"NERUDA" THE SPIRITED REVOLUTIONARY NEVER SLEEPS
Gael Garcia Bernal (foreground) and Luis Gnecco in "Neruda."

Lovers of thoughtful cinema have always been relatively few in number. But now with the ever-expanding panoply of digital action adventures being released every hour on the hour, these caring cineasts who long for movies depicting human emotions are being driven like refugees toward a shrinking handful of films.

Significant among them is “Neruda” from Chile, directed by Pablo Larrain (“Jackie)” and written by Guillermo Calderón, Larraín's screenwriter from “The Club.”

Luis Gnecco has the title role. He plays the young Neruda, already on the run in 1948, a doughy South American poet from Chile who dares stand up for communist values in the era of dictators doing their best imitation of Europe's autocrats from the 1930s.

The star power comes from Gael Garcia Bernal as the police officer Oscar Peluchonneau , equally as determined as Inspector Javert of “Les Miserables” to bring in his man. But Neruda is as much a clever politician as he is a poet, sensing the value in being perpetually pursued by the police.

There is even more importance in not being caught, for that would be the end of everything. No more chase, no daily newspaper story wondering where Neruda is each day.

There is a bit of eye-winking humor in Garcia's performance, playing the bad guy just so we can be reminded of Neruda's magical ability to hold the attention of any audience regardless of his situation.

Don't worry if you are reminded from time to time of Inspector Clusseau in hot pursuit of the Pink Panther. The director is certainly taking his artistic sensibilities seriously, but the set-up is such a classic, Bernal can't resist pointing that out occasionally.

We love the charming and rascally anti-hero chased by an idealistic figure of law enforcement who is too square for his own good. There is classic precedent at work here, but also a genuine effort to make art -- particularly poetry – more appealing to a larger audience of the world.

It is only later, hours after you left the theater, that you realize the movie contained no explosions, no shoot-outs, no high-speed car chases or helicopter suicide missions. Nothing but good ol' solid acting and a crisp hand in the editing bay.

The plot is set in three chapters. The first sets up post-war Chile, with Europe's political survivors seeking safe haven in various parts of South America. Neruda the poet of the people best known for his romantic side, is pushed into the communist camp, happy to protest against any autocrat.

The second chapter is the actual chase, as defiant Neruda enjoys pinching the noses of Chile's ruling class. Equally as idealistic on the side of the law is Oscar Peluchonneau , a comic name for a very serious Bernal.

Chapter Three is the final pursuit, as Pluchonneau goes into Marlon Brando's Kurtz territory overwhelmed by his own delusions, but in an exceptionally artistic way set against the deep snows of mountainscapes in the Andes.

While “Neruda” isn't actually about Pablo Neruda in any biographic way, it is revealing of the poet's obsessions with poetry, with women, with life, and with the obligations he feels to his countrymen.













"JOHN WICK 2" SECOND VERSE SAME AS THE FIRST
Keanu Reeves is John Wick, just like last time.
In cinema history there must have been some point at which action became more important than drama. Maybe back around the time of “Speed” and “Twister.” I used to call them “amusement park movies” because all you had to do was get in and ride.

Scenes of modern film destruction and mayhem have now become so elaborate, with such complex rules of composition, that film critics are awed by massive displays of digitally composed explosions much the way 40 years ago film critics were awed by actors who could recreate on demand any emotion the director required.

Now the actors are only there to imply other humans somewhere off camera created all these computer displays of light and dark in colors never seen in nature.

As Exhibit A, should any one be interested in exploring the current state of this dichotomy between human life and energized random particles, is “John Wick: Chapter 2.”

This is a study in screen violence that keeps on giving. Keanu Reeves plays the title character, a sunken-cheeked man of few words and much violence. He is a professional killer who loves his work.

In “Chapter 1” Wick the master among mass murderers is seeking cold revenge on the person who killed his dog. This time around, no time is wasted on setting up such silly sentiments.

Wick gets immediately drawn into some kind of honor killing between Mafia families, only to get drawn in further when he must kill one or two more close acquaintances simply because it is the right thing to do.

Who can argue with that logic? Especially because we know the movie must showcase many cinema minutes of memorable pyrotechnics and Freudian frustrations that can only be resolved with world class detonations of high-intensity explosives in some of the world's most beautiful places. Like Rome.

Metaphorically we are destroying ourselves, our culture and our history and blaming it on John Wick.

Check IMDB for the plot details, just be assured that “John Wick: Chapter 2” does contain some of the finest screen chaos Hollywood has ever produced. And Reeves performance as the actor of record is stoic as ever.







CHINA'S "GREAT WALL" ISN'T A GREAT MOVIE
Back around the time gun powder was being developed by the Chinese, these ill tempered invaders would periodically try to clamber over China's Great Wall.

China has a long way to go, but as they have been reminding us for eons, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

In Hollywood terms “The Great Wall” is a pretty small step. This may be China's most expensive production to date, with blockbuster Chinese director Zhang Yimou at the helm – and lots of Hollywood's own taking part, including Matt Damon and Willem Dafoe – but the computer graphics look so 1999.

The “monsters” do have an effective design, with rows of terrifying teeth filling large mouths accompanied by nasty dispositions. But once they start invading by the millions and trying to climb China's magnificent wall, their bodies feel paper thin as they go flying, leaping, scurrying and flinging themselves every which way with absolutely no depth or weight.

It just isn't terrifying.

The plot, basically, has Damon as a dedicated soldier of fortune who hasn't seen much fortune lately, trying to sneak into China for some of its legendary black power. The West at this undetermined time in history is still fighting without benefit of guns of any kind. Their long spears, bows and cross-bows, heavy armor and ponderous weaponry need more zip.

Great wealth will come to the man who brings back some of China's black powder.

At this time in China, apparently, a lot of the toughest warriors are women. Many of the spectacular archers are also women. China's battlefield macho is not quite what Damon is used to.

Spectacular destruction is what Zhang Yimou is after, however. He gets the feel of an epic, with armies of computer-generated millions, fighting the computer-generated hoards of monsters who have no language to speak of, but apparently an exceptionally deep sense of intuition capable of inventing on the spot massive maneuvers worthy of the Normandy Invasion.

No significant plot is necessary here. Neither are any heroic characters required. Action is what we are after. You could watch this whole movie on your smartphone and not miss any of the depth.

However, cinema historians will be watching for the second China-USA production. Will it take the next giant step? Or will it repeat “The Great Wall.”