Friday, March 15, 2024

John Wick (2014)

Streaming Service: Netflix 
Movie Name/Year: John Wick (2014) 
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller 
Length:  1h 41min 
Rating: R
Director: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch 
Writer: Derek Kolstad 
Actors: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Adrianne Palicki, Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, Daniel Bernhardt, Bridget Moynahan, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Bridget Regan, Lance Reddick, Keith Jardine, Tait Fletcher, Kazy Tauginas, Alexander Frekey, Thomas Sadoski, Randall Duk Kim, David Patrick Kelly, Clarke Peters, Kevin Nash, Vladislav Koulikov 
IMDb Blurb: An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters who killed his dog and stole his car. 
Selina’s Point of View: 
I think it’s finally time to talk about John Wick. 
I’m ashamed to say that when I put John Wick on my top 20 movies to look out for in October of 2014, I indicated that I thought it would be just another old guy in an action flick. I still put it in my #4 slot, but it was beat by some films that had no business beating it.
John Wick is anything but an ‘old guy in an action flick’ kind of film. It’s a masterpiece of world building, choreography, direction, and writing. It is one of the best action films, maybe even the best action series, of our generation. Every shot is filmed with intention. Every line carefully laid out for maximum effect. Every gunshot meaningful. Every nuance an opening to one more fact about a world that was built with care and intrigue. My love for John Wick knows no bounds. 
To keep this article from becoming a book, I’m going to stick to discussing my favorite aspect of John Wick: the writing. 
The most difficult aspect of writing is knowing what NOT to add. Whether it’s from editing things out, or just not writing them in to begin with, those unspoken lines need to be intentional. What not to say is almost more important than what the actors do say. Derek Kolstad (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Death Battle, John Wick: Chapter 4) is a master of this. There’s a whole scene where John Wick answers the phone and says absolutely nothing. It is exponentially more intimidating than anything he could have said out loud. From the moment he picks up the phone, to the moment he hangs up, his silence amps up the tension of the scene. Most writers would have added something. At least an initial “hello” or a subtle threat at the end, giving in to the expectations of what happens in a phone call. Instead, Kolstad opts to add silence as his dialogue and it is a genius move. 
On top of that, the world-building is second to none. You only get the slightest taste of the John Wick world in the first movie, but you can tell it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Continental, the coins, the rules… every subverted expectation. You get more of it in the sequels, but that’s why the series itself is so beloved. The writing expands the world and the characters expertly in each flick. No one out there is writing as well, or consistently, as Derek Kolstad. I will sing his praises every chance I get.
I want to be him when I grow up. 
Obviously, this was not my first time watching John Wick, it may not even be my tenth time watching. Never-the-less, I will never pass up a chance to see it, or its sequels. If you are an action fan and you haven’t given John Wick your attention, you need to re-evaluate your life. 
Cat’s Point of View:
I was a little shocked to realize that we hadn’t reviewed John Wick before. This is one of my favorite action franchises of all time.
Not only is the production star-studded, but everything is executed seemingly flawlessly. The story makes sense – even as crazy as it is. The stunt-work and fight choreography are out of this world. The cinematography is well done and captures some amazing visuals. The story is also very interesting – especially with all the lore regarding The High Table and The Continental, itself. Of course, you need to watch through all of the films in the franchise to see all of the layers that have been peeled back for each of those points of interest – but John Wick is an excellent start that gives just enough to whet your appetite for more. 
Forget The Matrix (1999) and its sequels - Keanu Reeves (Replicas, Toy Story 4, Bill & Ted Face the Music) was born to play this titular role. I think this character is just as iconic as Neo was. The films about technology run amok and simulations were just the early stages of Reeves dipping his feet into high quality action waters. The John Wick movies offer us a veteran in his prime executing 90% of his own stunts. Reeves is a badass, and also a phenomenal human being. 
Of course, there are other heavy hitters among this cast – and the list just grows with every subsequent installment of the story. For this first John Wick film, however, we have Ian McShane (Hellboy, American Gods, Kung Fu Panda 4) and the late Lance Reddick (Godzilla vs. Kong, Bosch, The Legend of Vox Machina) setting the tone for The Continental moving forward. Willem Dafoe’s (The Northman, Inside, Poor Things) character gives us a glimpse further into this world of contract killers and the fine line between adversary and ally. Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones, Jojo Rabbit, Nightwalkers) might be the source of John Wick’s ire in the film, but we can thank his character for making these stories possible through his bad decisions.  There are many more recognizable cast members, as well. I couldn’t’ fault any of the performances if I tried.
I loved every moment of this crazy roller-coaster ride…even when I was sad for the pain that Reeves’ character goes through on an emotional level. 
If you enjoy action movies and haven’t seen the John Wick movies yet, you’ll absolutely want to start with this first installment. I’m pretty sure you’ll want to keep going. I know I do. In the meantime, I’ll be over here crossing my fingers there will be a 5th installment.
Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 86% 
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 81%
Metascore – 68% 
Metacritic User Score – 8.1/10 
IMDB Score – 7.4/10 
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating – 5/5 
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 5/5
Movie Trailer:

Monday, March 11, 2024

Satanic Hispanics (2022)

Streaming Service: Shudder
Movie Name/Year: Satanic Hispanics (2022)
Genre: Horror, Comedy 
Length:  1h 52min 
Rating: R 
Directors: Alejandro Brugués, Mike Mendez, Gigi Saul Guerrero, Eduardo Sánchez, Demián Rugna 
Writers: Pete Barnstrom, Alejandro Mendez, Lino K. Villa 
Actors: Efren Ramirez, Greg Grunberg, Sonya Eddy, Lombardo Boyar, Mark Steger, Alejandro Brugués, Vince Lozano, Ace Underhill, Demián Salomón, Luis Machin, Victoria Maurette, Carlos Segane, Hemky Madera, Patricia Velasquez, Ari Gallegos, Gabriela Ruíz, Jesus Meza, Pedro Joaquín, Marcio Moreno, Carlos L. Vazquez, Jonah Ray, Danielle Chaves, Christian Rodrigo, Jacob Vargas, Morgana Ignis, Mike Mendez, Daniela Medeiros
IMDb Blurb: When police break into a house in El Paso, they find it filled with dead Latinos and a lone survivor. Known as "El Viajero," he is taken to the police station for questioning.
Selina’s Point of View:
I love a good horror anthology. I tend to enjoy even the bad horror anthologies. As long as there’s a creative theme and a decent framing device, I’m usually all for it. I may not have adored the ABCs of Death (2012-2016) flicks, but even they had their stand-out stories.
Anthologies are simple. Short stories fused together by one over-arcing idea. In the ABCs of Death it’s about the alphabet. In the V/H/S (2012 -) films, it’s all found footage – with an added theme for each flick. The Mortuary Collection (2019) is tied together by a framing device that sees the owner of a mortuary telling tales about the bodies he’s worked on. Masters of Horror (2005-2007) is tied together by the iconic level of each story’s creator. There are also plenty of horror anthologies based around holidays like Halloween, Christmas, and even April Fools Day.
The one thing tying together an anthology can be just about anything: behind the scenes, or woven into the stories.
The only thing I always need to see in an anthology is tonal consistency. If it’s a group of serious stories, that’s fine. If it’s all horror/comedy, that’s also fine. Even mixing and matching those two a little can work. What makes me twitch is when you take some serious stories and mix them with flat-out parody. My brain cannot make that switch so easily and I wind up hating it.
That’s what happened here.
The framing device in Satanic Hispanics is fine. It’s a little bit over-done, but it works. It’s just a guy telling stories to the cops. Simple. The first actual story winds up being on the serious side. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but the pay off in the end makes it worth it. Since it is just a short story, waiting for that twist doesn’t feel like too much of a chore.
Then it gets into the second story.
When I tell you how I rubbed my temples for several minutes straight, I’m not being dramatic. Friends watched me do it and made fun of me from the other room.
I don’t have the capacity to go from a super serious, slow-burn, twisty story to a full-on parody in the same film. It’s just my preference, but I hate it.
I need to be in the right frame of mind for a parody. If you’ve ever seen my reviews of flicks in the genre, then you know I don’t think they should even be compared to actual cinematic films. It’s like judging a frog for how well they fly. It simply doesn’t work. It’s why I even differentiate between parody and caricature.
It’s not about mixing the comedic with the terrifying. Later in the film there’s a horror/comedy story that works well. I love that. But when it’s a full parody? It’s like cramming together The Hunger Games (2012) and The Starving Games (2013) and saying it should work. It doesn’t.
That one parody section of Satanic Hispanics took me right out of it, and I never connected again. It’s not for me.
Cat’s Point of View: 
Satanic Hispanics is a horror anthology that has quite a lot to unpack. This conglomerate of 5 short horror films written and directed by Hispanic creators and largely starring Hispanic actors was not exactly what I was expecting – but in a good way.
My last review was for another horror anthology, V/H/S/85 (2023). Watching these back-to-back, for the most part, gave me the opportunity for some additional comparison and contrast – considering the former was fresh on my mind.
I found that I enjoyed the overall package of Satanic Hispanics more than I did the latest V/H/S (2012) installment. The story that introduced the different horror short-films was more cohesive and enjoyable than the odd retro sci-fi experience of ’85, and I was really invested in that experience the way I became engrossed in this story and wanted to stick around for its conclusion.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room. The title of Satanic Hispanics might be a little misleading to some, and might have set different expectations for this anthology than what actually appears on the screen. I can see how that might be contributing to some of the lower viewer scores. This is one of the rare cases that I lean more towards the critic scores. I didn’t get bogged down in the title, and just set out to experience a horror anthology with a cultural twist.
There isn’t anything satanic about Satanic Hispanics. Not a spoiler, really. I just want to make sure that expectations are managed correctly. I’m just guessing here, but the filmmakers were likely just enjoying that rhyming scheme paired with the horror anthology. If I understood an interview I read correctly, it seemed to have begun as the working title of the project and just stuck.
The over-arcing tale was a short, in itself, titled "The Traveler" from Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider!, Tales of Halloween: Friday the 31st, Don't Kill It). With the repertoire of great movies under Mendez’s belt, I wasn’t surprised at all once I connected the dots to him. He has this great knack for balancing whimsy with more serious horror elements. I absolutely adored the evolution of the costume design once ‘The Odd Man’ appeared, and it did give me some shivers. Efren Ramirez (Napoleon Dynamite, Trafficked, Lightyear) was also a great fit for the titular character.
In addition to all of that, Greg Grunberg (Big Ass Spider!, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, A Star is Born) was also featured in that story as a police detective along with Sonya Eddy (Good on Paper, V/H/S/99, General Hospital). Grunberg is one of those ‘Hey, it’s that guy!’ character actors, who I adore, and you find in shows that make lasting marks on the pop culture landscape – especially for Sci-fi fans. He’s great with comedy and serious roles alike. Some of the highlights in his portfolio are Felicity (1998-2002), Alias (2001-2006), Lost (2004-2010), Heroes (2006-2010), and Star Trek Beyond (2016); and then he also has whimsical stuff like Max Reload and the Nether Blasters (2020). There aren’t that many that can boast that they’re a part of both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises. I digress…
Director Eduardo Sánchez (The Blair Witch Project, Supernatural, Queen of the South) also has to his credit many productions which I have enjoyed in the past. His segment within Satanic Hispanics of “El Vampiro” was no different. This playful, yet still somewhat serious, take on a classic vampire story was brilliant and hilarious.
Demián Rugna (You Don't Know Who You're Talking To, Terrified, When Evil Lurks) was at the helm of the segment “Tambien Lo Vi.” While I’m not as familiar with their work, I did have an appreciation for this short film within Satanic Hispanics. This particular segment was more of a dramatic horror element and leaned less into comedy than the previous that I’ve mentioned. It had me thinking, and not hating the fact that it did. When I read an interview with the directors for Satanic Hispanics, I connected some dots that hadn’t quite made it during my watch-through, and I’m even more impressed with this story. (Caution, while I’ve linked the interview I referred to here, beware of some mild spoilers if you haven’t already watched the film yet.)
While Alejandro Brugués (Juan of the Dead, ABCs of Death 2: E is for Equilibrium, 50 States of Fright) may have been one of the masterminds for this project, and I love that, his particular short "The Hammer of Zanzibar" was an odd addition to this mix. I suppose we find within every anthology that one segment that just comes at us out of left field and has us scratching our heads. At least, that’s what usually happens for me… outside of things like The ABCs of Death (2012)… so many of those letter-themed shorts were just out there. I guess it doesn’t surprise me he participated in the first sequel. 
In any case, most of the short’s story was fine – great, even. Then it hit a particular point and just went off the rails. It was funny and a bit cringe, and enjoyable all the same. It left me with a ‘well damn’ feeling as it ended on a truly horrific note. There was just quite the odd rollercoaster to get there. As an additional note, I really got a kick out of Jacob Vargas’ (Sons of Anarchy, Beyond Skyline, Mr. Iglesias) character, and laughed in spite of the cringe involved.
Let’s talk about the “Nahaules” segment. I’d say this was the one that I resonated with the least out of the entire lot. I do have a lot of respect for it, however. Gigi Saul Guerrero (The Source of Shadows, Bingo Hell, V/H/S/85: God of Death) has a gift for both leaning hard into her heritage as well as the grimy elements of horror. I think she hit the nail on the head in the DailyDead interview I mentioned before, when she said that she enjoys giving viewers a visceral reaction to things such as really gross teeth because she wants to “[make] sure audiences can not just feel what’s on the frame, but they can smell and taste it.” It was a story steeped in cultural mysticism; and while interesting, just wasn’t my cup of tea.
On the whole, Satanic Hispanics was a wild and enjoyable ride through the minds of some great Hispanic directors. Fans of horror anthologies generally wouldn’t be disappointed.
Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score – 92% 
Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score – 47% 
Metascore – 58% 
Metacritic User Score – None 
IMDB Score – 5.7/10
Trust the Dice: Selina’s Rating – 2/5
Trust the Dice: Cat’s Rating – 4/5
Movie Trailer: