FlixChatter Review: The Equalizer (2014)

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With the comic book based films dominating the box office, the trend in Hollywood of turning old TV shows into films has died down the last decade or so. I remember back in the 90s, there were new movies based on TV shows coming out every year, Mission: Impossible, The Fugitive, The Brady Bunch Movie and The Saint were some examples. Of course that doesn’t mean Hollywood is going to stop turning old shows into movies, this latest one has been in development for a few years. Originally the late Tony Scott was attached to direct and Russell Crowe was set to star as the lead. After a couple of years of development, Crowe had to drop out to do other films, Denzel Washington was then cast but of course we all know what happened to Scott. The film was put on hiatus for a couple of years until Antoine Fuqua was hired to direct.

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Set in Boston, the movie opens with the daily life of a mysterious man named Robert McCall (Washington), he works at store that’s very similar to Home Depot. We get to see his every day routines and who interacts with at work. He couldn’t sleep at night so he’d always go to a local diner next to his home. One night he strikes up a conversation with a young woman named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), right away we know that Teri is a working girl. But McCall is nice to her and never sees her as anything more than a kid who’s having a tough life. A few days later, McCall found out that Teri was rough up by her pimp named Slavi (David Meunier, cousin Johnny from Justified). He decided to pay Slavi a visit and offer him $9800 for Teri’s freedom. Slavi refused and as most of you probably seen in the trailer, McCall took out Slavi and his men easily. As it turns out Slavi was a one of the pawns of a ruthless Russian mobster named Pushkin (Vladimir Kulich), he’s one of the biggest crime lord in the world. Upon learning that one of pawns in the US was taken out, he sends his right-hand man Teddy (the always over top and cheesy Marton Csokas) to investigate and bring in who ever was responsible for the killings.

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Not surprisingly, the movie was pretty much a by-the-number action thriller, nothing will surprise you except for maybe the over the top violence. Some might say it’s gratuitous but I think we are use to seeing watered down PG-13 action movies the last decade or so that we forgot how violent action movies were back in the 80s and 90s, so I wasn’t bothered by the violence.

Director Antoine Fuqua kept some elements from the TV show but wisely update many things for today’s audiences. I wasn’t a fan of his last flick; the dreadful and ugly looking Olympus Has Fallen. Here I thought he did a good job of balancing the drama and action, the movie was borderline of becoming too serious for its own good but I never thought it took itself way too serious like some other action pictures. He reunited with his cinematographer Mauro Fiore, they previously worked together on Training Day and Tears of the Sun. I thought the movie looked great, it has that gritty feel to it that reminded me of Scorsese’s gangster films and even though the movie was shot digitally, they still made it looked like it’s shot on film. I’ve mentioned many times, I can’t stand watching movies that looks like it’s shot with consumer camcorders. Fuqua also staged some cool and very brutal hand to combat sequences, the climatic fight between McCall and one of Teddy’s henchmen was quite bloody and painful to watch. For this kind of movie I wanted to see more shootouts and explosions but there were enough action that I wasn’t too disappointed. But for the climatic action sequence, I didn’t understand why Fuqua decided to copy Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider. Seriously he must’ve watched that movie and thought “Hey I can do that for my movie and no one will probably know since Pale Rider came out almost 30 years ago!” Sorry Fuqua, film geeks like myself will always know.

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This movie was a one-man show and again Washington shines as the action hero. McCall’s a mix of Creasy from Man on Fire, Travis from Taxi Driver and the Preacher from Pale Rider. He’s one-man army that can take down an army of assassins with no problems. As mentioned earlier, the always over-acting Marton Csokas does it again here as the antagonist Teddy. He wasn’t as cheesy as his character in XXX, kind of similar to his assassin turn in The Bourne Supremacy. Moretz only appeared in the movie briefly as the young hooker and then disappeared and she did okay for her part, kind of similar to Jodie Foster’s character in Taxi Driver, pretty sure she won’t get an Oscar like Foster did though.

As fan of the old TV show I was satisfied with the movie version but again it’s nothing new but just another by the number action thriller. If you’re a big fan of the TV show then you might have issues with some of the changes the movie made for today’s audiences but like Mission: Impossible, you can’t please everyone. It’s obvious that Sony hopes this one will be hit because the movie set up with sequels in mind. I say this was an entertaining action picture and good for a matinee or rental.

3 Reels

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Have you seen The Equalizer? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: The Debt

It’s nice to see a film you’ve been anticipating actually meets your expectation. I’ve been waiting to see The Debt for quite a while, and when Miramax studio was shut down by Disney last January 2010, I feared that this movie would’ve gone straight to DVD. Fortunately that wasn’t the case, so as soon as the film was released here, I went to see it on opening night.

I love the fact that they put Dame Helen Mirren front and center on the poster, that definitely appealed to me because she is an actor I admire and also because I always love to see a strong female protagonist on film.

The story takes place in flashback mode in the year 1965, when three young Israeli Mossad agents were sent on a secret mission capture and kill a notorious Nazi war criminal. Thirty years later, a man claiming to be the very same Nazi surgeon Dieter Vogel has surfaced in the Ukraine and the former agents must figure out what to do with such revelation that threatens their current reputation.

Moviegoers have seen a fair share of Nazi thrillers to date, but I’d say The Debt has got something different to offer and British director John Madden’s direction keeps the suspense going right up until the end. Even the more mellow moments when they’re holding the criminal captive, the tension doesn’t let up. The look of the movie is gritty and realistic, and the younger actors capture that sense of dread and anxiety convincingly.

It’s especially interesting to see three pairs of actors playing the older and younger versions of the same character: David Peretz (Ciarán Hinds/Sam Worthington), Stephan Gold (Tom Wilkinson/Marton Csokas) and Rachel Singer (Mirren/Chastain). Despite Worthington not resembling Hinds at all, it didn’t really matter in the end as the actors did a good job keeping the integrity of the characters.

Apart from Mirren, the younger actors had more to do in this film as they carry out their mission. The retro scenes were full of edge-of-your-seat moments, especially the scenes in the hospital. I’m not undermining what the two male agents did, but really, Rachel no doubt has the most difficult assignment out of the three, pretending to be a patient of the guy they’re trying to capture who’s working as an gynecologist (’nuff said). Danish actor Jesper Christensen as the sinister Vogel is evil through and through, right up there with Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List.

There is a bit of an unrequited love story interwoven into the espionage plot, but it actually serves the story, so it isn’t just there for the sake of softening things up. I really feel for the characters and I’m glad to say that Worthington is actually more expressive than I’ve seen him in previous films. The rest of the cast are excellent all around, especially Mirren in the last 20 minutes or so. The last scene was brilliantly filmed as Madden kept us guessing for what about to unfold. Let’s just say the film ended with bang that made me jump out of my seat. As I’ve mentioned here, this is the first time I saw Jessica Chastain on screen and I must say I’m quite impressed with her. I look forward to seeing her other movies, which are quite a few in this year alone: The Help, Tree of Life and the upcoming Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus.

I highly recommend this film for anyone, even those who normally isn’t into Nazi thrillers like this. The violence are unflinching at times but not overly gory. The story itself is intriguing and the dialog is sharp and intelligent, which is no surprise considering it was written by Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class). I don’t even mind renting this one again when it’s out on DVD. It’s not every day I come across a solid espionage thriller that’s as taut and well-acted as this one.

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Have you seen this film? I’d love to hear what you think.