Monday, 9 February 2015

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Name the two things that are msot overdone in TV and film right now.

If you said "vampires" and "mockumentaries" then congratulations, we're both unusually tired of two quite specific things. It's strange then that this is the vampire mockumentary we didn't know we always wanted.

What We Do in the Shadows comes from the minds of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, two of the creative minds behind the massive cult hit Flight of the Conchords. Such a comedy pedigree bleeds into the bones of WWDitS and the style of humour blends well.

 WWDitS is the documentary put together by the New Zealand Documentary Board team that shadowed four vampire flatmates in Wellington, NZ. The house is like a police lineup of vampire classics: the violent and explosion Vladislav from somewhere  in Eastern Europe, a fancy 18th Century dandy in the form of Viago, Deacon the stylish and swaggering "youngster" at 183 years old and Petyr, the Nosferatu-esque ancient horror.

The four of them tackle issues that come up in all eternal lives. They have to feed on human blood, they struggle to keep up with technology, pine over long-dead lovers and argue about who has to wash the blood stained bowls that have been in the sink for years. The combination of the supernatural issues they face and the mundane gives the undead foursome a very human appeal, despite some of the sometimes digusting and sometimes hilarious (often both) things they carry out on their nights.

The style of humour is rapid, with quickfire jokes coming one after the next. The mockumentary style is used not like a crutch as it is in most TV shows right now, but to block off sections of the film with relative ease. It creates an atmosphere that feels almost like a combination of sketches, with little overarching plot, so don't go in expecting some Twilight drama you'll have trouble finding the vein.

A lot of the humour does feel quite obvious, but it's played off so smartly and genuinely that it works well enough to carry it off. Yes some of the jokes have been done before, and yes they were done because they were funny. The most cliché example lives in the rival pack of werewolves that the guys encounter a number of times through the film. The werewolves v zombies dynamic is nothing new, but the biting banter exchanged between the two, especially from pack's the alpha male (played by Flight of the Conchords' Rhys Darby). It's an easy joke to make, but not easy to do well, and this right here is one of my highlights.

The humour can kind of repeat itself, and not everything is original, but the quality of the jokes the team behind WWDitS breathes new life into at least two lifeless genres that have sorely been missing the blood in their veins.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

John Wick (2014)

If you want your action sequences to an A standard and your movies to a B, then John Wick might be the Keanu Reeves return to the floor that you've been waiting for.

Reeves reappears in the form of John Wick, a hitman who comes out of retirement to avenge the killing of his dog, itself a final gift from his recently deceased wife. In his campaign to get revenge on the killer he'll tear apart the Russian mob, the hitman underworld and large swathes of New York City.

This film is built purely on one major strength: the  unrelenting, visceral action. Teaming up with Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, whom he first met on the set of The Matrix where they were charting the choreography, Reeves brings the familiar finesse and weight to the bullet ballet that takes up a majority of the screen time.

"Gun fu" is a term that I have laughed at, am laughing at as I type, and will most likely laugh at in the future. It's a silly term, but it completely works because it's made for ridiculous movies. That is not a bad thing. Much in the same way that Kung Fu films had crazy, unbelievable fights that could never happen, films like John Wick have people so effective at combat and killing and shooting that it makes Gun Fu an applicable description. The weapons of the killers in John Wick are extensions of their owners' bodies making it as much as a martial art as karate or judo.

Wide, extended shots allow the beauty of all the fight choreography to really shine through. Where many films cower behind frenetic motion and quick cuts, John Wick avoids the shortcuts even in its sure to be iconic night-club chase-come-massacre.

All this action takes place in a hammed up B movie hitman underworld completely bathed in style. Once he rejoins the criminal profesion, Wick inhabits a world where there are killer clubhouses, a hitman code and everybody seems to know everybody else's name and business (all things that, I imagine, don't tend to work out too well for your modern contract killer). The supporting cast, made up of femme fatales, unnerving hotel concierge and Russian playboys, pad out this world and bring it to life in that charms in a way only something out of a B movie can.

Somehow pulpy and fresh, John wick delivers a visceral, uncomplicated take on the B movie revenge film and Keanu Reeves proves that, as well as not physically ageing, he still possesses the skills to inflict unblinking, unemoting pain on the countless unnamed thugs of the mythical underworld.