John Wick 3: redefining action movies

The following article will contain spoilers and my thoughts on certain scenes within the movie. If you have not seen it yet, what the hell are you waiting for? That includes you Tai.
The opening scene starts out where Wick 2 left off, John has less than an hour to prepare for a 14-million-dollar contract to be opened on him and every assassin in the world wanting a piece of the reward. A checkered cab picks him up from the street like the one from Taxi Driver, the DeNiro movie with an odd ball character who knows John. Wick’s dog is taken to the Continental to stay as a guest and Wick is dropped off at the library to pick up an emergency stash. A book about Russian folktales contains the items he will need to push him through the rest of the film. Wick comes face to face with a man who thinks he can honor the contract early only to pay the price for jumping ahead in line. To say that the man was tall is an understatement. More like a white Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the man is slow and tries to use his reach to kill Wick but that turns into a huge disadvantage. It is clear that John knows how to do more with a book than read.
We learn a bit about john when he goes to visit the Russian side of the mob. The guards demand all of his weapons including his belt, this ends up playing a role later. It becomes clear that John was an orphan raised to be an asset to the mob, the women trained in ballet and the boys are practicing Judo and Sambo. Wick cashes in a ticket and is branded for life to never return to his home.
In Casablanca Wick meets up with someone who it isn’t clear what her ties to him in the past is. Not likely a former lover, Berry aids Wick in meeting with her boss, the man who creates the gold coins that is used for currency. Berry has two trained German shepherds and these dogs are weapons no different from the guns and blades they carry. Berry turns on her own boss after he shoots her dogs, something that doesn’t turn out well for anyone who harms a canine. The boss isn’t killed but she leaves him with something to remember after the dog already mangled his family jewels.
There is a spiritual aspect to Wick’s journey. He goes out into the desert to seek the man who started it all in order to make amends. After being found half dead Wick awakes in a tent and sees the man he was looking for. In order to save his life, he has to pledge his loyalty to the Elder and only work for him the rest of his life. To seal the deal Wick cuts off his ring finger and offers it, plus his wedding ring, to the Elder. While this is a Japanese tradition it is for some reason used in the desert with an Arab figure. The first contract Wick has to fulfill is Winston, the man who runs the Continental in New York.
While Wick is trying to save his own life, other people are finding their positions threatened by the High Table, the group who runs the assassin operation world-wide. Winston is having the Continental taken from him and the head of the Burrows, the underground group run by Lawrence Fishburne, is losing their king for handing a gun to Wick in the second film. Clearly mistakes are made and before taking care of the Wick problem the High Table decide that everyone is to be held accountable at the same time, creating alliances they should have expected.
Don “the dragon” Wilson plays a character named Zero who’s hero it turns out is Wick. Why you would send an assassin to kill his hero is beyond me. Zero’s men and himself have several opportunities to kill Wick throughout the film and don’t treating the job like a game. Two of Zeros men are played by Malaysian martial artist best known for the Raid movies and in one scene with motorcycles they try to kill Wick using Katanas like a scene out of Kill Bill. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying that Wick 3 is unoriginal because they do have their own take to the scenes that still leave you breathless in the end.
Keanu gives a nod to the Matrix movies when the Continental is under siege and it is up to him and the staff to fight off an army sent to kill them all. “I need guns, lots of guns.” Wick arms himself in the old way and finds that he is not prepared for men with full body armor. Wick and the Host go back to the armory and pick out shotguns with armor piercing rounds to do the job.
The mirrored room comes back for Game of Death but with a three-dimensional, three story, room of glass. The tricks are different here, the men acting more like ninjas and they play games with Wick not killing him when they have several opportunities. After a long fight Zero is finally killed and looks to Wick for acceptance at a good killer. “That was a good fight wasn’t it?”
In the end Wick learns who his true friends are when Winston appears to kill Wick on the roof in order to get control of the Continental back. One can be led to believe that this was preplanned. Wick’s body disappears and he is saved by Fishburne for what is a clear motive of revenge.
There are several Easter Eggs hidden in the film making it something to watch several times over in search of all of them. The belt comes into play when Wick removes it from his pants to fight two men at the same time like Jet Li in Fist of Legend. While I could go on, I hope that you will take the time to find them for yourself.
John Wick 3 might be one of the best action movies so far made during this century and with so many failing to do more than blow stuff up and have crappy dialogue it was a breath of fresh air. I would like to point out that in the past couple of years this was the only one I went to watch in the theaters with everything else being brought home on DVD and mostly likely falling asleep to. I hope Wick turns into Keanu’s Zatoichi.

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Golden: part 6

The show was moving along ahead of schedule. We had the first season mapped out. Nick was creating new characters and we looked at adding them in season two. Profiles were being created and maybe things weren’t as bad as I thought they were.
The daytime was reserved for Nick’s normal routine and going on adventures on an itinerary that only Nick knew. I had no idea what I would see on those days, we would leave Walden and cruise around town. When I brought up Bruce Lee’s grave Nick would say that Sam would take me and he would make sure it would happen. When I brought it up to Sam, he had a look of surprise and wonder revealing that he had never been talked to about it.
The Salmon fish hatchery was an interesting place, not exactly on the top of my list of places I would have seen while in Seattle, a place I would likely never see again. There were bridges and streams running through the park. In the center was a large box shaped contraption with windows on the side where you could watch salmon who had been trapped to spawn their eggs and die, trapping their future young for release into the wild keeping the species going for another year. A ramp went around the box leading to the center tank. Walking around the Salmon treadmill you could see fish jumping to the next level thinking they were going up stream to their final destination. In the end they fell into a tank of water with nowhere to go, the ultimate Secretary of State office where you waited to die and they took your first to last born.
In the shallow streams you could see the fungus that had been decimating the salmon population on their fins and backs. These fish were kept away from the rest and for good reason. The surrounding mountains reminded me of Tennessee with houses speckling the slopes hidden behind trees. Instead of the rounded tops the points were jagged and bear from trees and green foliage. There was an Indian reservation that I didn’t know about near the salmon hatchery. We went down winding roads, through narrow passageways and found a shop in the middle of nowhere. On the racks outside there was a sale for flannel insulated shirts with shiny snap on buttons that I had not seen since the 1980s. I picked one out and Nick bought it as a gift for me. The inside was a glorified tractor supply store complete with most items a farmer would need throughout the year.
On the way back to Bellevue, Nick continued to ask me if there was anything I wanted to see, we had time to kill and all I had to do was ask. I mentioned Bruce Lee’s grave and was met with resistance. I took my phone out and looked up local tourist attractions in the area. Jimi Hendrix grave came up. Only a few miles away and located between our current location and Bellevue we made a few turns and drove into the cemetery to find a large domed stone structure with images of Jimi etched into the marble surface. I had no idea Hendrix was buried here.
In the center was the small tomb holding Jimi’s ashes. Notes and flowers were still left for him and I went through his catalog of music in my mind. Nick had never heard of him, never listened to the music, the self-proclaimed social justice advocate was not familiar with one of the foundations of hippie culture rock.
Nick had moved away from the states in the late sixties, tired of the war and wanting to live in a society that wasn’t as blatantly corrupt he moved himself and his wife to Norway. The picture he showed me was of a young man in a boat with a smile of hope for the future. The etched brow and chiseled square jaw line never changed over the years. His hair was still thick but in the black and white photo it was much darker than it was now. I don’t know what he was trying to accomplish by running away, swearing to never step foot in the states again. He started a textile company, had a feud with Gloria Steinem, lost the company to investors after years of running the company and was back at stage one. This appeared to be a pattern in Nick’s life, gaining and losing fortunes over the years, never being able to hold on to something that he had created. Once his goal was achieved it almost appeared that a self-destructive nature would take over, inspiring to start over and go through the process again no knowing how to maintain the life that he had created. In some ways I felt sorry for Nick, always the lost boy in the boat looking for adventure but never able to let go of the boat and settle down in a place and live the rest of his life in peace.
I told Nick about Hendrix life, dying at 27, only working in the states for three years before dying of an overdose. Hendrix served in the army, went airborne, and supported the troops during a time that it was frowned upon. Nick appeared to show some interest and after a few photos we left and drove back to Walden to prepare for that nights meeting of the minds.
At this point we were shuffling around scenes from the season, creating new post it notes and placing them on the board to figure out what events would change afterwards. The cast of characters were growing and with each new addition the plot would shift. The grand finale of the show was set in stone, a Game of Thrones style mass extinction event to wipe the plate clean for season two. Things were coming together and to move ahead I started asking if these changes were set in stone, something we could forget about to move ahead in the project. I received a yes, several times and a day or two later it was changed to something “better” that wasn’t presented to the group. “we are doing this instead. Start over.” The changes would bounce around from the middle of the season to the opening scene in the pilot. The pilot was what drove me nuts the most, an episode that would rewrite the whole season depending on the changes that were made.
At one point I created a new female character, a strong-willed woman who could take care of herself and was tough as nails. There were two brothers on the show and she was a completing love interest, nothing new for tv and something that always worked. While I had her as a leading role, moving along in her own story and popping in when the time was right for other characters, Nick had other ideas.
We were going back and forth on the script, changing scenes and dialogue to fit the new layout of the episode. My new character was introduced filling a role that had been left out for some interactions and quickly putting her in as an important player in the show. Nick wrote his own version where she was quick to go to bed with one of the brothers as a way to pay her way out of a tough spot. I didn’t know we were making this show for the porn industry. I read the script in horror wondering what the hell Nick was thinking. That night I brought up the script and Nick had a look of excitement on his face to hear how great it was. I said everything to disappoint him. There was no build up, nothing that lead the audience to anticipate the moment, it was thrown out there as a fleeting act with my character turning into a cheap whore. In retaliation, the next day I sent a new script to Nick in the morning, Nick spent five minutes reading the 60-page document and came out of his bedroom belittling my dialogue, the way I described the opening scene, the poor use of characters, and the list went on and on. I pointed out the time that he took to read it with no way that he could have seen all that in five minutes.
“Your dialogue is horrible” he said. “I’m hiring a professional script writer.”
“I didn’t change the dialogue,” I pointed out. “It was all the lines you wrote in the original version. All I changed was the scene description and what the characters were doing.”
Flustered he tried to come back with something of substance. “I, well, no it wasn’t. It doesn’t matter. We clearly need someone else to work on the script.”
There was tension in the air the rest of that day. Breakfast at Gilbert’s was quiet. Nick didn’t say much about plans for the day. There was a rift taking place and while we were days ahead of schedule it was obvious that the project had problems. There was a strange desire for perfection on his list of priorities for the show, he couldn’t face the fact that nothing was perfect, there was only the best that you could do and you had to accept that. I had to come to grips that nothing would satisfy this man and to continue working on this project would ultimately be a dead end with a few paychecks along the way and a lot of grief. I didn’t see it then, too focused on the disagreement itself and hoping to smooth things over while saving the show. I had to get into Nick’s head, an open book with pages he wrote himself for how he wanted people to see him. You had to learn to read between the lines and be skeptical of anything you read. The best way to get in his good graces was to feed his hungry ego and make sure he thought he was the center of your world. I would have to kiss ass.

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Golden: part 3

Flying out of Salt Lake City reminded me of the kind of wasteland I was surrounded by. The Great Salt Lake lived up to its name and unfortunately the Dead Sea was already taken. A circular pattern extended out from the lake. I imagined it was salt collection from the sand as the sun evaporated the undrinkable water. The Cathedrals of the Mormon church appeared tiny, insignificant, from up high as the plane tilted showing me the city one last time.
The Seattle airport was a copy of O’Hare with the international signs and matching Starbucks at every corner. Chinese Hanji was added to the European phrases that littered Chicago. As I stepped off the plane, I pulled my cell phone out and turned it on. I sent Nick a Text stating that I had landed and would be waiting for pick up. Luggage pick up was next to the doors where cars pulled up and people jumped inside. I grabbed my bag; thankful it had appeared. In Salt Lake City the crew demanded that bags were checked in. I had heard the nightmares of people losing their bags and wanted to refuse. The stewardess grabbed my bag from me and not wanting to cause a scene I said good bye to it thinking I might never see it again. The plane didn’t look any smaller than the previous one but the crew was paranoid about available space. There was a family on board that made people’s heads turn and I had no idea who they were. The pilot even thanks the so and so family for flying with them and the passengers cheered. I assumed they were some reality tv stars.
As I sat on the bench waiting for my ride, I realized I had no idea what Nick looked like in person. The Skype meetings had grainy pictures and back audio leaving some mystery to who one was talking to. I didn’t know what car to look for or who would be with him. I sat on the bench and waited.
A Jaguar from the 90s pulled up, swerving over two lanes to reach the curb and causing horns to honk. Middle fingers flew and voices yelled only to be muffled by the traffic. I stood up with my one bag and laptop case. The car was a two door and I had not crawled into the back seat of a car like this since I was ten years old.
“Matt! How was your flight. Did they treat you well? Let me get that bag.” Nick took my luggage and tossed it into the trunk. From the window I could see abandoned buildings, strips of road with food chains and the usual pharmacy stores. In the distance there were skyscrapers in strange cubic designs. It reminded me of Blade Runner, without the smog and gloom, but there were Asian people running around with electronic cigarettes so it wasn’t that far off. “We are taking you out for a treat. Doing a proper welcoming party. There is this place with great food called 13 coins. You’ll love it.”
From the outside it looked like any steakhouse from the 80s in my home town, a brown box with hidden windows and a door on the side of the building. Walking inside there was the front desk where people waited for assigned seating or paid their bill. To the right there was a row of chairs with tall backs and the sides wrapped around encasing the person into their own little world. It was an ingenious idea. A couple could sit at the bar, watch their food being made and presented by the chef themselves, and have a private conversation with their chairs facing one another. We sat in a booth.
When I first saw Nick, he was wearing a back jumpsuit with white stripes running down the sides. His car, while it was a Jaguar, was bought second hand and had superglue holding together some of the paneling on the doors. I was starting to question what exactly was going on and wasn’t sure what I should order while looking at the menu.
As I sat across from Nick, I finally got a good look at him. Thick white hair covered his head with a wet shine to it, slicked back with some body left to it. His beard was struggling to keep some of its color, an older Moses appearance with a recent trim keeping any stragglers at bay. His cheeks had a Santa jolliness to them and his belly completed the costume if he chose to wear one during the holidays. The rumble of his voice told people he was a man who wanted to be heard and he never ran out of opinions.
A charcuterie board was ordered for the three of us to share. Sam sat on the end boxing me in the seat and both of us were meant to pay attention when Nick talked. The story of the show was laid out, trying to sell me on an idea that I already knew as if he was practicing his pitch. “Enough of work, we have all week to work on this and I think we will get much accomplished.”
Nick proceeded to ask me what I wanted to see while I was in Seattle and I replied “I want to see Bruce Lee’s grave.” It was the resting place of a man I looked up to most of my childhood and teenage years and for me the pilgrimage would be worth it. There wasn’t much else I knew about Seattle. The short-lived show Dark Angel took place here but I believe it was filmed in Vancouver. There was the Space Needle but I have a fear of heights. I knew little of the Pike’s Market, the Gum wall, and people kept talking about some troll under a bridge. All I wanted was to see the grave of the man himself. It was the least I could do after years of studying Tae Kwon Do, Aikido, Boxing, Judo, and Jujitsu. Those days were over for me but the lessons lived on. “Oh sure, that’s not hard. Only the one place?” I didn’t expect much and figured one drive to a spot for a picture wasn’t too much to ask.
“Do you like Asian women?” Sam asked. “we have some of the hottest Asian women. The city is loaded with them. If that’s your thing you’re going to love it here.”
“this city is loaded with money,” Nick went on. “there is money coming out the ass with Microsoft and Google. You know Bill Gates has a home here. You’ll see it when we drive to Walden.”
I wasn’t interested in money. I wasn’t interested in other people’s money. I had seen my own city become money hungry and start to exclude the working class from their own town. I heard Seattle was starting to do the same thing to their people.
We ate pieces of Salmon and cheese from the board with different styles of crackers. It wasn’t anything I couldn’t get in my own town. “The salmon is caught here. We have streams where you can watch them fishing to their spawning sites. I’m take you to the salmon hatchery so you can see it yourself it’s quite a sight.” Nick continued to sell me the city but after buying my old house I was a tough sell.
“Let’s head back to the house, we have something special waiting for you there.” We left 13 Coins and I squeezed myself into the back seat again. The drive took us over a bridge without towers or cables. It was like we were driving on the water. “the bridge was made out of pontoons. Really remarkable if you ask me. The only one of its kind. Keeps the place scenic. Over there is Bill Gates house.” Nick points to a house on the side of a hill overlooking the bay with large picture windows. I didn’t know if it was his house or not. In the distance was Mount Rainier, the peak was covered by a cloudy haze and the Pacific Ocean disappeared in the distance.
Walden was a cabin style home tucked away from the main street in the middle of town. The surrounding woods was a public park with trails that anyone could travel for a hike or walking their dog. The main floor had a kitchen immediately to the right, a bedroom directly facing the main door, and the living room was a personal gym with old weight equipment from the 1990’s. I know this because I used to own some of the same machines. The living room had picture windows overlooking the woods down toward the stream that ran through it. To one side there were empty book shelves and the other wall had a fireplace that I would later learn had never been used.
Downstairs was where my room would be for the week. A small ten foot by 15-foot room with a twin bed on one wall, a closet filled with someone else’s clothes and a desk I was told I could use. A tiny window looked out into the yard. Next door was Nick’s master bedroom complete with sliding doors to the yard and a large table facing out the windows where he would watch deer come up the house to eat. The back deck had a hot tub that I could use at any time and folding chairs for morning coffee. It was the ultimate bachelor pad.
The opposite end of the basement had a second fireplace and a pool table in the middle of the room. There was a drafting table and large leather chairs that we would sit in for our brain busting sessions. As they showed me around, I found six cans of local beers sitting on the pool table, large twenty-ounce micro brews that I had never heard of.
“I know you’re a beer guy so we decided to introduce you to the good stuff.” Nick was proud of his gift and it didn’t go to waste. I had the distinct feeling he thought it was an alcoholic. That night we talked about the show and the real work would start the next day. The hours of flying starting to hit me and I decided to go to bed and start the day off early. I was determined they would get their money’s worth.

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Finding the Symbolism in John Wick

If you were fortunate enough to see John Wick Chapter 2 this weekend there might have been a few things that stood out to you if you are an action movie fan. One of the side effects of seeing this movie is finding yourself pulling out old exercise equipment and practicing a few moves you might have learned from a martial arts class you took decades ago. There is good reason for this and it is the mythology the movie used to play to the ideology of men.

After the initial scene where John finally gets his car back, nothing like trying to tie up a few loose ends from the first movie, we find John still mourning the loss of his wife. While he is retired from the business he is brought back due to a favor he owes a man that he doesn’t want to owe. The task is one that John doesn’t want to take and in the end the job is done for him. After completing the mission a contract is put out for John and he is on the run while trying to kill the man that pulled him back in. It is during this portion of the movie we start to see the mythology of the character start to come out, or as they like to call it these days, the Easter eggs.

The first job takes place in the roman colosseum, with some of the scenes taken directly from the Bruce Lee movie The Way of the Dragon (or Return of the Dragon for those not familiar with the original titles) where Bruce fights Chuck Norris, an equal opponent in martial arts. There is more to it in John Wick, who has to fight a small army while trying to escape, using a mix of Judo and gun fighting skills to reach safety. It is at this point John is a black belt in his field. He is the man that knows all the tricks and has become one of the best in his field, but like any black belt that doesn’t mean his journey is over. Like the road of the artist they must learn everything for their art before they can get really creative. Keep in mind John is an artist.

Then there was the subway scene, taking us back to the Matrix movies and reminding us where we have seen this version of Keanu reeves before. It was times like this where I wondered if John Wick was just a continuation of the Matrix movies, Neo plugged into a world where Trinity is still dead and he tries to forget the life he lived before. To feed into this theory Laurence Fishburne appears as the leader of an underground clan whose headquarters is located underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. We have seen this before in the movie Johnny Mnemonic, another Keanu Reeves action film from the 1990s. At this point, John Wick is forced to prove his abilities by trying to kill his target with only seven bullets in his gun, a play on numerology and the importance of the number seven. Of course, the bullets don’t last and he is forced to steal the weapons of the men he kills much like Bruce Lee had to change styles in his movie The Game of Death. Unlike The Game of Death, the fight scene ends in a mirrored room, changing films to Enter the Dragon, another Bruce Lee film. The final stage of John Wick’s transformation is having to fight himself, not being distracted by himself and his own image and killing his ego in order to reach his goal. The famous scene where Bruce Lee starts to smash the mirrors wasn’t because it was the only way to find his enemy but to kill the one thing holding him back in life and his enlightenment.

The woman he fights, a deaf assassin, was a nice homage to the Thai film Bangkok Dangerous, about a young man that over comes his disabilities and learns to become a proficient killer. Wick continues on and ends the confrontation by doing that which every martial artist must do in order to find themselves, he breaks the rules. He follows his own path and kills the man in the continental hotel. We learn about the untouchable safe zones in the first movie when Ms. Perkins tries to break the rules and is later killed when her membership to the continental is revoked. John does this knowing the repercussions and accepts his fate becoming the man on the run with a price on his head, or Caine from Kung Fu. The only question is, with his skills, do the rules still apply to him. How can he be deemed in violation of the rules if he is beyond the judgement of those that created him? This is the true start of John Wick, the ability to start over in uncharted territory where what he knew has been destroyed and he is free to write his own rule book as he moves along.

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