PODCAST: SJ29: The Equalizer

White Background LogoSwanner and Judd talk about The Equalizer

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The Equalizer

Denzel Washington

Judd: Bob (Denzel Washington) is a docile, sympathetic man, always ready with a friendly smile and a helping hand. He lives alone and loves his routine – so much so, that he times himself down to the second with a stopwatch. But Bob can’t sleep, and he spends his nights reading literary classics in a greasy spoon amongst societies castaways. One night, Bob’s routine is changed when he befriends a young lady of the night named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), and she wants out of the game, but her pimp wants otherwise. Suddenly, Bob doesn’t seem so docile anymore.

Swanner: I’m a big fan of Washington’s. I like what he brings to his roles and that he’s not afraid of playing complicated characters. Here, his character is an ex-killer for hire. So he has some issues but who doesn’t. Once Bob takes care of Teri’s problem he finds out he’s just messed with the Russian Mob and now has a, currently working, killer for hire after him. This is based on an 80’s TV series but not knowing that ahead of time didn’t interfere with my enjoying this film.

Judd: I am not a fan of Denzel Washington; he always plays some deeply flawed character with a charming veneer. He’s no different here. The movie, directed by Antoine Fuqua, is a by-the-books super assassin movie that in no way separates itself from the pack, and squanders the talents of Moretz, Melissa Leo and Bruce Pullman in the process. I will say the violence was well choreographed, but relied on a gimmick used in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes.

Swanner: I thought it was fun. Fun, in a vigilante kind of way. The good guy, flawed as he may be, is going to make the bad guys pay. I may not say anything new but entertaining as can be. My only complaint was it was 20 minutes too long. In the beginning, as we were developing characters, I think there could have been some trimming. Did we need to see him at that greasy spoon as many times as we did? Did we need to see him interacting with his co-workers at the Home Mart as much? 20 minutes could have been shaved off just like that.

Judd: I agree. The movie clocks in at 2 hours and 10 minutes, 20 minutes less would have been a little easier to digest. From a technical standpoint, The Equalizer is a quality movie. The scenes are well shot and acted, but the problem is that, as I already mentioned, the movie is absolutely generic. It’s a stock script with stock characters that were never fleshed out to make the movie something original. Because of the overall generalness of the movie, scenes that should have been tense, edge-of-you-seat moments fall flat. The Equalizer put me in the mind of one of my favorite movies, A History of Violence, an equally violent movie about a super assassin, but manages to make the audience care about the good guys and the bad guys, not just the body count.

Swanner: I cared about the bad guy only in the sense that I care how badly he kicked their ass. It is a quality film. I didn’t find it generic because I got caught up in the story and I did the body count. I guess that makes me shallow but action films like this, that’s what I want. The good performances are just an extra.

Swanner: 3 Stars
Judd: 2 Stars

A Walk Among the Tombstones

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Swanner: A Walk Amongst the Tombstones is the big screen adaption of Lawrence Block’s novel about a private investigator that is hired by a drug kingpin to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife. Liam Neeson plays Matt Scudder, an ex-cop with a past. Once on the job, Scudder realizes the killer has done this before and it won’t be the last time neither. Director/screenwriter, Scott Frank, brings this gritty story to life with a cherry cast and no dolls to slow it down.

Judd: Someone broke out their copy of The Maltese Falcon to open the review. Tombstones is one of those movies that I went into thinking that it was going to be painful to watch, and not only did I thoroughly enjoy it, but I think the trailers do the movie a total disservice by making it seem like a second-rate Taken movie. A Walk Amongst the Tombstones feels like an old-fashioned cop movie; Neeson could have easily been Steve McQueen or young Clint Eastwood. The only thing the movie was missing was a trumpet and bongo heavy score by Lalo Schifrin.

Swanner: It ran two hours, and it flew by. We don’t that much anymore, when a film is so interesting and well made that you can completely throw yourself into it. I think it comes from Scott Frank’s screenplay. Frank wrote Minority Report and Get Shorty so he’s familiar with the material. It feels authentic. As ugly as the story gets…we want to know more. I know serial killers are cool now, but these guys are freaks and I liked that. I loved how they blurred the line between bad guys and really bad guys. No one wears the white in this film.

Judd: Not only were the serial killers freaks, it was implied that they were gay. Now, I may be the only gay man in America that feels this way, but I liked it when homosexuals were sexually deviant killers. It takes me back to a simpler time. And a simpler time is another thing that makes Tombstones feel classic. Set in 1999, when the internet was still a baby, Scudder conducted his investigation by beating the street, visiting locations and talking to people in the area. It was refreshingly low-tech.

Swanner: No googling going on in this film. That’s funny I didn’t notice that and I didn’t notice that the killers were gay or even implied gay. I was just so sucked into the story. That’s how I like thrillers. I like that I feel I’m trying to solve this crime with our hero. I had such a good and unexpected time. I thought we were in for Taken 3 because of the kidnapping…boy was I wrong. This is a solid thriller with a great performance by Neeson and what very well could lead to a franchise.

Judd: It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a cop movie like this, and as a big fan of movies like Dirty Harry, Bullitt and TV shows like Dragnet, I was thoroughly entertained. An investigation, talking to suspects and witnesses can be just as engaging as chasing shadowy figures down alleyways and engaging in ridiculous gunfights or unrealistic car chases. If the Scudder character is turned into a franchise, I hope Hollywood sticks with formula of the retired gumshoe, beating the streets and solving the mystery the best way he knows how – with just the facts, ma’am.

Swanner: 3 ½ stars
Judd: 3 ½ stars

Tusk

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Swanner: Brian and I took time off this week to see the new Kevin Smith movie. We had a 3 pm screening so it made for a fun afternoon…but then the movie started and all that changed. Tusk as I mentioned is Kevin Smith’s new movie about an arrogant podcaster (Justin Long) who is kidnapped by a mad scientist (Michael Parks) who wants to do something very strange to him. I’m dancing around the storyline so not to spoil the fun, but it’s tough.

Judd: I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the mad scientist wants to turn the poor sap into a walrus. The movie is based on a podcast where Smith came up with the idea, then asked his audience if he should actually make the movie. They unfortunately voted to make it so. The problem with Smith is that he’s a perpetual 22 year old film student. His low budget, indie charisma was refreshing in the 90s. Now it’s become stale, tired and not nearly as irreverent as he thinks it is.

Swanner: The film is definitely just meant for his fans. It’s a mix of Misery meets The Human Centipede. Smith’s overly wording script and some very big acting make this very campy and fun…to a point. It’s when Long’s girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) and podcasting partner (Haley Joel Osment) team up with an ex-cop, Guy Lapointe, (Johnny Deep) to track down where Long has gone. Bringing in Deep’s character is where the movie goes astray for me. Lapointe’s character is so ridiculous it’s not funny. It’s the reason I’m not a Rowan Atkins fan. Sign me up for the mad scientist and the walrus but go full goofball is where you lose me.

Judd: I liked the flowery language that Smith gave to his villain, and I think that Michael Parks really makes the most of it. In fact, it’s the one and only aspect of the movie that I truly enjoyed. The middle bit, with the girlfriend, cohost and Inspector Clouseau by way of Monty Python, felt like padding – which I’m sure it was, to fill out the original concept. But the problems don’t end with just the padding – the script was full of plot holes, poor execution and consistency issues. I understand that high concept films require some level of forgiveness, but Smith’s script was downright sloppy, one instance being a destroyed phone that magically and conveniently appears on a coffee table for our victim to find.

Swanner: Plot holes are the last thing that concerned me here. Let me start with I’m glad I saw the movie but I can pretty much guarantee I won’t watch it again. I’m glad people are still making movie are a strange and different. Movies like Tucker and Dale vs Evil would never get made if there weren’t these types of films being made. Could this movie have been better? Other than fill those plot holes I can’t imagine you could save this film but will it be talked about for years…yes it will.

Judd: If anyone is still talking about this movie a couple months from now, let alone years, they won’t be saying anything nice. Tusk is a remarkably horrible film that may find redemption as a midnight/cult movie, but it’s doubtful. All I know is, Tusk shoots to the top of my Worst Of list for this year, and definitely gets added to the All Time list as well.

Swanner: 1 ½ Stars
Judd: No Stars

This is Where I Leave You

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Swanner: Fall is my favorite time of year; because the weather gets cooler, the kids go back to school and the movies get movies get better. This week got a whole lot better with the release of This is Where I Leave You. The story follows the Atlman family as they gather together after the passing of their father. With all the children in attendance, Hilary, their mother (Jane Fonda), announces that their fathers last wishes were that the family sit shiva (seven days of grieving) in the house they were raised. This is a comedy/drama not a horror film.

Judd: With a cast featuring, Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Timothy Olyphant, Rose Byrne, Kathryn Hahn, Dax Shepard, Connie Britton, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver, This is Where I Leave You has a cast that rivals that of August: Osage County. And much like August, Leave You centers around an unhappy family with an overbearing mother and secrets. Unlike August, none of the secrets are that scandalous nor does Leave You have the same depth.

Swanner: It felt like a family version of The Big Chill. Where August: Osage County’s family felt foreign to me, the family here felt more like my own and so very familiar. I know that helped with my enjoyment of the film. The film is directed by Shawn Levy (The Internship) with a screenplay by Jonathan Tropper based on his novel. I really liked the casting of the film, especially Jane Fonda. Her role is more a supporting role to Bateman but whenever she’s on screen she commands your attention and so her role seems much bigger than it is. I was also pleased to see that Tina Fey got to play someone new. Most of the roles she plays are variations of her Liz Lemon character from 30 Rock so this was a nice change.

Judd: I agree, I thought all performances were great and the talent of the cast really shines. Where the movie failed for me, though, was in the script. Not only did I think it felt emotionally shallow, but some of the shock humor felt really out of place, which only exacerbated the shallowness. It felt like author/screenwriter Jonathan Tropper only added these moments to make the movie an R-rated piece and prevent it from being called sit-commy. I think a little more time spent getting to know the family as people, instead of jokes, would have elevated this to an Oscar-worthy movie. The foundation was certainly there.

Swanner: I’ll agree that toed the line on being sit-commy but the performances were what kept it from going there. I think the biggest problem was trying to give all the characters their moment. Normally I would want them to strive for it but there were too many characters so some had to become the comic relief. Still, overall I really like the film and it’s not Oscar worthy but it’s a major step in the right direction considering the endless hours of mediocre films the studios have fed us this year.

Judd: I wanted to like this movie more than I did, and for all the potential that it had, the results are too lacking to forgive. However, I think that special attention needs to be given to Adam Driver who, up until now, has always been a background, bit player. He was able to hold his own against a cast of heavy hitters like Fonda, Fey and Bateman and I think that deserves a little recognition.

Swanner: 3 ½ stars
Judd: 2 ½ stars