Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. December is John Wick Month, but seeing there is only three movies (as of these reviews) we will have a surprise special movie to end the year on!
The Movie: “John Wick”
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen
Director: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that killed his dog and took everything from him.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86 percent
Miss us? Because we missed you all.
It’s been a while since Froemming and I were able to sit down and review a flick. In fact, our last review was the original “Carrie” to cap off Halloween Month.
After that, shit just kept coming up. So we decided to take November off.
Now we’re in the final 25 days of the “Shawshank Redemption”-500-yards-of-shit-smelling-foulness-tube-of-a-year that is 2020, we DESERVE something good, damnit!
So we got one more theme month in us: John Wick Month! Because few things at the JOE-DOWN make us happier than lizard brain action movies.
Frankly, this month is an excuse for me to actually sit down and watch these movies so people can shut the (REDACTED) up when I say “Nope, haven’t seen ‘John Wick.’” Maybe one day I’ll have that same motivation to watch some Harry Potter movies.
… We’re not going to watch Harry Potter movies.
So Froemming, while I take a sledgehammer to concrete to dig up the remains of my past life, give us your first thoughts on “John Wick.”
I have a weird history of watching these movies. The first one I saw was “John Wick 2,” which I watched with my brother when he was staying with me a few years ago. Utterly baffled, I then went to the theater to see “John Wick 3” shortly after, only to feel like I had missed some backstory about these coins and assassins and whatnot, because I got no answers there. So, I move to Fargo in 2019 and decide to finally rent the first one, figuring I will finally understand some of the weirder aspects of these movies, like the deal with the Continental Hotel.
I was more confused than ever when the end credits finally rolled. These are movies that offer no information on the backstory of the characters and themes, so Brown you have been warned.
Brown: I’m perfectly OK with no thinking. With how much I’ve been in my studio apartment in 2020, I’m stunned things like my vocabulary haven’t regressed to caveman grunts.
Froemming: Good, because what these movies lack in giving us context on the mythology we see, they make up for the balls-out insanity of the fight scenes. Watching these movies are a joy for me, because they are like “The Matrix,” only they did not crawl up their own ass with Jesus Christ Poses and whatnot.
Brown, as I try to figure out how one of these mysterious coins pay for a downtown Manhattan hotel room, a doctor, prescription drugs and a bottle of high-end liquor, why don’t you kick this off?
Brown: The opening credits roll and I see Thunder Road Pictures roll across my screen, so immediately I was expecting some Bruce Springsteen. Luckily that didn’t happen. I don’t need New Jersey yuckin’ up my action movie.
Froemming: Based on his license plate, John Wick lives in the Garden State.
Brown: I noticed that. Did you also notice that he spent nearly all his time in New York? That’s because New Jersey is a garbage place.
(Note: I have never actually been to New Jersey. I just enjoy low-hanging fruit)
Froemming: Based on my knowledge from “The Sopranos,” New Jersey is nothing but loud Italians in tracksuits yelling “fuggedaboutit.” We’re not missing out on anything.
Brown: We begin with a banged-up Escalade (or Escalade-adjacent vehicle) and a bloody Keanu Reeves popping out of the car. Frankly, he’s all of us in 2020.
Laying down on the ground for what seems like his final moments, John Wick pulls out his iPhone and watches a video he took of his wife in one of their more intimate moments.
For a guy with pretty much a death wish, it’s pretty ballsy to not have some sort of cover for you iPhone. But, apparently John Wick can afford the one iPhone that isn’t as fragile as outgoing president Donald Trump’s ego.
I’m really going with the low-hanging fruit today.
Froemming: We are then magically whisked away to the past, where we see some brief clips of John and his wife, and we learn she dies from a disease…
Brown: I think she died from plot convenience, like Stephanie Seymour in the “November Rain” music video.
Froemming: Oh yeah, also the plot of this is not that much different from “The Crow,” only the murder that throws Wick on a bloody revenge journey comes from one of the scenes I hate in this movie, which we will discuss when we get to it.
Anywho, John buries the love of his life and while at home, he gets a delivery…at night. Pretty late at night. I always assumed when my orders from UPS say they can arrive as late as 8 p.m. that that was just a dirty lie, because I’ve never seen UPS trucks out past 4 in the afternoon.
John is delivered an adorable pooch that his late wife had arranged to send him to help him grieve and find some companionship and love again.
So, we all know this dog is going (REDACTED) to eat it soon, since the wife is already dead as a doornail.
Brown: I was on the verge of breakdown when the dog entered the fray.
So before we began John Wick Month, I knew about the fate of the dog and how that plays into the entire being of this movie. But I didn’t know HOW John got the dog. Knowing it’s a gift from his late wife?! Jesus, movie. That’s, like, that sets off the kind of crying where you’re gasping for air because it’s so heavy and draining.
Then, the dog, Daisy, ends up being a beagle. I really wanted a beagle when I was a kid.
And, the whole thing made me feel like a colossal dick to Froemming. See, I raised the idea of John Wick Month in the summer, so we’ve had this on the docket for months. Then before December rolls around, Froemming’s wonderful cat Mello passed away, so I was real worried how this would hit my longtime friend.
Just because we torture each other with movies about Pacific Northwest vampires/werewolves and traveling pants doesn’t mean we don’t care about each other, people.
Froemming: It was rough, good thing I am too fat, tired and have no fighting skills to send me off on a revenge journey after Mello passed. I just got drunk and got on a Zoom call with our friends and berated our vegan buddy for not eating mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving.
Grief sure is a funny thing.
Anyway, John begins taking a shine to Daisy, taking the pup on his anger-driving thing in an airport lot, feeding it corn flakes because he doesn’t have dog food (please do not feed dogs corn flakes and milk, I am pretty sure that is not healthy for them). In a perfect world, this would be a fun “Turner and Hooch” scenario, only with a lot more violence and a lot less Tom Hanks.
Brown: So it’s like “Tequila and Bonetti?” Google that reference, people!
Froemming: But this is not a perfect world, and much like the real world and 90 percent of ’80s action movies, dirty (REDACTED) Russians are about to ruin things for everyone.
While gassing up, John encounters a gang of Commie street toughs run by
Theon Greyjoy Iosef Tarasov, who takes a shine to Wick’s 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429. And he wants to buy it.
Look, Russian street toughs, if you are trying to menace an American by speaking your native tongue and they respond in your language, even knowing the word “bitch,” you should probably back off as this will no doubt lead to more trouble than it is worth.
Brown: These Russian hired goons absolutely have Rudy Guiliani on speed dial.
So after getting emotionally attached to a grieving John Wick and his delightful beagle puppy, Daisy, all that is ripped away from us when John is awakened by a barking Daisy.
Upon coming down the stairs, John is hit over the head with a pipe by, I assumed, Col. Mustard. Nope, the Russians are here and they want the Mustang. Then, Iosef tells one of his hired goons to shut the dog up.
So, we get the death yelp of a puppy. The next five minutes are a white-hot blur for me. Here’s what I had in my notes:
- OK< THEY NEED TO FUCKING DIE!
- I AM NOT OK I AM NOT OK I AM NOT OK I AM NOT OK I AM NOT OK I AM NOT OK I AM NOT OK I AM NOT OK I AM NOT OK I AM NOT OK IAMNOTOKIAMNOTOK
THEN, to turn me into even more of an emotional wreck, John puts Daisy’s collar right next to his dead wife’s bracelet on the nightstand…
Froemming: Iosef makes the mistake of taking his mask off before he leaves, so John knows who this chucklehead is.
Brown: Yeah, isn’t that evil enterprise 101: Don’t leave witnesses? Dude already deserves what’s coming to him after killing Daisy. But now you’re going to mock the guy you robbed and killed his dog? You earned what comes, Iosef.
Froemming: After this scene I went on YouTube to rewatch the scene in “Game of Thrones” where the actor who plays Iosef is tormented by the man who made him a eunuch.
Also, I normally hate movies where animals are killed like this. It is why I refuse to watch any Disney movies with a dog or cat in it. You know those poor things are doomed as the House of Mouse are almost as cruel to animals as Michael Vick.
Well, Iosef then brings Wick’s sweet, sweet ride to a chop shop run by John Leguizamo, who immediately recognizes the car and wants nothing to do with it.
This is our first hint that Iosef and his crew have…
Brown: I thought this was how world-renowned Pest John Leguizamo was going to react to Iosef.
Then when Iosef goes to his father, Russian crime boss Viggo Tarasov, Dad bitch-slaps his son because he stole a car and killed the dog of John Wick: famed former assassin.
If that wasn’t frightening enough, Viggo’s right-hand man is noted dummy Dean Winters, who probably took up this line of work after his beeper empire fell apart and he failed at making millions from using a kid from the Big Brother program for another balloon boy scandal.
Froemming: Dennis Duffy is also probably waiting for pagers to come back, as we all know technology is cyclical!
Well, Viggo calls John to see if they can come to a peaceful resolution to this mess, which is odd for two men connected to the wild and wooly world of assassins and organized crime. After Wick hangs up on the old man, he asks Avi to get all the men he can, because shit is about to go down.
And we get clues to this going down of shit, because we see John Wick smashing his basement floor with a sledgehammer and preparing to fight, and showering for some reason. We also, before this weird montage, have Iosef claiming he can take out John Wick. This guy would lose a fight to a plastic bag.
Brown: Look Iosef, when your dad basically tells you that your reap what you sow with John Wick, it’s best to just get your affairs in order and wait for death’s sweet embrace.
Instead, he sends a hit squad to John’s house and Wick disposes of them with comical ease.
And it’s to the point that John Wick is so revered that the cop who shows up to John’s house with a noise complaint sees one of the dead bodies and asks John if he’s working again. This may be the most glaring example of white privilege in cinema history.
Then we see in action one of the weirdest bits about this movie: apparently the assassin underground runs on tokens like a Chuck E. Cheese.
See, when John sledges through concrete, in a briefcase is a bunch of guns, silencers and rolls of tokens. Fast-forward to when John kills the entire hit squad, he calls a bunch of cleaners to dispose of the bodies. And he pays them off with one token. One (REDACTED) token! Was John out of tickets after spending them on a Bon Jovi guitar pick?
Froemming: Did you notice that the main cleanup guy, Charlie, was played by David Patrick Kelly? I imagine this is his life after the gang wars we saw in “The Warriors.” Maybe the Baseball Furies invented the token currency? Seems up their alley.
Brown: I didn’t notice that. Though I think the Orphans would come up with the token currency because they couldn’t make actual money.
Froemming: Well, after this, Viggo puts a contract out on John for $2 million. It is an open contract, yet he still calls Willem Dafoe to take out Wick. You know a movie is going to be bonkers when Willem Dafoe is in it.
Brown: On the whole, this is a subdued Willem Dafoe performance. Not as much eye-bulging and yelling as we’re accustomed to seeing as a Norman Osborne in “Spider-Man” or Agent Smecker in the absolutely terrible “Boondock Saints.”
So John heads into New York City and takes up shop at the Continental Hotel, which apparently is a hotel exclusive to the underground? It also runs on those tokens that John has.
So yeah, the criminal underground runs the same way Ron Swanson wishes local government was run. Wanna play on the swing set? Use a token. Wanna get some strange from this assassin exclusive nightclub? Use a token.
This world building that “John Wick” does is as fascinating as it is dumbfounding.
Froemming: At the nightclub, we get a brief introduction to the hotel manager, Winston, who is played by Ian McShane. It is jarring, after seeing “Deadwood,” to not hear an F-bomb as his every third word of dialogue. I do wish he would have commented on Wick’s haircut like this:
Viggo, meanwhile, has upped the price on Wick’s head and even found someone to break the Continental’s rules of no “business” on their property. When we see the punishment for that later on, I’d hate to see how management reacts to guests after looking at their room with a blacklight.
