June 1st 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Scomo routs Labor, the Green, GetUp and the left-wing media by Patrick J. Byrne and Peter Westmore

CANBERRA OBSERVED Surprise! Polls aren't what they used to be

GENDER POLITICS The true cost of childhood gender reassignment

OBITUARY Bob Hawke, R.I.P.: astute politician, flawed policies

POETRY AND SOCIETY T.S. Eliot and the modern condition

WATER POLICY The time is ripe to revisit the Bradfield scheme

ASIAN AFFAIRS Taiwan upgrades U.S. links, asserts sovereignty

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Recapping the trial as Cardinal Pell's appeal approaches

THE FAMILY AND SOCIETY Working to bring down the Sexual Revolution

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki Part 2: Science and ancient cultures

HUMOUR A tidy planet is a happy planet

MUSIC Charles Ives: Modern elements aimed at sounding good

CINEMA John Wick 1: The lighting of the fuse

BOOK REVIEW Novelised true crime a true thriller

BOOK REVIEW The experiences of Phoebe Raye



FEDERAL ELECTION Queensland voted for jobs, life and country

NATIONAL AFFAIRS The trial of Cardinal Pell ... an injustice

EUTHANASIA D Day - June 19, 2019 - Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 begins operation

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John Wick 1: The lighting of the fuse

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, June 1, 2019

The pulp thriller is the descendent of the penny dreadful and the popular tales that inspired them. While superhero stories take their lead from the myths and legends of gods and monsters, the pulp thriller comes from the stories of the people, the folktales and pseudo-histories that go into the making of a cultural identity. They express something of what matters to the people, often more clearly pinpointing the bad rather than the good, but in that pinpointing still pointing towards what is good and true and beautiful.

Modern pulp thrillers, with their anti­heroes and their ambiguities, reflect the messiness that many see in their lives – without losing sight of the reality of good and evil. They are heightened tales, caricatures that exaggerate certain features, so as to ensure they are ripping good yarns, thrilling tales that excite and entertain, while still educating.

Where it all began

The release of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum provides the opportunity to look at one of the recent masterpieces of the genre: the original 2014 John Wick.

The movie opens with a montage reminiscent of the mini-masterpiece that opened Pixar’s Up, as we watch a man (Keanu Reeves) lose his beloved wife (Bridget Moynahan) to illness, grieve and then start to rebuild with the help of his wife’s last, post-death gift – an adorable puppy.

Things start to improve for the man, until some Russian thugs led by Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) turn up. They want his car. He refuses to sell. Later that night they break into his house, beat him up, steal his car and kill his dog.

That was a mistake, as Iosef’s father, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist) violently explains to his son, for that man was John Wick, Baba Yaga, the man you send to kill the boogeyman.

John got out of the crime world for his wife, only for it to come back for him just after she dies. And he’s not happy about it.

The rest of the film is John’s search for vengeance, a search to find the peace that was stolen from him. All the while, Viggo is, understandably, trying to stop him. And we are introduced to an alternate, hidden, reality full of secret societies and strange goings on; where large gold coins act as both currency and passport.

There’s even a safe haven: the Continental, a hotel with strict rules, where no “business” can be conducted, managed by the charming, and seemingly all-knowing Winston (Ian McShane). This is a world that has been built upon in the subsequent films, but always by allusion. The filmmakers focus on the plot above all else, resulting in lean, elegant action-oriented films.

John Wick and its sequels are violent films about violent people doing violent things. But the violence is not sadistic. Instead it is cathartic, acting as a sort of performance art, like ballet, or the way boxing fans enjoy an artful match.

Actions and consequences

The violence in John Wick is the cinematic descendent of the physical comedy of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and the martial artistry of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. It treads in the twilight between the realistic and the unreal, as the action scenes are shot in long-takes without computer enhancement.

This means what you see on screen happened in real life; however, the scenario is itself an invention and the world in which it takes place an imagined one.

Driving the films is the idea that actions must have consequences, but that the reaction itself is still a choice. What begins as a neo-noirish revenge drama morphs into an exercise in survival and a search for redemption.

The story of Mr Wick is not yet over, even as each chapter concludes. It is this serialisation that ties his story even more into that of the popular ballads of heroes and villains, rogues and outlaws, that act as the precursor to the modern pulp thriller.

Many of these stories, old and new, are lacking in some regard or another. Perhaps their morality is too vague in parts, or their artistry substandard, or their logic less than coherent. But in this they just reflect the brokenness of their world.

Imperfect as they are, they contain a hope: the hope that things can get better, and monsters can be slain.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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