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JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3–PARABELLUM

Producer: Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee
Director: Chad Stahelski
Writer: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Halle Berry, Anjelica Huston, Saïd Taghmaoui, Jerome Flynn, Jason Mantzoukas, Tobias Segal, Boban Marjanovic, Cecep Arif Rahman, Yayan Ruhian
Studio: Lionsgate

C+

Even the most dedicated action junkie might find himself exhausted by “John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum,” Chad Stahelski’s latest installment of the saga about a legendary hit-man brought out of retirement to take vengeance on those who messed with his dog and his car. The movie strings together a chain of flashy martial arts fisticuffs, explosively stylish swordfights and garish gun battles, some with animal partners, but by the end the excitement they’re intended to generate has mutated into something very close to tedium. One can get too much even of a good thing.

The movie begins where the last one ended—with Wick (Keanu Reeves) running through the rain-soaked streets of New York, a hunted man after he has desecrated the Continental Hotel, the “safe zone” for assassins in the city, by killing a rival there. The High Table, which runs the “union” of professional murderers and apply the rules they all must follow, is about to declare open season on Wick by excommunicating him and posting a $14 million bounty for his death. Every assassin in the city, and the world (and there seems to be a bunch of them on every block—apparently it’s one calling that never has a shortage of applicants) will be out to collect.

So after depositing his beloved canine with his old friend Winston (Ian McShane), the manager of the Continental, and Charon (Lance Reddick), the place’s unflappable concierge, Wick is off to try to save himself. After dealing with an introductory bevy of assailants—a giant in the NYC library, where he stops to collect some important belongings, a bunch of nasties in a knife-and-hatchet shop, another gang that chases him into a stable for carriage horses—and having his wounds tended to by an underground doctor just as the excommunication deadline strikes, he’s off to visit his old mentor the Director (Anjelica Huston), a menacing Russian ballet master who grudgingly books him passage to Casablanca, where he plans to meet the head of the High Table and negotiate his reinstatement.

There Wick asks for help from another old acquaintance, Sophia (Halle Berry), who holds a grudge against himself despite the fact that he once saved her daughter. Use of another of his old markers, or I.O.U.s, leads her and her capable dogs to join him in visiting Berrada (Jerome Flynn), a Table power player who can direct him to the group’s reclusive leader (Saïd Taghmaoui). That encounter results in another bloodbath, in which Sophia and her dogs play a major role, but it finally leads to Wick’s face-to-face with the leader, who offers him reinstatement if he returns to New York and kills Winston.

Winston is already being threatened for having helped Wick by the Table’s malevolent Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), who has also her sights set on the Director and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), another old Wick ally. She has also hired Zero (Mark Dacascos), a sushi chef with special expertise in knives, to deal with all the Table’s enemies when Wick returns to the city. Will Wick side with Winston or kill him?

The upshot is a final battle at the Continental that involves scads of the Table’s armored soldiers, Winston’s staff, Zero and his army—and Wick, of course. The prolonged finale ends with the obligatory final face-off between Wick and Zero, though the makers have a final twist up their sleeve that promises another sequel. “Parabellum,” after all, means the preparation for war, not the war itself.

The action sequences, of course, are the raison d’être for all the John Wick movies, and Stahelski, Reeves, their army of stuntmen, cinematographer Dan Lausten, and editor Evan Schiff combine their skills to create a succession of wild set pieces. Unfortunately, even as they increase in size and trickery, they grow increasingly tiresome. There’s plenty of verve in the early ones—the initial clash in the library, the knife-and-hatchet encounter, and the carriage-horse routine are all imaginative and exhilarating (if awfully explicit in violence quotients).

By the time Wick gets to North Africa, however, overkill sets in, in every sense. The battle that Wick, Sophia and her canines engage in with Berrada’s nearly endless supply of minions goes on way too long, and grows more and more repetitive—by the twentieth time we’re treated to a shot of some anonymous turbaned henchman being attacked in the groin by a dog, the sight has lost whatever shock effect it might once have had. The final confrontation, with lots of glass and mirrors, is more than a little reminiscent of the one in the last movie (as well as plenty of other films unrelated to the franchise), and it too feels endless, though it’s enlivened somewhat by Dacascos’ jokey contributions.

His performance one of the pleasures in the picture, along with the customarily smooth turns by McShane, Fishburne and Reddick. Elsewhere the casting yields fewer rewards than you might expect. Huston and Berry sink their teeth into their roles almost as much as Sophia’s dogs sink theirs into villains’ private parts, but even what are essentially comic-book characters deserve more than that. And Dillon is an utter stick as the Adjudicator—while Taghmaoui makes a rather feeble ultimate villain.

