I skipped a day for Christmas.
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) – Surprisingly, a plausible sequel to an action movie that really wasn’t designed as a franchise. (In other words, more plausible than everything from Die Hard 2 to Taken 2). I’m not sure how much I like learning more about the pseudo-government of the underworld — the “seat at the High Table” seemed almost like something that was stolen from vampire novels — but the movie did confirm my long-held suspicion that roughly 80% of the inhabitants of New York are in fact hitmen.
And this time, they very clearly set things up for a sequel.
Attack of the Robots (1966) – Its English title is misleading, although the original French title — “Cartes Sur Table” (Cards on the Table) — tells you absolutely nothing. This isn’t a sci-fi feature as such; it’s a international-intrigue-superspy adventure a la James Bond (who even gets name-checked at one point). A shadowy organization kidnaps tourists in Europe, brainwashes them, and sells them out to the highest bidder as assassins. And the only one who can stop them is perennial tough guy Eddie Constantine!
Most American cinemaphiles know Constantine only from starring in Alphaville (1965), which means they miss the point: Constantine was a mainstay as the hard-boiled hero in a dozen French-made crime movies before Alphaville, and that mystique was a large part of the reason that Godard cast him. Seeing Constantine in Alphaville without being familiar with his on-screen persona is like seeing Clint Eastwood for the first time in Unforgiven (1992) — you miss the whole relationship of that particular movie to the leading man’s oeuvre.
So this is one of those bread-and-butter movies for Constantine: He’s charming, forthright, successful with the ladies, and two-fisted at all the right times. Don’t like the fact that Jess Franco directed this frighten you off; it’s actually a fun little time-waster.
John Wick (2014) – I can think of no other actor but Keanu Reeves whose habitual expression is equal parts that of a wide-eyed innocent and a dead-eyed shark. I’m not saying that this story of a retired hitman forced back into his old life for revenge could never have been made with another star, but it would have been a very different movie. It’s a simple, focused movie, and one of the most important scenes allowing it to be so occurs early on, when the police respond to a noise complaint at John Wick’s residence (the noise being due to Wick single-handedly taking out a half-dozen wanna-be assassins). The responding officer looks past Wick at the bodies strewn around the vestibule and nonchalantly says, “You working again, John?” This signals that the story isn’t going to be concerned with law enforcement at all; the world of multi-national crime organizations and the hitpeople they employ is going to be one governed by their own rules.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) – Not as novel, obviously, as the first one, but a fitting continuation, provided they’re not planning on making a third one — the mystery of Peter Quill’s parentage was the thru-line that made the second movie appropriate, and with it being solved… I also love love love the fact that M.U. movies seem dedicated to making fanboy knowledge of arcane continuity history finally pay off, as in, “Ha! I TOTALLY understood the significance of the name ‘Ego’ five minutes before the rest of the audience!”
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – Continuing my Marvel Cinematic Universe catchup: There are two good Spider-Man movies: Sam Raimi’s 2002 franchise opener, and this one. Skipping the blah-blah-blah origin story, keeping Peter Parker in high school, and furthermore keeping him acting like a high-school student in high-school situations, was much appreciated. And tying him fulling into the MCU both via his own origin and via that of the main antagonist (never actually called “the Vulture,” but an interesting take on that character) means we NEVER EVER EVER have to reboot the franchise again.
I Want Him Dead (aka Lo Voglio Morto) (1968) – Civil War cattle driver Clayton (Craig Hill, who bears a remarkable facial resemblance to Daniel Davis of TV’s The Nanny) just wants to take his savings and buy a ranch. Instead, his sister (who appears to be half his age and bears him no resemblance) is raped and murdered at random, so Clayton goes on a quest for vengeance, which ultimately puts him in the position to foil the plot of a war profiteer trying to disrupt secret negotiations to end the Civil War.
There are plot holes big enough to accommodate a good-sized cattle drive, Clayton gets the snot beaten out of him on a regular basis and walks it off without any swelling, and director Paolo Bianchini is apparently under the impression that cowboy boots are silent on wooden floors as people sneak up behind Clayton three times… but on the other hand, it looks nice. So there’s that.
Wonder Woman (2017) – As this movie relies almost entirely on the actress playing the titular character, the producers of a DC Comics movie finally made a good choice: Gal Gadot exudes both feminine appeal and physical strength, the latter characteristic being one that Lynda Carter simply never had. She also portrays Diana with a perfect combination of intelligence and innocence bordering on naivete.
The rest of the movie? Well, it’s a superhero movie. I appreciated the change of setting from World War II to I, both because it makes more sense with the idea of defeating Ares, god of war, in the first great global war, and also because it defused any criticism that we’ve already seen a recent movie with a superhero running around Europe wielding a shield during WWII. The human villains were underdeveloped, as seems to be the common failing of almost all superhero movies, and the attempt to give a koan-like moral to the final scenes falls as flat as a fortune cookie.
Still, I won’t be surprised if, in twenty years, the powers-that-be at Warners still say, “Remember that time when we made a really good superhero movie?”
Antibody (2002) – Lance Henriksen is one of my favorite actors, and I never fault him for taking what work he can get. However, he’s been in far too many movies whose only positive is that it provided him a paycheck, and Antibody is one. For the first 20 minutes, it’s the tale of an FBI bomb expert (Henriksen) stymied by a terrorist’s nano-triggered explosive which levels a consulate building in D.C.; a year later, he’s a private security consultant in Germany, when another terrorist with a similar nano-detonator busts up a conference he’s securitizing. When the terrorist gets himself shot by friendly fire during the rescue, suddenly the movie becomes a pale shadow of Fantastic Voyage, in which Henriksen is inexplicably made part of a team that will pilot a miniaturized sub through the terrorist’s body to find and defuse the detonator before the terrorist’s death triggers a nuke.
Henriksen acts as if he were handed the script as he was stepping in front of the cameras, and can’t bother to work up any emotion at the rates they’re paying him anyway. Which is kinda good, I guess, since his totally by-the-numbers which shrinkification scientist chick Robin Givens (38 years old at time of release, compared to Henriksen’s 62) is squicky enough. Mediocre CGI, supporting actors emoting through thick Eastern European accents, and a shoehorned-in shadow of a subplot regarding Henriksen’s footloose daughter all add up to a movie that can’t really justify its existence.