JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 - PARABELLUM: 3 ½ STARS
Why did they have to kill the dog?
Cast your mind back to 2014. John Wick, the retired super assassin played by Keanu Reeves, was attempting to move on after the death of his wife. Keeping him company was a puppy, sent by his wife just before she died in the hopes that the dog's love would help ease his pain. But then came the bad men who broke into his house to steal his super nifty 1970 Mustang. Things go sideways and the thieves do the unspeakable.
They kill the dog.
Big mistake. The doggy's daddy is a killing machine. How wicked is John Wick? "Is he the boogeyman?" asks one former associate. "He was the one we sent to kill the boogeyman."
Thus was set into motion the series of bloody, open-up-a-can-of-whoop-ass events that lead us to "John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum."
Following "Chapter 2" which saw Wick ostracized from the exclusive world of killers-for-hire after breaking some very Old Testament style rules laid down by Winston (Ian McShane), operator of the mysterious assassin association the High Table. Now Wick has a $14 million price tag on his head and an army of international bounty-hunters on his tail.
You don't go to "John Wick" movies for nuanced character development. You go for the kick butt-ery. "Chapter 3" delivers on the promise of action with scenes that show Wick dispatching a man using nothing but a book, stabbing somebody in the eye – that one is gruesome – and, of course, shooting everyone in sight. There is so much and gunplay it's as if they had to use up all of "Chapter 3's" bullet budget or they wouldn't get it again for the inevitable sequel.
These action scenes are carefully choreographed and the absence of music in the early fights emphasizes the brutality and the absurdity of the violence. But while we expect uber-violence from this franchise, we also expect consistently inventive battle scenes. There's some of that — the action scenes involving horses and motorcycles are wild and woolly — but a long shoot-out in Casablanca is just that – a long shoot-out in Casablanca that feels plucked from a video game.
As the series moves further away from the original "dead puppy" revenge plot of the original it is losing some of the simplicity that made the first two movies so enjoyable. The world of the High Table comes with rules aplenty, but in the context of these action films less could be more. We don't need complicated worldbuilding. This isn't a Marvel movie, it's a fists of fury action flick that threatens to get bogged down by details.
Having said that, "Chapter Three - Parabellum" (a Latin phrase meaning ‘prepare for war') is still a hoot and features some of the coolest fight scenes in movies right now despite its excesses.
THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR: 3 STARS
"The Sun is Also a Star," an existential romance starring Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton, is about love struck young people with two distinct points of view, brought together by chance.
Based on Nicola Yoon's award-winning novel, the story follows high school seniors Natasha (Shahidi) and Daniel (Melton) whose lives change in one day. "Compared to the life span of the universe our lives begin and end in a single day," she says.
She's in crisis, a Carl Sagan-quoting realist dealing with the stark fact that her family is to be deported to Jamaica in 24 hours. "This is my home," she says. "New York is my home."
He's a dreamer, a poet who loves Emily Dickenson and believes that love can conquer all. "I don't believe in love," she says. "So, no magic, no fate, no meant-to-be?" he replies. "What if I told you I could get you to fall in love with me? Just give me a day."
They spend an eventful twelve hours in New York City trying to discover if Daniel's notion of love conquering all is true or a pie in the sky pipe dream. "This is real," he says. "I know you feel it too."
Whether you find "The Sun is Also a Star" naïve or heartwarming will say much about whether you are a Natasha or a Daniel. The touchy-feely why-can't-we-all-just-get-along vibe is a simple and frequently over used sentiment but here it works if you buy in. Score one for Daniel. It's the kind of movie where NYC Transit announcements are more poetic pronouncements — "You never know why you were meant to be here at this time," blares a late subway notice — than simple information and life-changing events happen in the blink of an eye.
It's a sorta-kinda millennial "Before Sunset." Heavy on the dialogue, it proceeds at an unhurried pace building toward romantic moments geared to make teen's hearts beat a little faster. Like an emo love song, the minor chord story mixes romance with heightened situations about the human cost of deportation and two lovebirds who may never have the chance to be together, destiny be damned.
"The Sun is Also a Star" has some charming moments — his giggle when she unexpectedly calls, and the way they look at each other at a karaoke bar — provided by the impossibly good-looking leads and aided by their chemistry. Those unwilling to embrace the "open up your heart to destiny" premise, however, may be better rewarded by cracking open the decided less romantic but equally metaphysical "Cosmos" by Natasha's hero Carl Sagan.
THIS IS NORTH PRESTON: 2 ½ STARS
The town of North Preston, Nova Scotia is significant for several reasons. Established circa the American Revolution, the town of 4,000 has a rich history as a haven for Africans who escaped from slavery on the island of Jamaica and Black refugees from the War of 1812. "This is Preston," a new film from director Jaren Hayman, presents a contemporary warts-and-all portrait of a place scarred by systemic racism and violence.
Acting as tour guide is R&B singer, rapper and North Preston-ite (he now lives in Los Angeles) Just Chase. He pops in and out of the film — occasionally in music video style sequences — to ground the film in present day, a community sometimes known as the Pimp Capital of Canada. It's not exactly something you want on the Expedia.ca listing for the town but the film's subjects, some residents of the town who call themselves North Preston's Finest, suggest the town's current state of affairs is the result of profiling and decades of oppression from a predominantly white police force. North Preston's Finest are not, they stress, a gang but rather a loose-knit group who celebrate what they call the North Preston lifestyle. Reinforcing the stories of police harassment is Olympian and former champion boxer Kirk Johnson who tells a chilling story of being targeted by police.
It's here the film is at its most interesting. Hayman does not back away from addressing issues of human trafficking and gun violence but he also doesn't condescend to the viewer or the film's subjects by attempting to mine easy answers for the town's social ills. Instead he is a fly on the wall, presenting a raw look at the community's economic reality. It's a dire situation ripe with hypocrisy but it's also a complex one that provides the film's most interesting food for thought.
"This is North Preston" raises interesting points but feels stretched to its modest 70-minute running time. Hayman assembles an interesting and provocative collection of residents, public officials, pimps and victims of sexual violence but the film feels padded, as though a shorter version, perhaps a TV hour, might have made the film sharper and more effective.