Unlike a great many sequels, “John Wick 3” probably won’t disappoint fans of the series; to cite another picture from Reeves’s résumé, it’s no “Matrix Revolutions.” But it is a bloated chapter in the saga, one that proves that more can actually mean less.

LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (DI QIU ZUI HOU DE YE WAN)

Producer: Shan Zuolong
Director: Bi Gan
Writer: Bi Gan
Stars: Tang Wei, Huang Jue, Sylvia Chang, Li Hong-qi, Chen Yong-zhong and Luo Feiyang
Studio: Kino Lorber

B-

Some viewers may be inclined to suggest that a better English title for young Chinese auteur Bi Gan’s sophomore feature might be “Long Film’s Journey Into Obscurity,” but while not literally inaccurate, that would be selling the film short, so to speak. “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”—which has nothing to do with the O’Neill play (the original Chinese title would translate as “Last Evenings on Earth”)—is unquestionably ponderous, self-indulgent and opaque, but also an engrossing example of cinematic virtuosity, ending in a protracted single take that will become the stuff of movie lore.

In terms of genre, the picture is a film noir, which begins with world-weary protagonist Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) ruminating about his unhappiness as he awakens in a seedy hotel room with a prostitute. After leaving, he continues to discourse in voiceover about the emptiness of his life after losing his girlfriend, the beautiful Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei), the moll of a crime lord (Chen Yong-zhong). Returning to his family’s restaurant after a long absence (which, Luo says pointedly, was named after his mother), he finds that his father has died, and discovers a picture of the woman in the workings of a broken wall clock, a telephone number written on the back..

Luo’s dreamlike reminiscences about meeting and wooing Wan in 2000. His recollections of their furtive time together in an abandoned house are intercut with his present-day search to find her again. Interwoven are fragments involving the death of his childhood friend Wildcat (Li Hong-qi), who was involved in criminal activity in a tunnel, and Luo’s encounter with a mysterious woman (Tang) in a glistening green gown who calls herself Wan.

The second part of the film—introduced by the film’s English title card—consists of an hour-long dreamlike sequence consisting of a single tracking shot. It begins, after Luo asks an apparent madam in a ruined courtyard about Wan, in a movie theatre where he and Wan spent a great deal of time. There he puts on 3D glasses and apparently enters the place’s underground tunnels. There he encounters a boy, presumably a young Wildcat, who challenges him to a ping-pong game as the price of escape, followed by a journey on a motorcycle to a cable-car, on which Luo slowly descends to an outdoor stage where a series of singers are performing before a sparse audience.

Here he meets an abrasive young woman (Tang again) and, after a pool game with a couple of young would-be toughs, they make their way to a wrecked house—presumably the one where he and Wan made love long ago—and then to a locked gate where her supposed boyfriend is waiting for her. Luo forces the man to take her with him, but demands a gift from her in return—the broken wristwatch he’d previously given her.

This description of the film’s “plot,” based as it is on a single viewing, might not be entirely correct, and some may rejoice in pointing out a flaw or two. But that wouldn’t matter overmuch, because Bi isn’t primarily—or even really—interested in telling a conventional story. His emphasis is on mood, atmosphere and suggestion: he uses the noir template—as well as lots of allusions to other films—to consider such basic themes as the illusory (or insignificant) nature of time , the fluidity of chronology, and the difficulty of discerning a difference between “reality,” dream and hallucination.

It’s not simply that those ideas are conveyed stylistically; they’re embodied in the fractured narrative technique that Bi has chosen, abetted by Qin Yanan’s editing, which revels in digression (that found photo leads to a women’s prison, where an inmate has a long monologue on the power of stories only tangentially related to Luo’s search, and possibly misdirecting it, while in another case mention of sorrowful people eating apples introduces a sequence of a young man chomping on one). Such views are also specifically enunciated in bits of dialogue and lyrics that speak of “erasing everything,”, or being incapable of knowing whether a memory is true or not, or recognizing the power of storytelling that can conflate and confuse fiction and invention.

The effect is amplified by the deliberately off-kilter production design by Liu Qiang in which much is made to appear hazy and indefinite, and by the dizzying cinematography (in the first half apparently the work of Yao-Hung-I and Dong Jinsang, and in the second that of David Chizallet). Even in what appear to be static compositions, subtle camera movements lead to an unsettled feeling, and of course the long tracking shot that makes up the final section of the film is designed to keep one not just enthralled, but vaguely at sea.

In this context the actors are akin to props being moved around Gan’s cinematic chess board, but Huang strikes the right tone of grim weariness as Luo, and Tang distinguishes nicely among the various versions of the mysterious Wan. The rest of the cast do what Bi requires of them.

One can say that “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” represents triumph of style over substance, though it might be more accurate to observe that it is one of those films in which style is substance. Whatever the case, even if you are totally bewildered, even irritated, by it, you will probably find it difficult to resist its hypnotic spell.