.  That’s what I see in the here and now.  I’m blessed. My whole family is blessed.  So many families have it so much worse and I wish them well.  I have to remind myself not to take what I have for granted.

Ron Howard’s film is not entirely perfect.  I could have done without some of Steve Martin’s recognizable schtick from his stand-up routines.  I always like his material.  I just think some of it doesn’t belong here, the same way Robin Williams would let his known antics creep into some of his films.  Some scenes are also spliced into the film jarringly, like when a dentist’s office is suddenly vandalized.  Thematically, these break away moments should have remained on the editing floor.  Fortunately, the movie isn’t anchored by these plot points for too long.

There’s much to relate to with Parenthood.  Kids who gleefully sing about diarrhea, to parents mired in regret and doubt.  Teenagers who think they have found love to the absence of father figures.  Grown-ups who just haven’t grown up and parents who are just getting a little too ambitious in their child’s upbringing.  This is not a film, necessarily about the love a parent has for a son or daughter.  Rather, I appreciate how it questions the role these characters serve towards their fathers, mothers and children. 

Love is only one dynamic in fatherhood, motherhood, and childhood.  Parenthood focuses on everything else.


By Marc S. Sanders

Jan de Bont’s Speed is one of the best action thrillers ever made. It moves at a breakneck pace with huge suspense, big laughs and never-ending excitement. It’s also really smart with its crazy storyline.

A mad bomber (Dennis Hopper) manages to terrorize the city of Los Angeles by rigging a high-rise elevator with a bomb. Thirteen hostages need to be rescued and for an opening scene of a movie it does not get better than this. The heights and cramped space of the elevator and shaft are tightly claustrophobic, leaving you biting your nails. Small explosions come unexpectedly. This is what Hitchcock is always talking about. Putting a bomb under a table is suspense. The moment you detonate the bomb, the fear is over. De Bont blows up some bombs, but he leaves you hanging for when he’s going to set off the biggest bomb of all – the one that’ll put a hole in the world.

Later, the bomber does the same to a city wide transit bus traveling the freeway routes of rush hour traffic in the city. If the bus’ speed drops below 50 MPH, it’ll explode. Imagine pulling two tricks of Hitchcock all in one film. Imagine trying to never slow down a bus. This bad guy is destroying the city without even setting the big bomb off yet. This is great writing from Graham Yost. The whole scenario is tension at a maximum level.

The cop trying to stop the bomber is Jack Traven (at the time of release, an unlikely Keanu Reeves). Reeves is a perfect hero in this film. He allows the film to stand apart from being just another Die Hard rip-off by avoiding the Bruce Willis smart aleck stance. He’s a smart guy who keeps focus on just the situation at hand. He’ll get the bad guy later.

Sandra Bullock plays an adorable character named Annie who consequently has to drive the bus. This was Bullock’s breakthrough performance and I truly think it still holds as one her best. She’s funny, but she has some good dramatic moments as the tensions build up where Hopper’s crazed bomber makes things more difficult for Jack and the passengers. Bullock is good at crying on film, but she also knows how to deliver a line too.

De Bont does a great job at poking fun at the mundane trappings of traffic and intercity daily activity. As the bus careens through the city, pedestrian crossings are at risk, tow truck cars are problematic, cop cars are bashed up, and Annie is mindful enough to turn her blinker on as she careens around the corners. That last gag kills me every time. De Bont does what I always insist works in most films. He makes the setting of his film the character as well. This bomb rigged bus is stressing out the city of Los Angeles, for sure.

Seeing Speed holds a special memory for me. I saw it on its opening Friday night with some college buddies. Two days later, I insisted on taking dad to see it. Dad could not stop laughing through the absurdity of it all as street signs crash down, cars get totaled, and the fast editing blended with Annie’s laughable panic. Most especially, he loved a hapless driver (a scene stealing cameo from Glenn Plummer) in his gorgeous Jaguar convertible known as “Tuneman” by his license plate. Jack desperately hijacks his car as a means to catch up to the bus. As Tuneman’s car gets more and more wrecked, Dad could not get over it. He was in stitches. This is why movies can be so vital in our lives. I’ll never forget Dad’s nonstop laughing. I carry it with me forever, and I heard it again last night as I caught up with Speed. He’s gone now, but these are the moments I miss most about Dad.

A third act of the film is just as thrilling. Let’s see. We’ve done an elevator and a bus. How about a subway train? It’s a briefer sequence for the climax of the film, but it keeps the thrills ongoing.

Speed works on so many levels with a brilliant cast of B actors (at the time of 1994) that also include Joe Morton, Alan Ruck and a great Jeff Daniels as Jack’s partner with bomb experience. The action sequences cannot be complimented enough, and the Oscar nominated editing from John Wright with De Bont’s direction pair perfectly in timing.

Speed is an absolute thrill ride and a rocking great time at the movies.


By Marc S. Sanders

The Devil’s Advocate does not get the accolades it truly deserves, and I’ve never understood why. It is more than just a supernatural thriller or a legal drama. It’s both actually, and most films cannot lay that claim.

Director Taylor Hackford has assembled a brilliant cast that boasts a debut from Charlize Theron in the incredibly complex role of Marienne, wife to Keanu Reeves’ hot shot southern drawled, Gainesville attorney. Theron hits every pulse perfectly beginning with loose, beautiful and cocky to insecure, haunted and victimized. When I first saw the film in theatres, I left believing she’ll get an Oscar nomination. Alas, the powers that be never gave her consideration and they were wrong. Beyond a relishing Al Pacino as the lord’s most infamous fallen angel, Theron’s performance sends the script home into absolute believability. The power of Satan is executed on Marienne, and the visual and audible evidence lies in Theron’s delirious performance. She’s astonishing.

Next up, Reeves is entitled to lots of credit. The role of Kevin Lomax is his best role (Ahem…Sorry, Neo. Sorry John Wick. Sorry Johnny Utah.). He carries a disillusioned swagger that he is as good as his record of trial wins implies. Yet, is he as good as the best of the best New York City attorneys? When you are the son of Satan, maybe so. What works best though are the ongoing tests of will for Reeves’ character. His inescapable hillbilly dialect blends perfectly with a script that questions temptation against instinct, against opting for what is right. At the time of release, Keanu Reeves might have been perceived as his surfer dude Bill & Ted character not be taken seriously enough here. I never let that be an interference for me, however. Reeves doesn’t compromise and he avoids the wholesome, God-fearing kid that Kevin Lomax is meant to be. Instead, his Christian teachings seem like a nuisance for him; an obstacle to a more satisfying life regardless of sin. Reeves balances the dimensions beautifully.

Then there’s the machine behind all this. Al Pacino is John Milton, hardly disguising his true identity. He’s too proud of who he is to do that. Sure Pacino is chewing the scenery. Yet, shouldn’t he? This is Mephistopheles he’s playing here; an entity ready to undo the will of the Lord. He carries no honor for God. However, he maintains a rule book and before he accepts a disciple, he’ll make certain that it is by the follower’s choice alone. He administers the test, but he doesn’t take it. Pacino gets the best lines and the best monologues. He’s treated with an opportunity to two step along to Frank Sinatra. He’s given free reign to operate based on his legendary career. He’s my favorite devil of any and all films.

Taylor Hackford is meticulous in his direction. There’s a great moment near the beginning where Kevin is saying goodbye to his God loving and very Christian mother. He goes to her church. This is the first of many smart choices for Hackford. He does not allow Kevin to step inside the church. Rather, he paces just outside the door. Kevin does not have a relationship with God, thus opening an opportunity for Satan. Other moments are there too, such as Milton always insisting on traveling by subway…underground. Heck, there’s even a moment where a man with a box that says “Halo Industry” walks by Kevin and John; nice subtle nod. New York City is treated like a character boasting its numerous, sky-high cathedrals and angelic artwork. Pacino is the ultimate NYC resident; a creature of the concrete jungle. Hackford also recruits the notorious to boost the lair surrounding Reeves and Theron with appearances from the likes of Don King and Alphonse D’Amato. (Satan’s disciples, perhaps?)

This is one of my favorite films. It carries not one single flaw. It is richly assembled in dialogue, story, cast, set design and direction.

The Devil’s Advocate is one of those films that you want to watch over and over and delight in Pacino’s thought provoking one liners, debate with your conscience vs Satan’s own argument (he makes some good points here) and question the power of free will. It’s a fun, thinking picture.


By Marc S. Sanders

Miguel and I went to see the The Matrix Resurrections last night and honestly, when I woke up this morning, I had forgotten I’d even seen it.  That’s because, other than the original Matrix film, the subsequent chapters are about as special as cheap food court Chinese food.  When you get home from the mall, you recall what you may have window shopped, but you never reflect on what you had for lunch; well maybe your gut does later on, and that’s certainly not doing you any favors. 

When The Wachowskis introduced the world to The Matrix way back in 1999, it was one of the biggest surprises in films.  No one saw its uniqueness coming.  Everyone was focused on the over hyped resurgence of Star Wars, or a kid who desecrated a pie, or a hand held video film that was seemingly terrorizing audiences.  Yet The Matrix arguably may have had the best longevity that year.  It seemed like a combo sci fi/super hero picture with the players looking ultra-cool in designer sunglasses and leather night club outfits.  Guns and jiu jitsu flew off the screen, but it was done in a new visual kind of way.  Bruce Lee would have likely been a part of this picture had he been alive.  When someone took a kick to the face, it was edited super cool looking sloooooowwww motion.  Bullet time became a thing with projectiles warping through the space between characters and these players, especially Keanu Reeves as the messianic Neo and Carrie Anne Moss as Trinity, would bend and twist and twirl acrobatically (again in slow motion style) to dodge machine gun fire and endless shrapnel.  The look of the film remains absolutely superb.  Nothing (other than maybe the film’s sequels) has duplicated what was accomplished here. 

As well, the original Matrix stands apart from the other three because it actually told a story and developed its protagonist and his mentor (Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus) into fleshed out characters.  It also went so far as to describe what the Matrix is, and what the world outside of that realm represents.  Like all humans, Neo, also known as Thomas Anderson, was actually under the control of a machine-like community designed to sustain a world known as the Matrix, and…well…that’s just bad!  There was solid storytelling here with setting and character development that was later accompanied by well-choregraphed action and pulse pounding club music.  When the film ended, audiences couldn’t wait for more and Warner Bros happily greenlit two more films that were shot back-to-back.  Only the train derailed from there.

Gearing up for the 2021 installment, directed by Lana Wachowski, I watched the first three films again.  Other than the first film, I had forgotten much of what occurred in the 2nd (The Matrix Reloaded) and 3rd (The Matrix Revolutions) pictures.  I realize now that I only forgot what really wasn’t there.  Substance!  Of the two films, Reloaded is likely better, thanks especially to an outstanding highway car chase involving sci fi effects of the characters bouncing off of big rig trucks, motorcycles and car roofs.  A pair of characters dressed in evil white leather with dreadlocks morph in and out of the vehicles and concrete streets as well.  The scene comes late in the film and only wakes you up from the meandering ahead of it.  Truly, it’s hard to comprehend what the hell is being explained in this second film.  The Wachowskis almost would prefer you be impressed with the monosyllabic vocabulary that’s exchanged with each character.  Dialogue doesn’t advance the story any further from where the first film left off.  All that I gathered was our band of rebels who successfully broke free from the slave-controlled Matrix are regrouping at the promised land of Zion, and the machines (squid like metal robots with countless red light bulbs) are advancing for an attack.  Morpheus, Trinity and Neo take it upon themselves to reenter the Matrix (because they look so much cooler there) and do who knows what.  Near the end of the film, Neo walks down a long hallway, opens a number of doorways and encounters the one supposedly responsible for the Matrix, an older gentleman known as The Architect.  This moment was intended to be a highlight of the film and yet it was anything but.  This architect spews out word diarrhea at an alarming rate that only clouds your mind further and further.  The guy has a great radio voice and has an antithetic appearance against the heroic looking Neo, but what in the hell are we supposed to do with any of this?  What’s the point?

On to Revolutions which begins exactly where Reloaded left off.  This is a picture that could have had a running time of thirty minutes at best.  The robots are finally attacking Zion.  One character who seems like he should be important or necessary to the Matrix storyline saddles up in a robot suit equipped with massive machine guns and The Wachowskis make the poor choice of feeding their audience a good seven or eight minutes of this guy spraying endless amounts of bullets in an upwards direction towards the infinite swarm of octopi robotic armies.  His guns never run out of ammo.  He just bellows as he continues to fire.  Where’s the story here?  Where’s the innovation that the first film offered?  Also, what goes up, must come down.  Shouldn’t some of that ammunition have dropped down in a hail storm eventually?  Reader, if I have to ask that last question then you know there’s not much to pay attention to in this film.

The wisest character of the Matrix films, Morpheus, is given very little to say or do in either film.  Fishburne stands in the background and let’s everything happen around him.  He’s not utilized to explain anything like he was in the first picture.  His skill for teaching the audience has been completely diminished.  Whatever he had to offer was exhausted following the first picture.  With Revolutions, especially, the filmmakers rely on B characters that we’ve never really gotten a chance to know or remember or adore like Yoda or Jabba or even Boba Fett in the films that followed the original Star Wars. In fact, Revolutions seems more concerned with its extras than any other film I can recall.  So much so that when a major character from the first film has a death scene, you hardly care for the loss.  There wasn’t much to expound on the character after the original film.  Revolutions only relies on the war nature of the human armies against the monochrome metallic squid race.  Beyond shooting at one another, where’s the conflict?  Ms. Pac Man and Frogger have more depth than any of this.

That’s the problem with these films.  A discovery was made with the 1999 installment and the filmmakers opted to capitalize on the effects and not the challenge of story. 

Furthermore, and this goes back to the original film when I first saw it in theatres, I was always of the mindset that I’d rather live in the Matrix.  After all that Morpheus has revealed to me, the Matrix still seems like the better place to reside.  The real world consists of living on a dirty, dreary ship and eating slop for food while wearing torn sweaters and having electrical plug orifices running down my spine.  Who wants that?  A Judas character from the first film turns on his crew by telling the evil Agent Smith that he will bring them Neo as long as in return he doesn’t know that he’s under the control of the Matrix and he can savor the taste of a juicy steak again.  Now I’m with this guy.  Aren’t The Wachowskis as well, though?  More footage and highlights take place in the computer mainframe of the Matrix than outside of it.  Thereby, more cool looking action sequences can happen and the cast appears more glamourized.  The films want us to fear the horrors of the Matrix on the humans by showing them plugged into wires while drowning in a pod like puddle of KY jelly embryonic ectoplasm.  You know what?  What I don’t know won’t kill me.  So, leave me be.  Perhaps the argument would have been more convincing had the environments been reversed.  Put the rebels as slave dilemma in the real-world areas and the utopian setting within the Matrix.  Then I might buy the problem here.

The newest film, Resurrections, is nothing special and nothing new.  It’s rather boring actually.  Revolutions was boring too.  It only kept me awake because it was two hours of headache inducing noise.  With the new 2021 film, apparently a new Matrix has been developed and thus a new Neo and Trinity have been conceived.  The antagonist is represented by Neil Patrick Harris and that’s about it.  Miguel pondered much, following the picture as to what was going on.  That’s not a good sign for a popcorn action flick, and it’s consistent with what was done with the 2nd and 3rd films.  What the hell is anyone talking about. Once again, dialogue moves to a beat of answering questions with questions. Even the allies speak to one another that way, and if it is not a question, then it is a cliché of some sort.  Don’t these people want to help one another?  If so, then speak to each other like your four years old and get to the point.  The action scenes drone on and on.  A goal of the picture is to keep Neo from finding Trinity because if they do, then the Matrix crashes.  Okay.  That’s simple enough.  Yet (spoiler alert), when they do find each other, somehow this new Matrix continues on.  Huh??????  The movie just betrayed me, and I don’t like that. 

Miguel attempted to conjure up the idea that Lana Wachowski was trying to demonstrate her transition from a man to a woman and this new picture was a representation of that.  Could that be true?  Maybe, but it never occurs to me while I’m watching the picture.  Am I watching The Matrix Resurrections because it’s the newest Wachowski film?  No.  This isn’t a Quentin Tarantino or Christopher Nolan piece.  This is leather and gunfire and sunglasses and noise, all depicted in a green DOS computer hue lens.

The Matrix was always worthy of a sequel; a subsequent follow up that explored imagination and perhaps more background.  What has Neo not yet uncovered.  Yet, the series as a whole continues to deny those opportunities and simply settles for cool looking visuals that get overly exhausted and tired.  No new skills are featured with each passing film.  Over the course of the series, the big bang, so to speak, of the first Matrix never reveals itself.  Instead, we are mind controlled viewers relegated to depend on overlong dialogue with no point and no where left to explore.  We are simply gifted with Neo punching Agent Smith and/or infinite duplicates of Agent Smith with no one getting weakened or wounded or defeated.  Look no further than an early fight scene in Reloaded.  The scene goes on forever.  The editing is amazing.  So is the choreography but after four minutes of this, it’s time to show some progress.  The Wachowskis limit their imagination to just having Neo fly away.  Scenes like this only allow me ample time to exit the theatre for a bathroom break and return having not lost out on any storytelling.  My friends, you can find plenty of bathroom breaks in this series of films.

The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, and The Matrix Resurrections should never have been made.  Producer Joel Silver and Warner Bros would argue otherwise though.  Their wallets continue to get fatter, but at the cost of controlling moviegoers’ appetite for something more when all they really got was dry rice and overcooked orange chicken from the food court.

TOY STORY 4 (2019)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Josh Cooley
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 98% Certified Fresh

PLOT: A new toy called “Forky” joins Woody and the gang, and a road trip with old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy.

Frankly, one of the best “perks” of Toy Story 4 is the return of Bo Peep.  I had always wondered what had happened to her in Toy Story 3 that had Woody so sad.  I’m glad we got to see why she was no longer around, and I’m glad we get to see how she’s fared in the intervening years.  Just wanted to get that out of the way.

Toy Story 4 is not quite the pinnacle of perfection that is Toy Story 3, especially when it comes to the heartstring-tugging, but it’s a marvelous film on its own, and the ending is a fitting curtain call to the franchise.  Woody, Buzz, and the gang have gone through more hair-raising, death-defying adventures than Indiana Jones, it sometimes seems, and the fact that they reach the start of truly new chapters in their lives by the time the credits roll is comforting.

This fourth film introduces an intriguing element in the form of a doll named Gabby Gabby.  She’s one of those dolls that every girl seems to have owned at some point in her life…at least, every girl born before the year 2000, I’d guess.  She resides in an antiques store, and she has a problem: her voice box is defective.  When you pull her string, instead of a little girl’s voice, you hear what sounds like a 45 being played at 33 1/3.  (You older readers can explain that to the younger ones.)

Her potential salvation: Woody’s voice box is in perfect working order.  All she has to do is somehow exchange voice boxes with Woody, and she’ll have the chance to get a little human girl to love her enough to take her home.

This is…creepy.  There’s something unsettling about this Gabby Gabby character because she’s a cute little doll who essentially wants to perform an organ transplant whether Woody wants to or not.  She’s just so…matter-of-fact about it.

I’m doing a lot of simple play-by-play, and not really giving a sense of the movie itself.  That’s because, while it’s skillfully made and emotionally engaging, it’s not like this movie breaks new ground, exactly.  I think it’s a good thing this will finally be the last Toy Story film.  It’s becoming much harder to imagine what else Pixar can put these characters through, and I’d hate for them to push things too far like they did with the Cars franchise.

But don’t get me wrong, it was incredibly entertaining, and I loved every minute of it.  If you liked the first three movies – heck, if you love ANY Pixar movie – you won’t be disappointed by this one.  It’s just…you’ve gotta see it for yourself.  At this point, any further reviewing of the movie would involve spoiler alerts and scene descriptions and re-telling my favorite lines, and that’s not really a review anymore, that’s just a synopsis.

Suffice to say: “Toy Story 4” delivers the kind of movie we’ve come to expect from Pixar.  It’ll make you laugh, jump, laugh some more, give you a couple of hanky moments, and it’ll look GREAT doing it.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Anjelica Huston
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 89% Certified Fresh

PLOT: Picking up precisely where John Wick 2 left off, legendary assassin John Wick (Reeves) must fend off wave after wave of bounty hunters intent on collecting the $14 million bounty on his head.

You gotta love how John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum starts.  About 30 seconds of opening credits, and then bang, the action picks up exactly where John Wick: Chapter 2 ended.  Wick is on the run through New York City, trying to find safe haven for himself (and his dog, aptly named “Dog”) before he becomes “excommunicado”.  At that point, a global network of assassins will make him their target and kill him.

Well…they’ll TRY to kill him.

Let’s be blunt: you’re either a fan of the John Wick franchise, or you’re not.  These films are not for the casual moviegoer.  There’s just enough story to hang the fight scenes on, no more.  Everything we need to know about the John Wick character, we’ve gleaned from the first two films, and even that is minimal.  There’s no subtext, no neo-modern, meta-textual considerations to be discussed in terms of the screenplay.  The movie has but one purpose: to show off spectacularly choreographed fight scenes in which the good guy obliterates a crapload of bad guys.

I think I read somewhere there are eleven separate fight scenes in the film.  As such, the filmmakers were careful to make the fight scenes as distinctive as possible, especially when it comes to the weapons that are used.  Among these weapons are (let me see if I can remember them all): fists, knives, swords, axes, pistols, shotguns, machine guns, several thick books, a chisel, a couple of pissed-off attack dogs, and a belt.

Watching this movie was exhilarating for me.  The action scenes tapped into that teenaged part of me that used to love watching Enter the Dragon or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  I mean, I still love those movies, but for some reason, during Parabellum, I was positively giddy.  There was a sense that the filmmakers were attempting to provide us with the ULTIMATE action movie, the zenith, the ne plus ultra.  And I’ve gotta say, the last time an action movie gave me those kinds of vibes was The Matrix Reloaded during the freeway car chase.

There’s not much more to say about the movie.  Like I said, it has one purpose, and it does it extremely well.  If you love great fight scenes, congratulations, Christmas came early.