Sunday, February 12, 2017

John Wick: Chapter Two

John Wick: Chapter 2 isn't just a fetishistic movie--it is a movie about respecting the honor and tradition of fetishism. Objects stand in for relationships, whether it's the house that John lived in with his wife or the marker that helped him to escape his past as a paid assassin. So the montage where John, after having his life (i.e. his house) blow up, gathers new gear for himself, inevitably climaxes with a giddy inventory of various guns. Suit, gold coins, and a whole lot of guns--these things are meaningful to the man who has no use for anything else. Guns are meat and potatoes, and knives are dessert.

I mean, look at how much this world's significantly beefed-up mythology, such as it is, depends on analog objects. Things are traditionally reliable, and reliably traditional. There's the rotary phones and clunky computers in the Continental's secretary pool. There's the conspicuously unmixed drinks that John and Cassian imbibe when  they declare a wary truce: bourbon for John, gin for Cassian. And there's that damn car from the opening scene, the one that takes a monster-truck-rally-worthy savaging--but can and therefore must be refurbished. 

I loved the sheer absurdity of this climax: the car doesn't even matter any more--it's the principle of the car's existence that matters! Yes, it has sentimental value, as is evidenced by the photo of John's late wife that he keeps in the glove compartment. But again: the thing is always the sentiment it motivates, so it's ok that John treasures it well beyond reasonable measure. This isn't a convincing sign of John's soul-sickness, though Chapter Two does bluntly conclude with a shoot-out at a museum exhibition called "Reflections of the Soul." 

The world that John represents is all surface. It's slippery by nature, but it's supposed to be attractively sturdy. There are rules, and John ultimately fails to obey them when he shoots a Continental club member in the Continental. Again, I'm not convinced that this is a sign of the soul-less nature of John's world as much as it is a sign of the filmmakers' desire to have it both ways: suits, cars, gold coins, and guns are cool but don't get too attached, or else you too will lose your soul! Never mind that the scene where John gets his gear is an unequivocally triumphal moment. Never mind that there is no normative word for John to compare his actions or values with. Never mind that character actor cameos are used to evoke without really establishing a substantial connection between John and his colleagues/employers/fellow hired hands. Just focus on the way that one fetish--the marker--is treated as a bad thing that must be destroyed while another--the house--is a pure thing whose destruction reduces a man to...acquiring more stuff and killing a bunch of disposable flunkies and capo di capi. 

I mean, what exactly do all these things stand in for? Tradition, but not a tradition that you or I know exists but rather a rigid, rule-based code of conduct that harkens back to the not-so-conflicted romanticism of Cavalleria Rusticana, if not earlier. In Rusticana, Sicilian men of honor also fight for and against hidebound traditions that dictate that men settle disputes outside the law. There's a similarly futile it's-a-fallen-world-but-it-once-was-beautiful nostalgia running through this film. In fact, if I had to give a name to Chapter Two's soul-less ethos, it would be nostalgia-punk, a paradoxically toothless form of countercultural rebellion that relies implicitly on our faith in objects to represent our relationships, our traditions, and ultimately our institutions. All of this stuff was in John Wick, but at least that film's fetish was a dog, a living thing. Remember when men were men, guns were guns, and Franco Nero's very presence was a cause for celebration? I don't either.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

"Fight Off the Lethargy! Don't Go Quietly!"

Hiya, pal. Here are some links from the past month, organized by outlet:

Review of Assassin's Creed.

Great Performances of 2016, featuring my shout-out to Stephen Lang in Don't Breathe.

Ten Best Films of 2016, featuring my write-up of Elle.

All four of my dispatches from the inaugural Macau Film Festival.

Review of Eyes of My Mother.

Review of Sky on Fire.

Review of Evolution.

Village Voice:

Calendar blurb on Streets of Fire.

Review of Contract to Kill.

Calendar blurb on The Road Warrior.

Review of Toshiro Mifune: The Last Samurai.


Recap of Sense8: A Christmas Special.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Like a Rhinestone Cowboy

Hello, young lovers, whatever you are.

Last week, I teased an interview with Steve Coogan. That probably won't happen at this point. Which sucks because I got pretty hyped about it myself. But he's starting a new film, which means he doesn't have time for this guy. 

*Bronx cheer* 

Let's go to the weekly links, shall we?

First, my Village Voice review of Studio Ghibli-produced animated fable The Red Turtle.

And my Village Voice "Voices Choices" squib on the Metrograph's Takeshi Kitano retrospective.

My review of shitty Idris Elba spy thriller The Take.

And some stray Letterboxd thoughts on why I wasn't crazy about Doctor Strange.

Tune in next week for reviews of Mifune: The Last Samurai, and Evolution.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Idle Worship

This week's been...shitty. But here's a couple of pieces for you, anyway.

First up is my interview with Sword of Doom star Tatsuya Nakadai, courtesy of the fine folks at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Then there's my interview with Elle director Paul Verhoeven.

And my review of lackluster/pseudo-suspenseful romantic-thriller Come and Find Me.

And that's all she wrote for this week. Stay tuned for a short piece on Takeshi Kitano, an interview with Steve Coogan, and reviews of The Red Turtle and The Take.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hot Linking Action

Oh hi.

Here are some links to my recent writing.

My feature on the year's most exciting horror films.

My brief Village Voice write-up of the Anthology Film Archives' Lucio Fulci retrospective.

My Village Voice review of lame-o rock doc We Are X.

My brief Village Voice write-up of the Japan Society's Kadokawa Films' retrospective.

My pan of Paul Schrader's weak crime thriller/black comedy Dog Eat Dog.

My Village Voice interview with George Romero about Night of the Living Dead.

Stay tuned: next week will feature links to interviews with Tatsuya Nakadai and Paul Verhoeven.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Halloween Link Dump

Hello. Been a while, I know. I won't say that I'm back for good since I've made similar promises before, and broken them. So let's dispense with the formalities, and get to this week's links.

First up is my Esquire interview with The Handmaiden director Chan-wook Park about storyboards, classic musical, and violence.

Next, there's my Village Voice cap about Anthology Film Archives now-ongoing Lucio Fulci retrospective. 

And my interview with Creepy helmer Kiyoshi Kurosawa about location-scouting, generic expectations, and the wind.

Then there's my three-star review of 31, Rob Zombie's latest horror film.

And, just in case you missed it, my (and co-author Matt Zoller Seitz's) Village Voice oral history of The Thing (1982), featuring interviews with Wilford Brimley, John Carpenter, David Clennon, Keith David, and Richard Masur.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Old Gray Lady and Friends


So this clip round-up includes my first piece at the New York Times: a primer on Heroes Reborn, which you read here.

Not much, but it's a start.


At Vulture, I recapped the first two episodes of Gotham's second season here, and here. And episodes four and five of Fear the Walking Dead here, and here.

I also did a list of the ten most Cannon-y moments in the new Cannon DVD/Blu-ray box set, also at Vulture.

At, there's my positive review of The Green Inferno, Eli Roth's Cannibal Holocaust homage, right over here.

And at the Village Voice, there's reviews of Mississippi Grind, Hotel Transylvania 2, This Changes Everything, Shanghai, and He Named Me Malala