Winston does give Wick a heads up on where to find Iosef, at the Red Circle, which is not a Target store, but a weird club that has a gross wading pool?
Brown: It’s a weird club with a gross wading pool that has former WWF/WCW world champion Kevin Nash as the door man. This is the second time Nash has been a monster Russian in a JOE-DOWN movie, joining “The Punisher.” I dunno, I would have enjoyed it if Keanu Reeves ate a Jackknife Powerbomb.
John works his way poolside and starts laying waste to Iosef’s security. Once our dumbass son realizes that John is here, he takes off with nothing but a gun and a towel into a full dance floor in an attempt to escape Wick.
… There is gunfire happening everywhere. Why are these clubgoers not freaking the (REDACTED) out sooner? They’d react more if the bass dropped.
Watching John Wick in action… holy shit, man. You couldn’t emulate that kind of surgical precision in a video game. Frankly, it’s insulting that this isn’t a video game.
Froemming: The choreography in this movie is so good. The fight scenes are bonkers and I believe Reeves did most of these himself. So, another reason to feel sad at the fact he is 15 years older than I am and can do more in a day than I do in a year.
After this, Wick is pretty beat up when he walks back into the hotel, where with his magical coin he is able to afford the kind of freakish medical care that got Trump through COVID-19. At least Wick pays his bills.
We then see Dafoe on a rooftop with a gun, which in any situation is bad news. He is scoping Wick through a window and gives a warning shot as Ms. Perkins decides to break the rules and attack Wick in the hotel.
The whole time, I am wondering…
Brown: I think Carl from “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” puts it best, Froemming.
John Wick and Ms. Perkins duke it out until John gets the upper hand and gets his would-be assassin to reveal a front of Viggo’s: a church used for storing cash, art, blackmail, you name it! John pays a fellow assassin named Harry with a token (again with the (REDACTED) tokens!) to look over Perkins while John burns down a church like he’s in a Norwegian death metal band.
Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!
Froemming: I love when he walks into the church, starts shooting people and shoots the crooked priest in the knee.
Brown: Apparently in a world where assassins use tokens and dare not sully a (REDACTED) hotel with their work, burning a church (albeit a church that’s a front for criminal activity) is OK. Highlanders have rules easier to follow than assassins.
Froemming: *remembers child molestation cases of the past 100+ years by the church* I am OK with this.
He forces the priest to get him to the safe, but the man does not want to let Wick in, as he says Viggo will kill him.
Wick then shoots a hired goon dead, then looks at the priest and says “Uh huh.”
Probably my favorite exchange of dialog in the whole movie.
Wick then sets fire to all the evidence Viggo has that he’s used to blackmail the city of New York. I am guessing Rudy Giuliani also claims all the voter fraud evidence of 2020 was destroyed in this fire as well, hence no proof!
Brown: The heat from the church would surely melt Giuliani’s hair dye.
When Viggo, Iosef and his hired goons all arrive at the burning church, John starts laying out fools, only to see his blood lust halted when he gets ping-ponged off the side of a car like he’s in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. I laughed harder at that moment than I should have.
Froemming: What was even more funny was Viggo giving Wick the old exposition dump before he leaves Wick with his hired goons assuming they will be able to kill him. Rookie mistake there, Viggo.
Before we get to Wick’s escape, we have poor Harry watching Ms. Perkins, who breaks her thumb to get out of the handcuffs holding her back. Now, I am no doctor, but I am pretty sure punching people after busting your thumb is not easy, what with all the pain and the limp appendage and all. Poor Harry is struck down in his prime by Perkins and she escapes. The security at this hotel seems pretty bad.
Brown: Whether assassin or shitty breakfast food, Perkins always makes you pay a price.
Now, the hired goons put a plastic bag over John’s head, perhaps the most time consuming way to murder this trained assasin. I mean, a bullet to the head would have been much quicker and offered much less opportunity for John to escape a jam like this. But alas, here we are.
For a criminal enterprise, this Viggo guy and his crew are pretty bad at their jobs.
Brown: They’re going against Neo, man. The One! What would you expect?
Froemming: Are we sure this isn’t Ted “Theodore” Logan, which was a name that always confused me?
Brown: Can we call this movie what it actually is: “Death Wish: The Remake?” And not the reviled Bruce Willis “Death Wish” remake.
Honestly, I just wish “John Wick” had our titular character go on his killing spree after working in Mayberry.
Out of Viggo’s grasp, John makes his way to the safehouse (err, warehouse) where Iosef is hidden. Compared to the rest of the movie, John gets to Iosef rather easily courtesy of a sniper rifle and some explosives he got into a fleet of cars somehow.
Froemming: Well, Viggo gave up his son’s location after Wick escaped that jam with the plastic bag and smashed his vehicle off the road. I guess he won’t be getting this shirt anytime soon.
So while John is off on his quest to kill this weird-ass looking kid, we have Viggo waiting at his office for the call that his dumbshit kid, who put himself into this situation, has left this mortal coil.
I do like that when John begins to attack this warehouse(?), Iosef thinks all the gunshots are from his buddy’s video game. And like you mentioned, I really want a John Wick video game.
Brown: But isn’t Iosef’s friend wearing headphones while playing the game? It could be a headset but I don’t recall seeing a microphone.
Froemming: Yes. Iosef is like Sam Hess’ kids in “Fargo.”
Also, was it just me, or was “Killing Strangers” by Marilyn Manson THE ONLY SONG IN THIS MOVIE?
Brown: It’s awfully convenient when your film’s soundtrack can fit onto a single.
So Viggo finds out from the escaped Perkins that John and Marcus (Dafoe) have been in contact, so Marcus reneged on his deal to assassinate John for $2 million.
Froemming: Oh, stop saying reneging.
Brown: Seriously, in a movie where plot is as meaningless as reloading, this movie loves having rules for this assassin underground. There’s no honor among thieves, movie.
Anywho, for his transgression, Viggo executes Marcus.
It’s intense and all. But in my experience, Willem Dafoe death scenes need to be led into by bad one-liners from Tobey Maguire.
Froemming: Perkins gets a call from the hotel. Why she would meet with management after breaking the rules, which again had me at…
So she meets with the front desk man and Ian McShane, where she learns some difficult life lessons in regard to hotel etiquette: Her membership to the Continental has been revoked, and shadowy figures emerge to shoot her dead.
I wonder what the punishment is for not returning your room key when checking out is.
Brown: Imagine what would have happened to us when we got a noise complaint at your bachelor party had we stayed at the Continental?
So Ian McShane gives John the heads up that Viggo is heading to a helicopter to escape New York. John chases Viggo and his buddies down in his Charger (which is such a lame car compared to a ‘69 Mustang). John runs one car off the road/harbor pier. With all his hired goons dead, Viggo runs John’s car off the road, leading to a one-on-one battle between the two.
… How is this even a fight? Before John showed up, we saw Viggo drowning his sorrow over his son’s death with hard liquor and joints. You mean to tell me that video-game ass John Wick can’t just end drunk-ass Viggo with the Touch of Death?
Froemming: Well, Viggo is numb from the dope and booze, plus he has that knife he sneaks into the mix when he gets his ass kicked. I was half expecting him to pull this stunt at one point:
With the knife, John lets Viggo stab him, so he can break the old man’s arm and stab him right back, which was pretty cool to see in a movie but would be a questionable tactic in the real world.
But this is John Wick’s world, where the economy runs on Chuck E. Cheese tokens and a code of ethics among criminals that is broken every two minutes.
Wick leaves Viggo to bleed out like Mr. Orange in “Reservoir Dogs.” Wick then goes to a vet(?) to grab dog medicine like he is Cosmo Kramer.
Brown: Hell yes. This is the kind of popcorn movie I needed after November. I’m so in for the sequels.
Froemming: Oh yeah, these movies are crazy fun. They make zero sense, but are highly entertaining.
Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down: