John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum review

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM

Director: Chad Stahelski
Cast : Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane, Jason Mantzoukas
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2 h 23 mins
Opens : 16 May 2019
Rating : M18

            There’s a Latin adage that goes “Si vis pacem, para bellum,” – it translates to “If you want peace, prepare for war.” In the third instalment of the John Wick action thriller series, our titular hero finds himself waging all-out war against dangerously powerful forces.

At the end of John Wick: Chapter 2, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) killed Italian mafia boss Santino D’Antonio at the Continental Hotel in New York. Doing this on the hotel grounds was a major breach of the rules, and John was rendered excommunicado. A $14 million bounty is put on his head, and with everyone after him, John has nowhere to turn but to shadowy figures from his past, including the Director (Anjelica Huston), and his former friend Sofia (Halle Berry), now based in Morocco.

John’s relationship with the Continental’s manager Winston (Ian McShane) is tested as the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), a member of the council of crime lords called The High Table, takes Winston to task for giving John a head-start instead of killing him on the spot. Among the many skilled assassins in pursuit of John is Zero (Mark Dacascos), a skilled and vicious swordsman accompanied by his team of Shinobi. John Wick is in the greatest danger he’s ever been, with every lifeline seemingly cut.

The John Wick films have gained the acceptance and respect of action movie aficionados not just for their intricately-choreographed and beautifully-filmed fight sequences, but because of the series’ inner mythology. The secretive, sprawling world of assassins and its arcane customs and rituals provided a backdrop for all the violent gun battles and knife fights to unfold against. Director Chad Stahelski is a veteran stunt performer and choreographer/second unit director, giving him the expertise needed to best present the action onscreen.

For better and for worse, John Wick: Chapter 3 is more of the same. There are a multitude of exceedingly brutal fights punctuated with visceral moments of graphic violence. Some sequences, including one in which John is on horseback and another in which he’s on a motorcycle, are very inventive. However, it can’t help but feel a little repetitive. People are after John, John kills them and narrowly escapes, rinse and repeat. That’s roughly been the same across all three movies, and while the film’s various locations serve to switch things up a bit, there’s more of a sense that the action sequences are strung together by bits of plot than before.

This is the largest-scale John Wick movie yet: Chapter 2 partially took place in Rome, and a section of this one is set in Morocco. Unfortunately, there’s a bit of bloat that comes with the scale. The screenplay is credited to Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams, while Kolstad was the sole credited writer on the first two movies. While the movie delves deeper into the underlying mythos of the series, parts of it are more convoluted than compelling. With its operatic archness, John Wick: Chapter 3 often teeters on the edge of silliness more than its predecessors did, but said archness also sets it apart from your run-of-the-mill action flick.

John Wick has become a new signature role for Keanu Reeves, and it’s easy to see why. The grief-stricken badass is a character type we’ve seen in many action thrillers before, but Reeves’ singular intensity and dedication to performing as much of the stunt work and gunplay himself have contributed to a character who is more memorable than most of his forebears. The movies have given us pieces of John’s back-story, more of which is revealed in this instalment, but the thing that matters most of about him is that he’s awfully good at killing people and does this a lot.

Anjelica Huston is a commanding presence as a character from John’s distant past, while Halle Berry is all gritted teeth as Sofia, who reluctantly helps John in his quest. To preserve the mystique of its characters, the John Wick movies can only provide viewers with shreds of information about them. Depending on the actor, some characters in these movies are more engaging than others, but Huston and Berry are given relatively little to work with.

Mark Dacascos is himself a highly-skilled martial artist who is backed up by Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman of The Raid fame. While he more than holds his own in the fights, there is little more to the Zero character than “wields katana”.

Dillon’s character is more of an administrator than much else, never directly partaking in the action.

Laurence Fishburne has even more fun this time around as the underground crime lord the Bowery King than in the previous movie, and he’s got comedic actor Jason Mantzoukas as his right-hand man here. Both Ian McShane and Lance Reddick are holdovers from the first John Wick and are a comforting presence. It is when John’s personal allegiances are tested that the film is at its liveliest.

