‘The Equalizer’ Review

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Dir: Antoine Fuqua

Cast: Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour, Johnny Skourtis, Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo

Synopsis: A man believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and has dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But when he meets a young girl under the control of ultra-violent Russian gangsters, he can’t stand idly by – he has to help her

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

 

Based on the CBS show of the same name, The Equalizer – which had one of the highest test-screening results for Sony Pictures – follows Robert McCall (Washington) who enjoys his quiet and simple life. He follows a routine, works at a Home Depot-like store, is friendly with his co-workers Ralphie (Skourtis), Jenny (Anastasia Mousis), Jay (Rhet Kidd), and Marcus (Allen Maldonado), but besides all that he has a problem sleeping. Instead of staying at home he spends his nights at a diner reading classic books and talking to a young prostitute Teri (Moretz). When she shows up the next time, she has a bruised cheek and later ends up in the hospital. When Robert finds out that she has a connection to the Russian mob, he takes matters into his own hands. Unfortunately for Robert, the Russian mob sends in Teddy (Csokas), a violent and smart fixer that wants to take down Robert.

 

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Some of the ads show The Equalizer as another somewhat hardcore action movie and even though the action sequences are very well done and have a ton of great moments, director Antoine Fuqua gives the movie a kind of low-key feel. We see McCall dealing with crocked cops and lower level henchmen before he gets to the big baddies at the end. Fuqua also doesn’t rely on CGI – only some moments – but mostly on the cast and more specifically Denzel Washington, who is in almost every scene in the movie.

 

Since the movie is pretty much the Denzel show – not a bad thing – we get a lot of Robert McCall. We get right from the start that McCall is a bit of a loner, but he does have a relationship with his co-workers, more so with Ralphie, who he helps train to become a security guard by losing weight. But, Washington is once again reliable here playing McCall as a man of mystery who is patient and fearless when the situation calls for it. McCall doesn’t have to use threats to get his point across either and will sometimes even use some wit and jokes when someone else is threatening him. He’s also such a great character that you can’t wait to see him kick someone’s ass.

 

The other thing that McCall brings is what most people will probably call, and what I’ve seen in a few reviews, “Equalizer Vision.” Simply, he looks around the room or surroundings to see what he could use to his advantage. The big example is the highly advertized scene with him taking out a room full of Russians. The nice thing is that it only really happens about twice and although we have seen it in other films, it works here and feels like it belongs to the character. Plus it is a fun way to see how some baddies are going to die.

 

Of course every hero needs a villain right? Here it’s Teddy played by the also always reliable Marton Csokas. Right at the beginning Csokas gives Teddy a remarkable presence and while he plays him as a bit of a talker at the start, you soon realize that Teddy is just as deadly and smart as McCall, if not more. We could have just gotten one scene about how evil he is but Fuqua does show how evil Teddy is and how uncontrollable he can be. They also have a great scene together and I kind of wished it went a little longer because it was great to see the two of them go back and forth.

 

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The rest of the cast holds their own but the movie really does belong to Washington and Csokas. Johnny Skourtis’s Ralphie has some nice moments and scenes with Washington while David Harbour’s crocked cop character serves his purpose. Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo play Brian and Susan Plummer in really glorified cameos as McCall’s friends and former CIA contacts. The role they really play is just telling McCall how deadly Teddy is and who he’s really messing with. Haley Bennett has a small role as Mandy that really goes nowhere but her telling McCall about the first group of Russians.

 

Chloe Grace Moretz’s Teri plays in what you would think would be a big role character wise but it never really happens. Teri is an important character because she’s the reason McCall goes on his rampage of vengeance but after she goes to the hospital she disappears and not to be seen until the end of the movie when she sees McCall again. It is a little unfortunate because Moretz does bring some levity to the character that clearly wants out of current life. Also to the perverts out there, you never see Moretz doing any prostituting, so there’s that.

 

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I mention the action earlier and while the action at the beginning is great to see, it’s the final showdown that truly makes the movie. Everything builds up for the final showdown and we get to see how truly deadly McCall is when he single-handedly takes down bad guys in brutal fashion. The mood in the scene definitely makes the scene more powerful.

 

All in all, The Equalizer is highly enjoyable and the showcase of the movie will definitely be the final showdown at the end. The movie is pretty violent which I wasn’t expecting but not so over the top that will take you out of the movie or ruin it because it kind makes sense. Denzel Washington and Marton Csokas highlight the film, and with Fuqua’s directing I think fans will appreciate the film.

 

The Equalizer

4 out of 5

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‘The Maze Runner’ Review

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Dir: Wes Ball

Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario and Patricia Clarkson

Synopsis: Thomas is deposited in a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they’re all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow “runners” for a shot at escape

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

 

Based on the popular Young Adult novel of the same name by James Dashner, The Maze Runner is another entry into the YA dystopian novel adaptation movies. I haven’t read the book, although I did start with the intention of finishing before the movie came out but that didn’t happen. So this review will be based on the movie alone, which I thought wasn’t going to be good. To my surprise, The Maze Runner was rather enjoyable despite falling – or following depending on how you view it – into some of the same tropes as other YA adaptations.

 

Thomas (O’Brien) wakes up in an elevator with no memory of how he got there, his life, or even his name. The elevator stops and soon he’s surrounded by other young men who are all looking at him. He finds out that the place he’s in is called “The Glade,” a large environment filled with trees, forest, a lake, and other small things that allows everyone to live off the land. What Thomas soon realizes is that the Glade is surrounded by a gigantic concrete maze that is filled with secrets, one that could lead to a way out, and the dangerous Grievers.

 

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When Thomas enters the Glade, he learns that everyone has been there for three years. He immediately gets close to the chosen leader of the “Gladers” in Alby (Ameen), Newt (Brodie-Sangster), and the youngest member of the group Chuck (Cooper). Thomas is curious about everything, which makes some of the Gladers, more specifically Gally (Poulter), a little bit antagonistic toward Thomas because Gally wants to stick to the rules that have kept them alive for so long.

 

One of the things the movie suffers from is “information dumping.” Since Thomas acts as our surrogate, he’s told a lot of information by the characters about his new surroundings. Mostly by starting with “We call them…” it’s not really annoying, and it stops once movie gets to the midway point, but it does give us some vital information. One example is “Runners” which Minho (Lee) is the leader of. Runners – obviously – run the maze and try to figure out a way out.

 

Things go out of whack when the first girl, Teresa (Scodelario), comes to the Glade and automatically points out Thomas. This makes everyone, especially Gally, start to second guess why Thomas and even Teresa are there. It also doesn’t help that once Teresa shows up and Thomas goes into the maze with Minho and finally discovers something that could lead them out, Grievers start to attack.

 

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The cast here is highlighted by Ameen, Brodie-Sangster, Lee and Poulter. Their supporting roles really give you a sense of brotherhood and make you believe they really have been there for three years trying to get out of their prison. O’Brien does okay as Thomas. For being the lead he doesn’t really bring a lot of charisma or leadership to the role. I understand that Thomas is still trying to figure out who he is and what’s happening but maybe O’Brien wasn’t the best choice for the role (of course says the guy who is not an actor), luckily he has a standout scene near the end. The other odd end is Kaya Scodelario, who beside Patricia Clarkson in a cameo appearance, is the only female in the cast. Scodelario, who puts on a questionable accent, doesn’t really do much besides question why she’s in Glade and what her connection to Thomas is (which even in the end is a bit iffy).

 

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One of the best things is how director Wes Ball builds the world. Which really that much of a surprise considering his amazing looking and well done short film called Ruin (which I highly recommend watching http://youtu.be/doteMqP6eSc). The design of the maze looks somewhat low-tech and but also has a futuristic look and feel to it, but then again, all the Gladers have to fight and defend themselves with is knifes and wooden spears.

 

The best part is the maze. Unfortunately for a movie called The Maze Runner there sure isn’t a lot of maze running. However, when they are in the maze it’s highly engaging and actually thrilling. Ball does have a great sense of knowing what to show and how fast everything should move and more importantly when to stop or slow down.

 

All in all, The Maze Runner isn’t perfect but it is highly enjoyable and arguably the better of the dystopian YA movies out there so far. It does have a “Lord of the Flies” feel to it but Wes Ball manages to bring some cool aspects and great action sequences with a young cast that is still growing. The ending feels a bit wonky and serves as a set up for future sequels (which has already been announced) and really takes the steam out of everything that they put together.

 

The Maze Runner

4 out of 5

‘A Walk Among The Tombstones’ Review

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Dir: Scott Frank

Cast: Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Eric Nelsen, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley, Adam David Thompson, and David Harbour

Synopsis: Private investigator Matthew Scudder is hired by a drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

 

At this point we all know Liam Neeson is great at playing a gruff, no nonsense ass-kicker. Some say it’s getting a bit old, but Neeson still manages to bring something different to each character he plays. While he does play almost the same character here in A Walk Among the Tombstones, Neeson once again shows his range of playing a different kind of badass.

 

Based on Lawrence Block’s novel of the same name, the film follows ex-cop turned unlicensed Private Investigator Matthew Scudder (Neeson), who after a terrible accident eight years before, reluctantly agrees to help a drug trafficker Kenny (Stevens) to track down a pair of criminals (played by Thompson and Harbour) who kidnapped and brutally murdered his wife even after he paid them to return her. When he starts to investigate and digs deeper into what’s going, he finds out these two have done this before and will continue to do so, until they stop.

 

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Stevens as Kenny and Neeson as Matt

 

 

Like I stated before, Neeson plays a badass again but not a badass like his previous movies like Taken or Non-Stop. Instead of constantly going up to people and beating the crap out of them for not giving him an answer, Neeson’s Matt uses his words – with the occasion threat or wise crack. At one point he does do a Taken-like speech near the end of the movie, which at that point of the movie it felt necessary and welcomed. It’s weird to say but Neeson gets to actually act as opposed to just be a badass and has some depth added to him with past troubles.

 

Director Scott Frank builds the world and tone right from the beginning. A Walk Among the Tombstones is a unsettling mystery thriller that keeps you engaged and scared for their characters, especially once you figure out what our villains Ray (Harbour) and Albert (Thompson) actually do to their victims. It is a little hard to watch but credit should be given to them for giving eerie performances and Frank for making them feel like monsters in the shadow for a good portion in the film before we see their faces.

 

The rest of the cast holds their own and do a good job with their roles. Stevens makes us feel some sympathy for his drug tracking character of Kenny, who is a bad guy, but considering his situation, you almost forget that. I actually wish there was more of Stevens because his character and performance was rather great. Eric Nelsen plays Howie, who is Kenny’s brother who has s secret that doesn’t really go anywhere and might fall a bit flat for some. Brian ‘Astro’ Bradley plays TJ, a local street kid that helps Matt and has his own problems going on, but also gets a bit annoying at times. Finally Olafur Darri Olafsson has a small but standout performance as James Loogan.

 

Matt and TJ (Brian "Astro" Bradley) getting to know each other

Matt and TJ (Brian “Astro” Bradley) getting to know each other

 

An interesting backdrop of the movie is that it takes place in 1999 and right at the beginning of the Y2K-scare, which in a nice touch one of the killers says “people are afraid of all the wrong things.” The year doesn’t really come in to play or matter despite being a bit heavy-handed in the beginning of the movie and felt like it wasn’t going to lead to something. The only thing it really leads to is Matt saying he doesn’t put his faith in computers or cell phones, but this does get him close to TJ, who is tech-savvy.

 

All in all, A Walk Among the Tombstones is a unsettling but engaging mystery thriller where Neeson adds another dimension of his usual ass-kicker roles in the past. The film relies on its tone and performances from its actors to keep you guessing until the end.

 

 

A Walk Among the Tombstones

4 out of 5

‘This Is Where I Leave You’ Review

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Dir: Shawn Levy

Cast: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Corey Stoll, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant, Dax Shepard, Debra Monk, Abigail Spencer, Ben Schwartz and Jane Fonda

Synopsis: When their father passes away, four grown siblings are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses, exes and might-have-beens

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

Based on the novel by Jonathan Tropper of the same name, This Is Where I Leave You follows the Altman family; after the father passes away mother Hillary (Fonda) tells her kids Judd (Bateman), Wendy (Fey), Paul (Stoll), and Philip (Driver) that his dying wish was to have his family “sit shiva” (a Jewish tradition, although the characters are Jewish) for seven days to mourn his death. But, turns out the family have their own dramas and being locked up together isn’t the ideal situation.

 

The movie starts out with Judd, who finds out that his wife Quinn (Spencer) has been cheating on him with his boss (Shepard) for a year. It’s after this that he finds out his father has died and goes back to his old home. There we meet his sister Wendy, a mother of two and the only girl, the oldest and serious brother Paul, and the youngest favorite/wild child Philip.

 

It is a pretty impressive cast and surprisingly they all have their moment to shine. Bateman’s Judd is the lead in the movie and it really isn’t until the middle of the movie where we get to see, possibly, the real side of him (obviously I don’t want to spoil it), and like almost every Bateman character, he’s funny and quick-witted – which isn’t a bad thing. He also has amazing chemistry with Tina Fey and make a very believable brother-sister duo. Fey also gives a really strong dramatic performance, which was nice to see considering she’s mostly known for her comedic chops, and she does have some great comedic jokes her as well, but it’s her dramatic performance that really stands out.

 

Stoll does his best as usual and despite a small sub-plot with his wife Alice (Hahn), he’s probably the least interesting of the siblings. Adam Driver will probably be a highlight for many as the youngest and playboy-y character of Philip. Driver does have some great comedic timing and manages to bring something different, although not a lot, to the cliché character. Jane Fonda as the Altman mother drops some wisdom on her children and tries to keep her family in line, all with some new boobs too.

 

The rest of the cast holds their own in their small roles, considering the movie is focused on the Altman cast. Rose Byrne plays Penny, she’s a bit of an odd-ball but not in the traditional sense and Byrne holds her own against Bateman. Timothy Olyphant plays Horry, who was Wendy’s former boyfriend and suffers from being a bit mentally impaired. Connie Britton plays Philip’s older girlfriend who wonders if she’s making the right choice, Dax Shepard plays his character the way you would think, Abigail Spencer does very little in her role but does have a moment. Ben Schwartz also pops up as the family rabbi and has some great moments, with a great nickname.

 

I will admit that the movie has a lot going on. So some of the arcs in the movie fall a bit flat compared to others but overall they bleed pretty well together. Director Shawn Levy does know how to make the real standout moments pop when necessary and when the emotional beats need to be made, Levy doesn’t hold back. There might be moments where he gets a little heavy handed but it is a movie about mourning a love one and dealing with a difficult family.

 

All in all, This Is Where I Leave You has it all; humor, love, anger, and tears. It’s a nice look that a dysfunctional family under one roof, that may or may not be like your family.

 

 

This Is Where I Leave You

4 out of 5

‘The Drop’ Review

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Dir: Michael R. Roskam

Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Aronov, and John Ortiz

Synopsis: Bob Saginowski finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into the neighborhood’s past where friends, families, and foes all work together to make a living – no matter the cost.

 

 

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review*

 

Based on the short story by Dennis Lehane called “Animal Rescue,” The Drop follows Bob Saginowski (Hardy) who is a bartender in a “drop bar” – a bar where local mobsters store their dirty money. The bar was owned by his cousin Marv (Gandolfini, in his final screen appearance and last movie he completed) who was a big deal back in the day until he gave up the bar when Chechen mobsters moved in.

 

One night Bob is walking home and discovers an injured pit bull puppy (which he ends up calling Rocco) in the trash can and gets help from Nadia (Rapace) to nurse it back to health. Reluctantly, Bob decides to take the pup as his own until local thug Eric Deeds (Schoenaerts) comes back and starts to mess with them. However, Bob has another problem when one night him and Marv get robbed at gunpoint at the bar, and are told by their Chechen contact Chovka (Aronov) to get their money back.

 

I haven’t read Lehane’s short story but most of us should know his work like Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island; that of course were all adapted into movies. The Drop follows the somewhat same thread in that the movie has some great twists and turns that you may not suspect. But the great thing that director Michael R. Roskam (Bullhead) does is the movie is a constant slow burn and tense that when the final act rolls around you start to look around the screen waiting for something to pop out and surprise you. The great thing next to the acting in The Drop is definitely the way Roskam keeps everything bottled up so when he releases it, you feel like you can finally breathe.

 

At the same time, the slow pace may turn some people away which is totally understandable. I don’t mind slow pace/slow burn movies if the payoff is completely worth it, which it is here. There are moments where Roskam and Co. could have trimmed down or maybe save for the Blu Ray but it is also these moments that make you question what’s going on and care for these characters.

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One of the big things of course surrounding the movie is James Gandolfini, which like I stated earlier, this is the last movie he completed before he passed away. Gandolfini is great here, as always. His portrayal of Marv – or Cousin Marv – is great to see unfold. He mentions that “I was respected. I was feared,” which shows you how far he’s fallen with the local crime scene.

The real focus here in Tom Hardy’s Bob. At first Bob seems a little goofy but a real nice guy. When he gets Rocco for the first time, Nadia tells him that he needs to keep Bob freaks out a little and says he can’t have a dog because it’s too much responsibility, which kind of shows you how much of  loner Bob is. But it’s Hardy’s performance that really makes the character pop, especially near the end when his demeanor changes. It really is something to see.

 

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The rest of the supporting cast holds their own here against the great performance of Hardy and Gandolfini. Noomi Rapace plays Nadia, who is slightly similar to her previous characters in that she plays someone with a damaged past. Her relationship with Bob is kind of sweet. They start off a bit standoffish and slowly start to have feelings for each other but Bob being a loner and keeping his emotions in check, he doesn’t get the signs right away. Matthias Schoenaerts’s Eric Deeds is a bit menacing and serves his purpose to the story. John Ortiz plays a detective that questions Bob every chance he can get.

 

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All in all, The Drop is a great film filled with great performances by Hardy, Rapace and the late James Gandolfini. The slow pace/slow burn will probably turn some people away but it’s that pace that makes the final act more powerful.

 

 

The Drop

5 out of 5

My Best/Favorite Movies of Summer 2014

Can you believe it? Another Summer Movie Season (May to August) has come and gone, and it gave us a wide array of movies for us movie fans to choose from. It could be arguably said that this summer was not the best year of movies, it doesn’t mean that there were not good movies to see.

 

Of course that’s why I’m here. Like every summer, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite/best summer movies I’ve seen. I’ll be doing them in alphabetical order, since I think it’s more fair/better that way for me.

 

Let’s start off with some Honorable Mentions.

 

Honorable Mentions

A Most Wanted Man

Deliver Us From Evil

Edge of Tomorrow

Neighbors

The Expendables 3

The November Man

The Purge: Anarchy

The Rover

 

 

BEST/FAVORITE

Begin Again: It didn’t get a wide release like many of the summer movies on the list, but it was a great charming film that had a lot of heart, soundtrack, cast and performances.

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Boyhood: Whether you liked the movie or not, the concept around Boyhood is great. Richard Linklater was able to film a character’s (and actors) life through film and give us maybe one of the best coming of age stories.

 

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Chef: Another limited release and just like Begin Again it had a great cast, performances, heart, and soundtrack.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Dawn had a lot riding against it. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a great film but Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a great sequel and arguably a better film.

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Godzilla: A lot of people complained that despite the title Godzilla doesn’t actually show up a lot in the film. Nonetheless, I thought the film was great. Gareth Edwards did a terrific job of building this world that I can’t wait to jump back into.

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Guardians of the Galaxy: Arguably one of the best Marvel movies to date (right there with Captain America: The Winter Soldier). With a great soundtrack, beautiful visuals and a top notch cast, Guardians is one of the best films of the summer.

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Snowpeircer: Let again another limited release but this one had been on my radar for a while as opposed to Begin Again or Chef. Directed by one of my favorite Korean directors Joon-ho Bong (who also did The Host) makes his American film debut, the movie had a real sense of dread and strokes of hope that kept me interested until the end.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past: Whether you liked it or not, Bryan Singer bought one of the most ambitious comic book storylines to the big screen, and combined his own cast and the new cast of the X-Men films.

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So, what are your favorite or best movies of the summer? Let me know in the comments.