BUFFALO, N.Y. — “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” is a Latin phrase that translates as “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Everyone in John Wick 3 is prepared for war, but that hasn't brought much peace. Most of this movie is war; shooting, stabbing, punching, cutting, bludgeoning, pummeling and various other bloody and bone-cracking variations on the myriad ways that humans do damage to each other. Oh, occasionally, we get a break from the action with a little exposition and we learn a bit about Wick’s (Keanu Reeves, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Matrix) backstory.
We get some delightful scenes with Angelica Huston (Buffalo ’66, Art School Confidential), Ian McShane (Hellboy, Death Race), Laurence Fishburne (The Mule, Last Flag Flying) and Halle Berry (Kidnap, Cloud Atlas) wherein they all showcase their prodigious respective talents.
We also see enigmatic Asia Kate Dillon (TV’s Billions, TV’s Orange is the New Black) introduce a character with the foreboding name of “The Adjudicator.” All of those pleasures are over and above the “theme park of red delights” (to borrow Satan’s phrase from another Keanu Reeves cinematic vehicle, 2005’s Constantine) that is the panoply of wildly frenetic, tightly choreographed and endlessly entertaining chase and combat scenes that fill the rest of the film’s more than 2-hour runtime. It’s combat above conversation in the world of John Wick.
The film picks up just about where 2017’s John Wick: Chapter 2 left off. Now a marked man for his murderous betrayal of The High Table, the overarching syndicate that controls all assassins, he’s on the run in Manhattan with only minutes to go before he is excommunicated from the High Table and a 14-million-dollar bounty is placed on his head.
Now, bringing a knife to a gunfight is one thing, but taking a horse on a motorcycle chase is another.
He heads to the New York Public Library where he has secreted some gold coins (the High Table’s currency), a gold marker container (containing a marker, a promise, from someone), and an ornate crucifix. Even there, in the library, the attempts on his life begin. So, do the fight scenes.
If you're gonna battle to the death in the Library, you must do it quietly.
After a couple of fights, each one more violent, complex, and choreographically ornate than the last, he finds his way to The Director (Huston) a Belarussian ballet aficionado with a place at the High Table. You would think she and her minions would kill Wick, or at least try to, but she grants him an audience instead. Wick, using the crucifix (it’s apparently some kind of token worth aid and safe passage) entreats her to help him reach Casablanca, where he hopes to meet with yet another member of the High Table’s ruling circle for “guidance.” Once in Casablanca, he finds another old acquaintance, Sophia (Berry), a former assassin turned manager for the Casablanca branch of the Hotel Continental.
Sophia (Berry) looks so happy to see her old buddy, John (Reeves).
(The John Wick fan will remember that the Continental is a special hotel for assassins where they aren’t allowed to kill their targets or each other. Violating that rule is what got Wick into trouble in the first place.) He wants Sophia and her highly trained, prized and lethal canines to help him find yet another High Table notable who can lead him to the leader of the entire syndicate, the only one who can lift his bounty and his excommunication. Sophia reluctantly agrees, but there is still mayhem aplenty in the offing.
If the reader is not a fan of neo-noir, ultra-violent action flicks, give John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum a hard pass. If the reader is not a fan yet but wants to give the genre a try, this is not the film with which to start. At a minimum, that reader should start with the first film in the franchise and move forward from there. Existing Wick fans will find this latest installment to be a winner; blood-soaked and exhausting, but a winner nonetheless. As discussed above, it is energetically violent and a little light on conversation, but what dialogue there is, is great. In fact, one would-be Wick killer is forced to take a break from his homicidal efforts, and while doing so takes the opportunity to express just what a fanboy he is. It’s that sort of risible counterpoint amid all the bloodshed that takes this film above the level of a gorefest. Oh, this also a wonderful sequence where there is a pretty bloody fight (an attack on The Director’s ballet studio) where the scenes of fighting are briskly intercut with scenes of ballet practice with The Director’s tattooed ballerinas. That sequence is nothing short of wonderful.
After all, a scene featuring ballerinas with tattoos will add class to any blood-soaked crime thriller.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum and its director, Stahelski (John Wick: Chapter 2) a former stunt performer, have raised the bar on the genre. The story leaves plenty of room for another installment in the franchise, a possibility that this reviewer is gleefully anticipating. Until then, this film is director, cast and crew deserve multitudinous accolades and four out of five boxes of popcorn.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is directed by Chad Stahelski and stars Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Anjelica Huston, and Ian McShane. It's Rated R for pervasive strong violence, and some language and runs 130 Minutes.
Now, if ballet is your thing, but the carnage isn’t, there’s The White Crow. It’s the real-life story of how Soviet Ballet Star Rudolph Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko in his first big-screen role) defected to the West.
Ralph Fiennes (Skyfall, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) plays Nureyev’s instructor and mentor, Alexander Ivanovich Pushkin. The film is set in a dangerous tense time, but not much of that comes through. The ballet scenes are beautiful, graceful and inspiring as are the performances. It’s Rated R for some sexuality, graphic nudity, and language. I think it’s easily worth four and a half out of 5 boxes of popcorn and is well worth investing two hours of your time. But be advised, much of the dialogue is in Russian, so it’s subtitled. The performances and the dancing make it more than worth the effort.
If you want something a bit more mainstream, well, you have choices at the cineplex. A Dog's Journey is one of them. It's a sequel to A Dog’s Purpose from 2017. Critics aren’t howling about it. It’s Rated PG for thematic content, some peril, and rude humor. It stars the voice of Josh Gad (Murder on the Orient Express, Beauty and the Beast), Marg Helgenberger (Columbus Day, Mr. Brooks) and Dennis Quaid (The Day After Tomorrow, Kin). You’ll remember Quaid as the psychopathic house seller in The Intruder. He’s got range.
Trial by Fire is also out in the movie theatres. It’s the tragic true story of a man executed for murder after evidence clearing him was suppressed in Texas. Laura Dern (Cold Pursuit, The Founder) stars. It’s Rated R for language throughout, some violence, disturbing images, sexual material, and brief nudity. The critical response is mixed with one critic calling it a "powerful story unpowerfully told."
The Sun is Also a Star is one of those "Young Adult" romances, but it might be better-called Love in the Time of Deportation. It's the romantic tale of a Boy, a Girl, and an ICE Removal Order. How timely. It’s Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language. Critics aren’t loving this love story, but they’re not really hating it, either. If I see it at all, it’ll be when it comes out On Demand.
I’m Larry Haneberg, and I’m taking you 2 the Movies.