The John Wick movies are crafted by filmmakers who prioritise action and care about staging and capturing hard-hitting, mesmerising sequences. John Wick: Chapter 3 delivers on that, but the world-building that once added texture to the movies now seems to begin to bog it down. It’s an entertaining ride and is unlikely to severely disappoint fans of the earlier films, but John Wick: Chapter 3 shows signs of a franchise starting to get tired, with the sequel hook being more worrying than promising.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Hellboy (2019) review

HELLBOY

Director: Neil Marshall
Cast : David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Thomas Haden Church, Penelope Mitchell, Brian Gleeson, Sophie Okonedo, Alastair Petrie
Genre : Action/Horror/Fantasy
Run Time : 2 hours
Opens : 11 April 2019
Rating : M18/PG13

           Last seen on the big screen in 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the antihero with the shorn-off horns returns from the fiery depths in this regrettable reboot.

Hellboy/Anung Un Rama (David Harbour) is a demon who came to earth as the result of a Nazi experiment in World War II and was adopted and raised by Trevor Bruttenholm (Ian McShane). Bruttenholm founded the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Development (BPRD), a secretive agency that protects earth from supernatural threats. Hellboy, who was destined to bring about mankind’s destruction, fights to prevent it instead.

Vivienne Nimue (Milla Jovovich), the bloodthirsty sorceress defeated by King Arthur (Mark Stanley) and Merlin (Brian Gleeson), is resurrected with the help of the humanoid pig beast Gruagach (Stephen Graham). Nimue sets her sights on Hellboy, attempting to seduce him to join her side and turn against humanity. Hellboy is assisted in his quest by the clairvoyant Alice Monaghan (Sasha Lane) and BPRD agent Ben Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim), who suppresses his own horrific supernatural abilities.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is one of this reviewer’s favourite comic book films. It is a pity that director Guillermo del Toro and star Ron Perlman were not given the opportunity to conclude that trilogy. Del Toro’s many gifts as a filmmaker include a meticulous visual sense, a knack for world-building and an emphasis on heart, all elements this reboot is sorely wanting for. There are enough superficial similarities with del Toro’s two Hellboy films to actively invite comparisons, none of which are favourable.

The Hellboy character was created by Mike Mignola, and this film purports to hew closer to the horror elements of the comics, taking inspiration from the arcs Darkness Calls, The Wild Hunt, and The Storm and the Fury. While this is certainly more violent and gorier than del Toro’s take on the material, that doesn’t make it any more interesting.

Director Neil Marshall seems like the natural candidate for the material, given his background in British horror films like The Descent, Dog Soldiers and Doomsday. While he seems to be aiming for a pulpy B-movie quality which comes through sporadically, there’s very little in Hellboy to really care about. Much of the story is told in reams of exposition, and flashbacks that establish each new character feel like distracting detours. There’s little mystique or creepiness to the occult elements of the story, such that suspension of disbelief isn’t earned.

In Singapore, the film is being released simultaneously in M18 and edited PG13 cuts. We saw the PG13 version, which is obviously and awkwardly hacked to pieces. If you’re watching this at all, do not watch the PG13 cut. It’s still gory and three uses of the F-word make it intact in the dialogue, which seems puzzling. We’re not sure how much better the M18 cut is, we’re willing to bet not much.

Guillermo del Toro’s deep love for movie monsters meant that there was something fascinating about each of the creatures seen in his movies, something in their design and the way they were brought to life by suit performers and special effects. This Hellboy movie gives us vampires, giants, fairies, zombies, pig-men, jaguar beasts and all assortment of monsters, but they rarely feel convincing and often come across as synthetic and goofy. There isn’t much scale to this movie even though it wants to be an epic, rollicking adventure, and what should be exciting is rendered frenetic instead. Baba Yaga (Troy James and Emma Tate) is a legitimately creepy monster, though, thanks mostly to the prosthetic makeup effects used to bring the crone to life.

David Harbour will be the target of much of the ire of fans who have grown attached to Ron Perlman’s take on Big Red, but this reviewer is hesitant to blame him. Harbour, known as Sheriff Hopper from Stranger Things, does the best with the material he’s given and overhauled his physique to play Hellboy. Despite the name “Hellboy”, the character is a grown man, and that’s the biggest issue with this take – the character comes across as whiny rather than conflicted about where his allegiances lie. The sweetness and likeability that should lie just beneath the crimson surface are all but absent.

One of the movie’s big missteps is in depicting the relationship between Hellboy and his adoptive father Bruttenholm. There is no tenderness or affection, only shouting and pointing fingers, such that it’s hard to believe Bruttenholm ever really loved Hellboy. The emotional core of the movie should be that a man decided to adopt a baby monster he was meant to kill. McShane brings gruffness and gravitas to the part, as is his wont, but there isn’t much in the relationship to get invested in.

The one thing in this movie that seemed most enticing was the prospect of Milla Jovovich as a villainess – while she tends to be stiff in action hero roles, Jovovich can be delightfully over-the-top as evil characters. There is a bit of that here, but Nimue is mostly flat and never registers as a truly powerful malevolent force.

Sasha Lane and Daniel Dae Kim attempt to inject personality into their supporting roles, but the things about their respective characters that are interesting are barely explored, while their back-stories are over-explained.

There was every chance that a Hellboy reboot could be done well, and there are tiny indications here of what could’ve been. There are still serviceable moments of action horror and while the jokes are more miss than hit, the general tone is fine. The bits of the film involving Lobster Johnson (Thomas Haden Church) are the most entertaining. Unfortunately, it adds up to a disappointing whole, such that the sequel-bait ending and post-credits scenes feel awfully over-confident.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

John Wick: Chapter 2

For F*** Magazine

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 

Director : Chad Stahelski
Cast : Keanu Reeves, Common, Riccardo Scamarcio, Laurence Fishburne, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Claudia Gerini, Bridget Moynahan, Peter Stormare, Franco Nero
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 2h 2min
Opens : 16 February 2017
Rating : M18 (Violence)

john-wick-chapter-2-posterMuch like Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, John Wick (Reeves) is a man who just can’t retire. After avenging the death of his puppy, the final gift from his late wife Helen (Moynahan), John thinks his hitman days are finally over. However, his former associate Santino D’Antonio (Scamarcio) comes calling to collect on a blood oath Santino and John made years earlier. Santino tasks John with killing Santino’s sister Gianna (Gerini), so Santino can take her place on a high council of assassins. John reluctantly travels to Rome, facing off against scores of skilled hired guns. These include Gianna’s bodyguard Cassian (Common) and Santino’s security chief Ares (Rose). Back in New York, John seeks the assistance of old allies Winston (McShane), who runs the Continental Hotel, and Charon (Reddick), the hotel’s concierge. John also reunites with the Bowery King (Fishburne), a crime lord with whom John has had a tempestuous professional relationship. With a large bounty put on his head, it’s open season on John Wick.

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2014’s John Wick is hailed as a minor masterpiece in contemporary action cinema. While it contained many familiar tropes of the hitman movie subgenre, it boasted exceedingly stylish action and established an intriguing mini-mythology. Chad Stahelski, who directed the first film with fellow stunt coordinator/second unit director David Leitch, helms this outing solo. John Wick: Chapter 2 contains everything that worked the first time around. It’s largely more of the same, but it’s good. Screenwriter Derek Kolstad expands on the heightened world, introducing more elements central to the apparently global assassin subculture. Not only are there hitmen decked out in expensive suits who hang out in plush hotels, there are homeless assassins now. Much like the first go-round, this is a tonally assured work: there are dry winks and nods at the more absurd aspects of the premise, while steering clear of all-out self-parody.

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Aided by veteran stunt coordinators Darrin Prescott and J.J. Perry, Stahelski serves up a surfeit of fluidly orchestrated violence. The body count here far exceeds the first film, and there are plenty of messy headshots along the way. All the fights, shootouts and chases hit that sweet spot of being stylised and designed while retaining visceral impact. John is a one-man army and because of his nigh-superhuman prowess, the audience never really feels that he’s in grave danger from his opponents. However, the proceedings are never boring and always eye-catching. A showdown in the ancient catacombs beneath Rome is contrasted with a game of cat-and-mouse set in a maze of mirrors. The latter is at once disorienting and mesmerizing, and is also a technical feat seeing how a set comprised entirely of mirrors would make it difficult to hide cameras and crew.
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It’s been repeatedly noted that Reeves is not an actor with staggering emotional range, but just as in the first John Wick, he makes for a compelling force of nature. Even pretending to be an expert marksman or hand-to-hand combatant is tricky, but Reeves makes it all look so effortless. Deep beneath his unyielding surface, John is a sorrowful figure. Even though John should be no less fantastical a character than any action hero played by Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, Reeves gives him a vital grounding.

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Many of the supporting players from the first film, including McShane, Reddick and Leguizamo, return, giving this a strong sense of continuity. Italian actor Scamarcio exudes the sliminess one would expect of a mafia heir without turning the character into a caricature. Gerini’s Gianna has a confrontation with John that is as sexy as it ominous. The film’s detour to Rome seems a little too brief, but the location and the D’Antonio siblings do expand the story’s scope. Iconic Italian actor Franco Nero makes a cameo as the manager of The Continental Rome.

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Common gets to grapple with Reeves in an intense fight, but is ultimately little more than a generic henchman. Rose gets a slightly more interesting role as the mute Ares. She cuts an elegant figure in a suit and is entrancing as she signs her “dialogue”. It’s fun to see Reeves reunite with Fishburne, his co-star from the Matrix films. Fishburne’s Bowery King is cheery and exuberant, but we get the sense that this belies an uncompromising ruthlessness. Peter Stormare, who has long been on speed-dial for Hollywood casting directors in search of scenery-chomping European villains, shows up too.

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John Wick: Chapter 2 contains equal measures of muscularity and finesse, an action movie carved from polished obsidian. As the middle instalment in a planned trilogy, the film’s conclusion is open-ended, but its cliff-hanger is tantalising rather than howl-inducing. On top of that, the pit bull that John adopted at the end of the first film is adorably obedient.

Summary: Fans of the first film will be transfixed by John Wick: Chapter 2’s brutal, balletic action. The fascinating hitman subculture lore also gets built upon.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Brothers Grimsby

For F*** Magazine

THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY

Director : Louis Letterier
Cast : Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Scott Adkins, Annabelle Wallis, Gabourey Sidibe
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 82 mins
Opens : 10 March 2016
Rating : R21 (Sexual Humour)

Sacha Baron Cohen asks the question: “what if James Bond had an idiot brother who kept getting in his way?” Baron Cohen plays Norman “Nobby” Butcher, a ne’er-do-well football hooligan from the English town of Grimsby with a wife (Wilson) and 11 children. Nobby has spent 28 years searching for his long-lost brother Sebastian (Strong); they were separated as children when Sebastian was adopted by a wealthy family. Sebastian is now an elite secret agent with the Tiger’s Tail, an offshoot of MI6. The brothers finally reunite, but it’s under less-than-ideal circumstances as Nobby bungles Sebastian’s latest mission. When Sebastian is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and branded a rogue agent, he can only count on analyst Jodie (Fisher) and is forced to trust his irresponsible, dim-witted brother Nobby. The crime syndicate Maelstrom is out to assassinate philanthropist Rhonda George (Cruz) and it’s up to the super-spy and his not-so-super brother to foil the plot.

            The film is released in the U.S. as The Brothers Grimsby but is originally titled Grimsby. There’s a cultural specificity to a lot of the humour and there are broad stereotypes of working-class English folk aplenty. Baron Cohen, never known for playing it safe, also revels in exceptionally crass gross-out humour, several comedic set-pieces boasting jaw-dropping levels of wince-inducing crudeness. Baron Cohen’s subversive brand of comedy can often come off as mean, and the “gotcha!” humour of Borat or Brüno often comes at the expense of well-meaning bystanders.

Weirdly enough, The Brothers Grimsby doesn’t feel as mean-spirited as other Baron Cohen works. It’s an assault on good taste in general, more than any demographic in particular. That said, the residents of the real-life Grimsby have understandably taken umbrage with the film’s portrayal of their town as violent and litter-strewn. The jokes about sexual assault, AIDS and gun violence might be uncomfortable to more sensitive viewers, but it’s a Sacha Baron Cohen enterprise after all and he’s all about dancing on toes. The sentimental through-line of a brotherly bond is meant to be sappy on purpose, but it works as a fine counterpoint to the over-the-top jokes and a tiny bit of genuine sweetness does come through.

 Louis Letterier, a graduate of Luc Besson’s stable of directors, has mostly helmed also-rans action flicks such as The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans (2010). He brings a Hollywood slickness to The Brothers Grimsby and there’s even some globe-trotting involved, with our heroes travelling to South Africa and Chile. Letterier employs the gimmick of having the action scenes be viewed from a first person perspective, by way of footage captured by Agent Sebastian Graives’ high-tech contact lens. Unfortunately, a lot of the fight sequences are choppy, with an excessive use of shaky-cam and quick cutting.
Baron Cohen might be front and centre, and he’s believable as a dumb, uncouth football hooligan who really has a heart of gold, but the casting coup here is Strong. With his intimidating stature, intimidating voice, intimidating face, intimidating everything really, Strong is not typically known for his comedic chops. He very gamely throws himself into the role, which allows him to kick ass but also frequently requires that he doff all dignity and just let the humiliation wash over him. The main issue with the casting is that Sebastian is supposed to be Nobby’s younger brother – Strong is 52 and Baron Cohen is 44.

            This already looks like a vanity project, so it’s a good move on Baron Cohen’s part to not have his real-life wife Fisher portray his onscreen wife; Fisher instead plays the helpful MI6 analyst who updates Sebastian over his earpiece. Wilson audibly struggles with the accent, but then again Baron Cohen isn’t even aiming for the right accent, putting on a Yorkshire dialect instead of a North East Lincolnshire one. Cruz contributes a dash of class and Adkins busts a martial arts move or two as the lead henchman.



            The Brothers Grimsby goes for all-out shock value, but it trades in tropes seen in numerous comedies in which unlikely, under-qualified regular guys are suddenly thrust into duty as secret agents. It’s not as charming or even as funny as last year’s Spy, and it’s certainly a whole lot more self-indulgent. There are multiple times when the film disappears up its own ass, so to speak, getting too carried away with the filthy jokes. However, it clocks in at a very brisk 83 minutes and zips along with an irreverent energy that this reviewer found difficult to resist. If “Johnny English, but absolutely not for kids. At all” is what you’re after, The Brothers Grimsby does fit the bill.

Summary: Gloriously, unabashedly crass and gross, The Brothers Grimsby is sufficiently fast-paced and funny, with Mark Strong delivering one of his best performances yet.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

John Wick

For F*** Magazine

JOHN WICK

Director : Chad Stahelski, David Leitch
Cast : Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane, Willem Dafoe, Lance Reddick, Bridget Moynahan
Genre : Action/Thriller
Opens : 23 October 2014
Rating : NC-16 (Violence and Coarse Language) 
Run time: 96 mins
In The Matrix, when Neo was asked what he needed, he replied “guns. Lots of guns.” As the eponymous former hitman in this film, Keanu Reeves once again gets to wield an array of firearms – oh, and he also “knows kung-fu”. A hired gun who used to work for the Russian mob, John Wick’s now-normal life is falling to pieces after he loses his wife (Moynahan) to illness. Her last gift to him, an adorable little Beagle, is now the thing he holds dearest. Mob heir Iosef Tarasov (Allen), not knowing who Wick is, steals his Mustang and kills his dog. It turns out that Wick used to work for Iosef’s father, the crime boss Viggo (Nyqvist). Viggo puts a price on Wick’s head and Wick is pursued by killers including femme fatale Perkins (Palicki) and his old friend Marcus (Dafoe). All those deadly, well-honed skills come bubbling back to the surface in a big way once Wick is set off.’

            John Wick is the feature film directorial debut of Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, veteran stunt performers, coordinators and second unit directors who run the 87eleven Action Design collective. Stahelski’s credits include 300, The Hunger Games, V For Vendetta and Reeves’ own The Man of Tai Chi while Leitch was Brad Pitt’s stunt double in Fight Club, Spy Game, Ocean’s Eleven and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. People like Stahelski and Leitch definitely number among Hollywood’s unsung heroes and hopefully John Wick plays a big part in making them household names. This action thriller is sleek and handsomely directed and, as expected, the stunt sequences are superb. Aficionados of the genre have no doubt seen countless shootouts, throwdowns and car chases in their time and while those in John Wick aren’t earth-shatteringly inventive, the skill with which they’re orchestrated and executed is admirable.

            On paper, John Wick sounds like your typical “one man army” revenge flick – after fighting to escape his former life, our hero has to plunge back into the deep end to violently settle a score. In many ways, John Wick is a conventional genre entry. However, it is several notches above run of the mill and a big part of that is the intriguing mini-mythology presented in the story. Central to the plot is a hotel called “The Continental”, which serves as a safe haven and neutral ground for assassins and hired guns. This subculture has its own currency and there’s a regular crew who helps clean up the bodies. There’s an “understanding” between people like Wick and the police. The New York setting is heightened but not ridiculous and the action sequences have panache but don’t come off as stagey and over-choreographed. Mood-wise, the film also benefits immensely from Stahelski and Leitch’s conscious decision to avoid shaky-cam and quick-cut editing, allowing the action sequences to play out in the semi-balletic yet still brutal glory.

            In Death Wish-esque, “one man army carves a swath of vengeance”-type movies, a whole lot hinges on the lead actor. Keanu Reeves is often dismissed as “wooden” but this reviewer did buy him as the cool, quietly badass John Wick. There’s a haunted quality to his face, particularly his eyes, in this film and he gets to bring some of that “Sad Keanu”-ness to bear without it ever being maudlin. A character who takes on the Russian mob to avenge the death of his dog does have the potential for some major league silliness but in Reeves’ hands, it’s all kept under control. As a Russian kingpin in an action movie, Michael Nyqvist is almost contractually obligated to chew some scenery and while there’s that, there are also moments where he’s effectively understated. Alfie Allen’s Iosef is a sufficiently unlikeable petulant brat. Both Ian McShane and Willem Dafoe lend some dignified gravitas to the proceedings. It’s only Adrianne Palicki who seems rather out of place, not altogether convincing as a cold killer.

            John Wick reminded this reviewer of the recent The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington as a similar “killer comes out of retirement” character. However, in that film, there was the danger of the “cool factor” being overplayed and coming off as forced or unintentionally comedic. Here, Stahelski and Leitch have attained a level of consistency. There’s a bit of a 70s movie-type stylisation with several scenes being neon-lit and the subtitles that appear when characters speak Russian having individual words emphasised with neon colouring. Sure, this is not particularly heavy on substance, but it doesn’t drown in its style either. With the masterfully-crafted action scenes, the stylish mood-setting, just the right level of genre savvy and the brisk pace in John Wick, we do want to see what Leitch and Stahelski tackle next.


Summary: John Wickcontains many staples of the “assassin movie” subgenre but the directors put their stunt-creating experience to marvellous use and Keanu Reeves makes for a convincing hitman in this slick, entertaining genre entry.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong