Reviews, Thriller

The Equalizer

The Equalizer

Copyright © 2014 by Columbia Pictures

Story
A retired black ops specialist, Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) returns to his old life after witnessing his teenage friend, Teri/Alina (Chloë Grace Moretz), a Russian escort being violently beaten by her procurer, Slavi (David Meunier). Unable to resolve the matter peacefully, he kills Slavi and his men. The head of the business, Vladimir Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich) deploys his ruthless henchman, Teddy (Marton Csokas) to investigate the deaths through assistance from Frank Masters (David Harbour), a Boston policeman under the mob’s payroll. Always a step ahead, McCall manages to evade Teddy’s trail until the sadist threatens to kill his co-workers in Home Mart, including Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis) whom he has helped train for a position as the store’s security guard.

Review
Here is a fun fact: Washington won his second Oscar for ‘Best Actor’ in a sublime performance as a crooked law enforcement officer in his 2001 partnership with current director of said reboot, Antoine Fuqua. The actor’s subtle yet invigorating depiction in ‘Training Day’ was enough to steal the thunder from frontrunner, Russell Crowe whose odds had been in his favour for a consecutive win since the recognition was first bestowed to the Aussie prior via the sword-and-sandal hit, ‘Gladiator’.

A decade later, the two are in competition again but instead of battling it out in the Dolby Theatre for the opportunity to be grateful on prime time, they are vying for the same project. You do not need three guesses as to who came up victorious. To Crowe’s credit, he may have loss the chance of embodying an efficient former government operative from the Edward Woodward-starred series that ran in the mid-1980s, at least, he is fairly compensated (critically anyway) personifying a biblical saviour in the spring release ‘Noah’.

For one who has never seen let alone heard of its originator, I went in with little expectations and was duly motivated only by Washington and Moretz. From what I gather, the gist and the title are the only components that are used in an otherwise original creation. Positioning himself as what Liam Neeson has accomplished of late, the 59-year-old scores with another number one opener and has the distinction of being the largest September debut for an R-rated picture.

While Neeson’s last few selections i.e ‘Unknown’ and ‘Non-Stop’ are high concept political risk takers, Washington plays it safe for more standard fare. Generic, yes but still engrossing thanks to an immensely likeable lead and memorable supporting works provided by the always dependable Moretz, a scene-stealing comic showstopper from Harbour and Csokas is adequate as the heartless Russian tasked of hunting down McCall.

If halfway through déjà vu begins to kick in, that is because the thrills are a mélange from other action and horror classics. You read right. Horror! Fuqua effectively uses many night scenes to heighten the sense of dread when our Equalizer is out dispensing justice, whether they are the mob, dishonest cops or petty thieves. Though the running time clocks in at 131 minutes, Richard Wenk’s script does not break new ground but is justified by pivotal subplots which integrates coherently to the main story.

They are done right by a skilled director whose last effort is the equally enjoyable ‘Olympus Has Fallen’. While the White House under terrorist command is a comeback vehicle for Gerard Butler, his latest dives into the ongoing fight against the morally challenged that needs to be eradicated for good but only looks poised on becoming bigger threats. Well, if at first you do not succeed, keep on trying (with a sequel or two along the way) and you can be sure there is no crime our man cannot equalize.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout, including some sexual references

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Reviews, Thriller

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

A Dame to Kill For

Copyright © 2014 by Dimension Films

Story
Adapted to the big screen from Frank Miller’s series of graphic novels, the latest acts as a prequel and sequel for the events which took place in the original. Marv (Mickey Rourke) is recruited by Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) whose ex-lover, Ava Lord (Eva Green) has him believe she is physically abused by her husband, Damian (Marton Csokas) and they storm into the heavily guarded residence for a daring rescue. Marv’s skill set is also sought after by Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) to avenge John Hartigan’s death (Bruce Willis), perpetrated by Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). In his regular backroom poker game with his cronies, the senator is confronted by Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young gambler who harbours a family secret and intends to use it against the political figure in the high-stakes game.

Review
I must say, the release of ‘Sin City’ back in 2005 was nothing short of a visual splendour; the mostly black and white picture was perfect for its depiction of a decadent city populated by corrupt politicians and dirty cops who patrol the streets. The inclusion of certain ‘coloured’ characters and objects only added to the dimensionality of the many colourful personalities that light up the screen. Noirer than noir, it remained a unique achievement until, well, number two came along.

After nine years in the making, is it worth the wait? Not as much as you might like to. Clearly, much care has gone into the production and everyone who is onboard knows the importance for it remaining relevant in a field where an overcrowded crop of action thrillers look to strip it off from the minds of young men. To no avail, the grosses from the first week of release are disappointingly low and it does not appear possible to fare any better in international waters as well.

What went wrong? Guess you cannot catch lightning twice in a bottle. While the use of colour layered with shades of grey is still a unique blend for a moody and detach feel, it brings nothing new content wise. Sure, there are a couple of surprises (which you can see a mile away anyway) and the resolutions are closures to certain demises in part one yet it will not leave you wanting more. Much like ‘300’, the tale would have been better off a proud loner than a tiresome twosome.

A real pity though as the lineup is populated by some of the finest in Tinseltown. They are all let down by an undercooked script that is forgetting an important ingredient; character development. Many returning and new members come and go, barely registering an ounce of individuality. A big relief in fact when they are bumped off one by one; fewer superfluous additions to care about for a more blood-splattering, gun-toting, sword-wielding good time.

Leading the diverse but indifferent cast is Green as the manipulative and deceptive dame in question. She is wickedly funny, dangerously seductive and helplessly gorgeous – traits missing in many of the other monotonous performances. Preserving the zeal, Dennis Haysbert who takes over from the irreplaceable Michael Clarke Duncan is a towering and imposing figure of authority while Boothe’s expanded hold on the city comes as a quivering reminder for those who dare to challenge the system.

Where do the good guys stand? The shadow of villainy is set to prevail over whatever good is left (a literal used for a tasteful showcase on Green’s ‘assets’ is both beautiful and bewitching) but originally created for the second installment, Gordon-Levitt breathes fresh life as a confident and brash gambler who has a score to settle with the foul senator. If only the rest of the crusade could have kept up, this would be a killing I do not mind sinning for.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: B
Plot: B-

Rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use

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Drama, Reviews

The Fault in Our Stars

Fault In Our Stars

Copyright © 2014 by 20th Century Fox

Story
Suffering from severe thyroid cancer, Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley) is made to join a support group by her mother, Frannie (Laura Dern) for fear the illness may sink her into depression. There, she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort) and his blind best friend, Isaac (Nat Wolff). Gus is smitten by Hazel’s beauty and intelligence but Hazel is contented to only remain as friends, wary of moving the relationship further due to her condition. She eventually gives in to Gus’ persistence and begins a romantic journey with him.

Review
We have seen how love stories in the hands of Hollywood usually play out to the masses – (a) a couple meets in the manner most convenient, fall in love and live happily ever after or (b) the pairing will reunite after a long and tiresome misunderstanding which if not treaded carefully can reduce tension built prior only to be apart again by death, ‘unforeseen’ conditions or the end of the world (any of the direction opted is quite a money maker but personally, a beautiful death garners a couple of awards along the way).

It is not to say that they cannot be entertaining or even enriching for the soul. After all, one of the most adored movies of all time is the unforgettable ‘Gone with the Wind’, a sweeping love epic that has everyone echoing the name Scarlett and Rhett’s fervent obsession for the part Irish beauty has become a staple in popular culture. Like so many other reel romances, what separates between the appealing and the appalling is the instant connection the pair of leads form when they first meet on screen.

Extra points are granted if you do not go into glucose overkill from the inanely sweet spewing of what is passed off as real conversation between a man and woman so deeply in love. And there lies in the strengths of ‘Stars’. It follows the tropes of a romantic drama but engaging the best parts of its limited structure, it manages to come out fresh and unabashedly honest. For a film that deals on a serious subject which seemed tailored for a ‘Hallmark’ feature, this is as real as it gets.

Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber from the bestselling novel by John Green, we are immediately drawn into Hazel’s acerbic wit that is imbued with the right dose of vulnerability brought about by the talented Ms Woodley. Her grim outlook on life is morosely pleasurable to watch (if you are suffering from a life threatening disease and the book of choice is ‘An Imperial Affliction’, you would be depressed too). Thankfully, the darkness is illuminated with humour interspersed sensitively to retain the essence of a touchy matter.

Rising star Elgort who has been paired up with Woodley before in ‘Divergent’ is comfortable and confident assuming the role of Augustus while Wolff’s mannerisms reminds me of a less excessive Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Even Dern and Sam Trammell are not wasted on their thankless roles as Hazel’s supportive parents. No doubt that its influence is strictly for a very specific group and you will be a wreck come its conclusion (‘Love Story’ anybody?) but is it okay to find solace in the most unlikeliest of circumstances from the many faults our stars are up against? Always.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality and brief strong language

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