Kate

Written by Nick McCann

70/100

While there have been exceptional standouts in recent memory, 2014’s John Wick keeps getting the most bows of honor from fans and artists. Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s movie served as a stark reminder that mid-budget action films can still be technically well executed in a modern film landscape while making solid returns. When Stahelski kept moving forward with that series, Leitch spread the 87Eleven stunt influence elsewhere to projects like Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2. His latest venture for Netflix retains all the bone-crunching hallmarks you’d expect and is uber satisfying even with standard elements.

Much like John Wick, it’s a neon-coated relentless revenge tale. That being said, the story is about what you expect. Despite a handful of interesting turning points, the progression lacks frills and there’s very little reinvention to the narrative. It has a semi-rushed first act, hurried enough to get the basic set up for late movie revelations. Even then, I still felt the weight of what was happening. So much so that I was feeling an emotional high after sticking with the plot (although that could’ve been the carnage hyping me up). Overall, the story does its job fine without taking many liberties.

It has a decent cast, Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes for a great lead. She’s tough but tender when it calls for it. You never feel she’s invulnerable or trying to make someone look bad. She earns her cool points through tried and true performance. And that’s just the talking bits. Miku Martineau off sets Winstead’s broodiness with a fiery teen attitude that makes for some fun levity. Woody Harrelson is also entertaining, giving his character more weight than you’d expect. Rounding them out is Jun Kunimura and Tadanobu Asano, who deliver a strong screen presence and conviction through actual small screen time.

It’s more a style over substance kind of film, as evidenced by a slick aesthetic throughout. The production design does a great job capturing the Tokyo nightlife and Yakuza underworld vibes, from locations to costume design. The cinematography loves to linger a lot on the cityscape and all it’s sprawl at certain points. You can bet there is definitely no shortage of neon lighting. If you’re looking for immersion, this is the kind of movie to wait until nightfall for a closed curtain viewing with no lights on.

The big draw, as you would expect, is it’s action sequences. They are hard-hitting, kinetic and up to the new standard of today! Kate’s Camerawork utilizes long shots with involved movement that work in conjunction with logical editing. There are maybe a couple iffy parts but they aren’t glaring. You get a healthy dose of fist fights and shootouts, again with the appeal of the Yakuza angle. A catchy selection of Japanese pop rock and a synth score seal the deal on the energy.

Kate is by no means a breakthrough action movie but it is fun. Solid acting and propulsive action do make up for the same old expectations of the story. It manages to have a couple elements going for it that set it apart from its contemporaries. Go into it expecting style to dominate it’s substance. And if that doesn’t work, I promise the kills are cool.

Kate Trailer

Kate is currently available to stream on Netflix.

You can connect with Nick on his social media profiles: Facebook and Letterboxd.

The Invitation

Written by Michael Clawson

40/100

The characters of Karyn Kusama’s “The Invitation” are stunningly resilient in uncomfortable situations, which the film has plenty of. It’s the story of a man named Will and his girlfriend Kira attending a dinner party hosted at Will’s former home by his ex-wife, Eden, and her new husband, David. Ostensibly, Will, Kira, and friends have been brought together because it’s been years since the tragedy that led to Will and Eden’s divorce and the fracturing of their friendships. Eden and David have seemingly overcome their grief and want to re-unite their social circle. While other guests are distracted with the expensive wine that’s being served, Will is attuned to Eden and David’s odd behavior and is uneasy about their creepy new friends, Pruitt and Sadie. Before long, he begins to suspect they have a hidden agenda and that the evening’s festivities may devolve into something dangerous.

Kusama strives to slowly ratchet up the suspense as the interaction between the characters becomes increasingly disturbing. Will effectively functions as the audience surrogate, asking the questions that the audience wants asked (with several major exceptions) and the chilling score helps to cultivate the sense of an impending violent climax. But it’s the material itself that makes the film less than thrilling. The ease with which the character’s shrug off the ever growing number of warning signs and each other’s downright absurd behavior is too baffling to keep you invested in their fates. The ending is an attempt to provoke a sense of awe by extending the horror beyond the house in which nearly the whole story takes place, but by then you’re too frustrated to care.

Michael Clawson originally posted this review on Letterboxd 04/08/16

Available on Netflix