Mladen and Del review ‘John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum’

Image courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

“John Wick Chapter 3 – Parabellum” Starring Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and Asia Kate Dillion. Directed by Chad Stahelski. 130 minutes. Rated R.

Mladen’s take

John Wick and I are a lot alike, if the essence of freshly released film, “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum,” is the yardstick. John’s life and work in “Wick 3” are hampered by all sorts of rules, procedures, constraints and layers of management. I face those same obstacles daily.

Of course, there’s a difference between being a celebrity assassin in a wildly popular movie franchise and my often frustrating effort to keep health insurance for my family, a roof over our heads, and our cars running. I am leashed to others. Wick is not, unless he chooses to be. What the director chose for John in “Wick 3” was to leash him to the memory of his dead wife, which, thankfully, leads from one glorious scene of hyperviolence to another. But, that choice also produced a couple of chinks in the armor of the formidably entertaining Wick saga.

“Wick 3” is merely a good movie and the weakest in the franchise because of two problems, one with the story and the other with an important character.

“Wick 3” should’ve been more like its two predecessors, an intimate tale of personal redemption or, at least, a movie with a good excuse for all those heads getting blown apart and dogs attacking men’s groins. In Wick 1 we see John addressing very personal slights – a dead puppy and a stolen muscle car. I can sympathize with both. In Wick 2 he’s a hesitant, duty-bound killer honoring a marker. In those movies, John wanted out of the assassin racket. In “Wick 3,” he wants back in to stay alive to remember his wife, but changes his mind later. That wishy washiness is unbecoming of the planet’s most accomplished hitman. In Wicks 1 and 2 we see that it’s the world’s fault for keeping John a servant of the High Table, the gang of 12 thugs running Earth’s underworld. Bad people don’t leave John alone, so he has to defend himself, his property and his memories to impose order. Because of his do-rightness he, himself, is rendered ex communicado persona non grata for whacking a mob boss inside a hotel. In Wick 3, the HOTEL is punished by being “deconsecrated.”

On top of blacklisting a hotel, “Wick 3” offers other tidbits of bureaucratic and legalistic nonsense such as the notion of “fealty” to the High Table and the High Table’s dispatch of an “adjudicator” to settle its score with John and anyone who has helped him. “Wick 3” begins to meander, including a dip into mysticism, as a result. Of all the characters flowing through “Wick 3,” the adjudicator is the most frustrating. She is supposed to be a prim and proper bad ass representing the High Table’s interest, which is to keep everyone in line to make sure crime and profit go uninterrupted by rule breakers such as John. Instead, the adjudicator is a meek, stiff, uncharismatic, unintentionally droll and unconvincing enabler of the High Table’s will. Yes, the adjudicator’s flimsiness is somewhat offset by the strong female character, Sofia, in “Wick 3,” but damage to the story had already occurred by the time she’s introduced. The High Table and the adjudicator, instead of seeming to be all powerful, just seemed to be on their way toward stepping into John’s line of fire which, I suspect, will be the plot of “Wick 4.”

“Parabellum” is a dead language’s phrase for “prepare for war.” When you go see “Wick 3,” prepare to be disappointed. “Wick 3” lacks the emotional grit and gristle of Wicks 1 and 2. “Wick 3’s” bad girl is particularly unsatisfying and the film’s High Table assassin, campy. The weak motivation for “Wick 3’s” hyperviolence renders it something approaching gratuitous. I hope “Wick 4” corrects that weakness or Wick world-building will go the way of Star Wars. “Wick 3” gets a B from me. See it in a theater with vibrant projection and good sound.

Del’s take

Once upon a time there was a little movie about an undercover cop who infiltrated a car theft ring to bust the ringleader. That little movie, “The Fast and the Furious,” made the late Paul Walker a star and provided Vin Diesel with a hit on his resume.

So they made a sequel.

Then another.

Then another, where they rebooted the series.

Then another.

And another, ad finitum.

Each of those sequels required more action, bigger plots and higher stakes than its predecessor, until now Lamborghinis are being chased by nuclear submarines and Ferraris tossed from cargo planes as the “Fast and Furious” crew saves the world from (name your favorite apocalyptic nemesis).

In other words, silly.

Unfortunately that’s the trajectory being followed by the John Wick saga. What started as a personal and, dare I say, charming story of revenge by a man whose puppy got shot and his car stolen, is slowly evolving into something I no longer recognize – a bastard child of James Bond and “The Matrix.”

I don’t like it. I want the old John Wick.

That’s not to say “Parabellum” is a bad movie. It’s just not what I expected, and as Mladen pointed out, it deviated in ways I don’t think will work.

(FYI: Mladen is nothing like John Wick. I’ve never seen him chop off a person’s head with a samurai sword and he doesn’t even like dogs.)

The plot careens along as Mladen described it. I’ll further explain it picks up where the second movie left off, with Wick and his pit bull running for their lives after the ruling elite of the assassins’ guild, something called the High Table, excommunicates him and puts a price on his head. Every other phone on the street is ringing with the news that Wick’s bounty stands at a cool $14 million, which makes you wonder how all those killers manage to operate without putting each other in the unemployment line. There are THAT many. Think about it next time you’re in a crowded grocery store.

The methods of death are inventive and graphic. If I had to choose a favorite it would be Wick slapping a horse on the ass and the horse kicking an assassin into a wall, dispatching him to that great Died of a Horse Kicking paddock in the sky.

Mladen described the action as hyperviolent and he’s not exaggerating. Apart from a few slogs through muddy pacing in the second act, the movie is almost nonstop violence with people getting shot, chopped, sliced, diced, kicked, burned, or having their genitalia ripped out by vicious German Shepherds.

It was cool to see Keanu Reeves on the screen once again with Laurence Fishburne, and it was disappointing that Halle Berry’s role was so small. For Christ’s sake, she’s an Oscar winner. Put her to work.

Maybe she could have done a better job than Asia Kate Dillion as the Adjudicator, who came across as Mladen described: devoid of menace. And Keanu? Well, what can I say? Keanu was Keanu. He’s never had a lot of dialogue in these movies and “Wick 3” is no exception.

My big gripe is with the direction the movie took, with its emphasis on the worldwide mystery cult of assassins and all their rules, talismans and functionaries. It was like watching a tiger team of GS-12s stumble upon a cache of Uzis. It carries the Wick saga farther afield from its humble origins, from a man with a grudge who has payback on his mind into some kind of mystical figure fate has anointed with special powers. Maybe they should change his name to Neo Wick.

The action is exquisitely choreographed and the special effects spot on, but beware: “Wick 3” is a bloodbath, and it’s probably not what you were expecting after having watched the previous iterations.

There’s a sequel coming and I’ll likely see it. But it may be the last time I bump into John Wick in a movie theater. I like my action movies smart, not silly.

I give it a B.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of eOne.

“Your Son” (“Tu Hijo”) starring Jose Coronado, Ana Wagener, Asia Ortego. Directed by Miguel Angel Vivas. 103 minutes. Rated TV-MA.

Del’s take

It isn’t often a movie pisses me off. I hated “Natural Born Killers” so intensely I wrote a newspaper column about it. Unfortunately, “Your Son” falls into that category.

The movie is well made but I’m not going to give it a favorable review. I thought it was a useless piece of shit, not only unworthy of the time I spent watching it but a detriment to the human experience.

The story takes place in the Canary Islands where a successful surgeon (Jaime Jimenez, played by Jose Coronado) has just saved the life of a young boy. The surgeon, who is married with two kids, receives the desperate gratitude of the boy’s parents with the understated (and possibly condescending) humility of a man who’s often sanctified by overjoyed relatives when the prognosis results in the patient remaining on this side of the dirt.

That comes screeching to a halt when his own son Marcos (Pol Monen) appears in the ER. Marcos has had the living shit beat out of him, and floating around out there is a video record of the crime. In an instant Surgeon Jaime Jimenez is deprived of his calm, confident control over events and must trust his son’s fate to other surgeons and the cops investigating the assault.

Or must he?

Thus begins Dr.Jimenez’s odyssey for revenge. Suffice it to say things are not as they seem. Both Dr. Jimenez and the audience will receive a brutal instruction in the shortcomings of human moral anatomy.

I’ve seen movies like this, and some of them can be entertaining as hell. “No Country for Old Men” comes to mind. But something about “Your Son” triggered my anger reflex. Maybe it was the horribly sexist male-centric point of view, or the “What if it were YOUR son?” question the movie seems to ask.

Speaking to that point, I would answer that if it were MY son, I wouldn’t have done ANY of the things Dr. Jimenez did. Not one. His actions seem born of a monstrous selfishness I can’t wrap my brain around. Worse, the movie, by not exploring anything beyond Dr. Jimenez’s immoral choices, seems to approve of them, as if no reasonable person could have reacted otherwise. Seriously, what would you have done if it was YOUR son?

What a crock.

I think my overall objection has something to do with the fact that in every movie about man’s capacity to be a shit to his fellow man, the story always proceeds from the assumption that, hey, these things are wrong, so don’t do them. I don’t think “Your Son” does. I think its moral center is agnostic, which sounds fine for a psychiatry thesis but sucks for entertainment.

As I said, the movie is well made, albeit slow to the point of boring throughout much of its running time. The actors do a fine job. The script is well-written. The tone is consistent with the theme.

But “Your Son” is a piece of shit. I hated it, and I won’t recommend it.

I’ll give it a C-, because despite its vile message, it’s a well-made film.

Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.

Image courtesy of PickPic, Creative Commons license

On Sunday, Mom and I went to a garage sale at the Murder House.

“Murder House” is how the neighborhood describes the residence at 11 Pryor Road in Fort Walton Beach. Last month, William Butler snapped and stabbed his wife to death, then loaded a shotgun and killed his son and daughter. Another son managed to escape by climbing out a bedroom window and fleeing to a neighbor’s house.

I don’t know what compelled me to go there, because I have felt nothing but horror over those awful events, and pity for the 17-year-old who is now an orphan. I am not the kind of person to gawk at car accidents and I have no interest in the terrible things that sometime happen in our midst.

Still, there I was, feeling shitty at looking over their stuff … but looking nonetheless. This is what I saw.

At least one member of the Butler family was an avid fisherman. Leaning against the side of the house was a corn stack of fishing rods and reels, surrounded by tackle boxes with every kind of fishing lure you can imagine, the hooks all rusted, suggestive of salt water, not fresh water. Bluefish and speckled trout, not bream and bigmouth bass.

One table featured heaps of camouflaged clothing, which to me said: paintball. But it wasn’t paintball, because there were no masks or “markers” (i.e. guns). Instead, sitting on the ground next to camo table were two sets of archery equipment. Maybe a family member was into bowhunting.

I saw a lot of old technology, including boxes that contained reel-to-reel tape. Old movie soundtracks, music from the ‘50s and ‘60s. In some cases the tapes fluttered from the boxes like old, brittle streamers. Who listens to that stuff anymore? Where do you even find a reel-to-reel tape recorder/player? Ebay?

There were several laptops, and I could tell without looking too closely they were old. How? Because they were thick, with lots of ports for peripherals that probably no longer existed. One tablet had a shattered screen.

Another box contained hundreds of vinyl records. I could imagine collectors snapping up those LPs. I did not even look at them because I have nothing that will play a 33, but I could have bought something there that did. I saw numerous hi-fi’s and record players of varying sophistication.

There were other things – clothes, knick-knacks, candleholders, computer parts, and a paperback book with the cover ripped off.

Then, in one box, I found the item that sent me and Mom on our way.

A yearbook. From Meigs Middle School. Belonging to Katelyn Butler, who was only 14 years old when the world ended. Signed by her friends. Testimonials about their friendship, her future, the usual stuff. Notes tucked into the pages, in envelopes I didn’t open. Color photos.

Her short life, captured in a few glossy pages.

So we left.

I didn’t buy anything. I felt like a ghoul for even being there.

And now I feel even more horrible for a family I didn’t know, but one that, through their tragedy, brought a little more meaning to my life.

About the author:

Del Stone Jr. is a professional fiction writer. He is known primarily for his work in the contemporary dark fiction field, but has also published science fiction and contemporary fantasy. Stone’s stories, poetry and scripts have appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories, Eldritch Tales, and Bantam-Spectra’s Full Spectrum. His short fiction has been published in The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXII; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the Pocket Books anthology More Phobias; the Barnes & Noble anthologies 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, Horrors! 365 Scary Stories, and 100 Astounding Little Alien Stories; the HWA anthology Psychos; and other short fiction venues, like Blood Muse, Live Without a Net, Zombiesque and Sex Macabre. Stone’s comic book debut was in the Clive Barker series of books, Hellraiser, published by Marvel/Epic and reprinted in The Best of Hellraiser anthology. He has also published stories in Penthouse Comix, and worked with artist Dave Dorman on many projects, including the illustrated novella “Roadkill,” a short story for the Andrew Vachss anthology Underground from Dark Horse, an ashcan titled “December” for Hero Illustrated, and several of Dorman’s Wasted Lands novellas and comics, such as Rail from Image and “The Uninvited.” Stone’s novel, Dead Heat, won the 1996 International Horror Guild’s award for best first novel and was a runner-up for the Bram Stoker Award. Stone has also been a finalist for the IHG award for short fiction, the British Fantasy Award for best novella, and a semifinalist for the Nebula and Writers of the Future awards. His stories have appeared in anthologies that have won the Bram Stoker Award and the World Fantasy Award. Two of his works were optioned for film, the novella “Black Tide” and short story “Crisis Line.”

Stone recently retired after a 41-year career in journalism. He won numerous awards for his work, and in 1986 was named Florida’s best columnist in his circulation division by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. In 2001 he received an honorable mention from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for his essay “When Freedom of Speech Ends” and in 2003 he was voted Best of the Best in the category of columnists by Emerald Coast Magazine. He participated in book signings and awareness campaigns, and was a guest on local television and radio programs.

As an addendum, Stone is single, kills tomatoes and morning glories with ruthless efficiency, once tied the stem of a cocktail cherry in a knot with his tongue, and carries a permanent scar on his chest after having been shot with a paintball gun. He’s in his 60s as of this writing but doesn’t look a day over 94.

Contact Del at [email protected]. He is also on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, tumblr, TikTok, Ello and Instagram. Visit his website at .

Image courtesy of Marvista Entertainment.

“Most Likely to Die” Starring Chad Addison, Jake Busey, Tess Christiansen, Heather Morris, Perez Hilton. Directed by Anthony DiBlasi. 90 minutes. Unrated.

Del’s take

Hollywood has exhausted its trove of mask themes for slashers these days.

Leatherface, Michael Myers, Jason Voorheis, Ghostface – they all have distinctive face coverings to make them scarier than what they really are – close-to-middle-age white dudes with mommy issues. A close-to-middle-age white dude is scary only when he shows up as your Tindr date, so if you’re John Carpenter or Tobe Hooper, you put your killer in a mask.

Hoping to join that cadre of baddies is The Graduate of “Most Likely to Die,” a room-temperature horror flick that never receives its diploma. Our Graduate wears an overbaked pot roast of a mask, which bears no resemblance to the conflict or subtext. To complete his ensemble he’s wrapped in a graduation gown, with a cap so sharp and deadly that if it were a human being, it could trade barbs with Bill Maher.

Too bad the script and acting aren’t equally cutting edge. The only thing they’re cutting is the cheese because this is one stinker of a scary movie. Don’t waste your time.

“Most Likely” features an ensemble cast starring Gaby (Heather Morris), a world poker wannabe who attends a reunion of her old high school clique at buddy Ray’s (Jason Tobias) remote hillside pad. She’s joined by eight others as they await their host, who’s mysteriously AWOL.

It takes no time for this Band of Mother******s to fall back into its high school pecking order, led by Brad (Ryan Doom), a recovering narcissist TV star who knocked up Gaby and dumped her when they were seniors (yet he still secretly pines for her, despite the presence of his supermodel shack job Bella – Tatum Miranda). But Gaby is having none of it. She’s already “lost big” to Brad once and she’s not going to do it again. We both know she’s lying through her fashionably bleached teeth.

Meanwhile, where the heck is Ray? It isn’t until the second act that somebody decides to go looking for him, and even that is a ploy to get a certain poker expert away from the others for some wooing and cooing.

They find a mysterious wooden shack where one of their members has been separated from her life by way of a slashed throat. Others turn up similarly murdered, and the story proceeds from there.

Clues are left along the way, but they aren’t developed. The manner of death might suggest a motive – that isn’t pursued. Nor is the possibility that one of them is the killer. It’s as if screenwriter didn’t know what to do with those complications and let them die on the vine.

The dialogue is as blah as unflavored yogurt and the pace as brisk as a jar of sun tea on the sidewalk. I’ve seen scarier episodes of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” Acting is similarly uninspired. The sole breath of life is Freddie (Perez Hilton), and even he is saddled with the stereotype of the over-the-top token gay boy who runs from the fight because he doesn’t want to break a nail.

I hated everyone and didn’t care who died. I wasn’t scared – not once – and stuck around only for the reveal, which was oddly anticlimactic and sprang from the ethers with little setup. My emotional investment lay in Gaby’s pricey convertible, which I hoped wouldn’t be scratched.

It’s a shame because “Most Likely” could have been a funny, sexy horror movie, like “Happy Death Day” or “Buffy.” Instead, it’s a paint-by-number middle school video project where every single part was phoned in.

I saw it Netflix, the online equivalent of the crappy Grade Z movie section in your old video rental store. But let me do you this favor:

Don’t bother. Grade D.

Stone is a former journalist and author.

“No Country for Old Men” Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly MacDonald. 122 minutes. Rated R.

Mladen’s take

The most interesting part of “No Country for Old Men” comes at the end of the film during the credits.

The film’s makers claim, “This is a carbon neutral production: 100% of carbon emissions offset with Native Energy.”

Dang, what a bold, confident statement. How did producers know the movie is carbon-neutral with such certainty? Did they calculate the oil- or natural gas- or coal-based energy it took to train the animals in the film? Or the noxious, atmosphere-heating gases produced by a burning car? Or using blanks in the silencer-equipped, 12-gauge shotgun wielded by the delightfully remorseless killer portrayed by Javier Bardem?

“No Country for Old Men” is a good movie, regardless of its carbon-neutrality. Why it got the nod for best motion picture of the year is beyond me, though.

It’s a slick film with Texas’ austere plains and mountains as backdrop. Dialogue is good and all of the characters interesting but “No Country for Old Men” is, essentially, little more than a shoot ’em up movie. The plot is tired, despite the penumbra of some hifalutin philosophical talk and events looking at the way fate plays with mankind.

“No Country for Old Men” lacks the dastardly humor of the Coen brothers’ “Fargo” or the flippant violence in “Raising Arizona,” which are better films.

If you go to a video store and “No Country for Old Men” is rented, don’t worry; it’s not a must-see despite its credentials.

Del’s take

Like Mladen asked, “No Country for Old Men” was a good movie but was it worthy of an Oscar?

Maybe in a weak year. Apparently 2007 was just such a year.

In “No Country for Old Men,” Josh Brolin stumbles across a drug deal gone bad. He makes off with the cash. Meanwhile, the druggies hire Javier Bardem to track him down. Tommy Lee Jones is the sheriff who seems to be one step behind the bad guys – on purpose.

The visuals are excellent. Dialogue is excellent. Performances range from good to excellent – I wasn’t impressed by Brolin’s interpretation of the Llewelyn Moss character but Bardem truly deserved an Oscar for his portrayal of killer Anton Chigurh.

I’m not sure what to make of the movie’s overall subtext. I mean, clearly it meant to say: The country has gone to hell in a hand-basket. Bardem’s character is a killer who attributes his amorality to fate, an easy balm for the conscience. Jones’ character is easily understandable as the reluctant sheriff who only wants to survive until retirement. But dirty deeds done dirt cheap have been with us a long, long time, and I’m not sure you can attribute them to Mom and Dad letting Britney dye her hair green.

Bardem is T-boned in an accident that leaves a bone protruding from his arm. He buys the shirt off a teenaged boy’s back and uses it to make a sling. Then he walks away from the accident as sirens wail in the distance. Is this an illustration of the amorality of fate, or a kind of karmic balancing of the equation?

“No Country for Old Men” doesn’t answer that question, and I think that’s where it falls short.

I would say watch it and make your own judgment.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.