The Equalizer ****

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“The Equalizer” is an awesome entertainment told with great style an expert filmmaking. It is not original in any way in fact it borrows from a lot of different genres and was inspired by a TV show from the 1980s. Why was I so impressed with it then? Because it is a red blooded thriller filled with lots of great performances, terrific action sequences and a lot fun details that get lost in mainstream thrillers like this.

The story surrounds Robert McCall played by Denzel Washington. He is a seemingly average guy who works at Home Depot, lives in a small apartment. He enjoys a quiet life of reading in diners and helping out coworkers. Every night he has friendly conversations with a local prostitute named Teri played by Chloe Grace Moretz. She is interested in the books he is reading. McCall seems to have a weakness for hard luck cases. When starts showing up with black eyes and other injuries Washington starts walking her home. When she is hospitalized after a particularly savage beating, he visits her and decides he can no longer stand by and watch anymore. This is when we get a glimpse of the man he used to be.

He shows up at the office of her pimp and murders him and his whole crew with deadly precision. This first fight sequence is one of the best I have seen this year. I fully appreciated that it looks like a real battle. There was no CGI blood or shaky cameras just good old fashioned stunt work and visual tricks. It is a brutal contest that shows Washington is more than just a Home Depot employee. This slaying causes a chain reaction within the local Russian mobsters who bring in a specialist named Teddy played by Marton Csokas. He is a brutal assassin who seems to have similar skills to McCall. Everything leads to a show down in Home Depot that is as violent as it is tense.

What really intrigued me was some of the side plots added in where McCall starts helping local citizens who are being bullied by the mob as well as corrupt cops. He starts dishing out some serious punishments. By the end of the movie he is responding to ads put up by people who need his help. His reasoning is that he has the skill set to help them and he simply cannot sit back and watch these atrocities any longer. But there are also some moral questions posed here involving the fact that he has no problems beating and murdering those who are in his way. Are his vigilante actions real justice or are they going too far above the law?

The director is Antoine Fuqua, who directed “Training Day” with Washington and last year’s “Olympus Has Fallen” This movie couldn’t be more different from the White House action thriller. Here he paces the film well, lets the actors create real characters, chew through some great dialogue and then stages some great action scenes. As much as I enjoyed “Olympus” I was not a fan of the amount of CGI action and shaky cam sequences.

At the age of 60, Washington shows no signs of slowing down. He can still kick ass without question. What sets him apart from your typical action heroes is the intelligence he brings to all his anti-her roles. McCall uses his training and sharp eye for detail to navigate through most of the conflicts in this movie. Violence is a last resort. But when it happens you better look out.

The Expendables 3 **

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Where did the joy and sense of fun go all of a sudden in the “Expendables” series? This third entry looked like it was going to be the best from all the previews I saw. I was at least expecting it to be on par with the first two films in the franchise. This third installment is a bit of a mess.

I think at this point it is getting way too to heavy. As much as I love seeing Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammar, Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes joining the fun, perhaps they should start replacing the characters to make room. There are so many characters that some of the action literally has them all piled in to a vehicle of some sort, firing weapons at all the bad guys around them. Think of a clown car full of wrestlers and you get the idea.

The story this time tries to go darker and fails. The Expendables crew find themselves going up against a deadly arms dealer who happens to be a former member played by Mel Gibson. Gibson, amazingly, gives the best performance in the film. He really sinks his teeth in and creates a truly menacing character. My problem is that after an opening where the crew busts Wesley Snipes out of jail, Stallone fires them all and hires a bunch of younger members played by actors who could not act their way through a kids movie. This annoyed me a lot as I was especially excited to see Snipes back on the big screen.

Now they do come back when Stallone rehires them for the finale, which is a long ugly battle that takes place in a rundown building that offers the least amount of appealing visuals humanly possible. Speaking of the battles, this installment has gone PG-13 which means that the violence is not bloody at all. At first I was sort of excited by this prospect as the first two movies used CGI blood which I think looks ugly. Turns out no blood at all mixed with shaky cam action to obscure the gore is even worse. Everything just seemed so watered down. I don’t really get this move as the target audience is like 25 and above anyway.

If there is a fourth “Expendables” movie I honestly hope that Stallone can hire a seasoned action director and make it truly R rated again. John McTiernan, John Woo, and Andrew Davis immediately jump to mind. Patrick Hughes, the helmer here, seems to be in way over his head. None of the action is exciting or thrilling and the decision to use cheap looking CGI explosions is a complete disaster. Also cut out some of the characters if you are going to bring on new blood.

The Purge: Anarchy ***

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“The Purge: Anarchy” is the sequel to last summer’s “The Purge”. The premise is the same. The future America now endorses an annual holiday where for 12 straight hours all crime is legal, including murder. This apparently allows people a release from all the rage and violence they keep bottled up inside. The first movie focused on a family that was trying to survive a home invasion but this time we follow some different characters as they try to survive the streets which are basically a war zone.

The main character is Sergeant Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) who is out to murder the man who killed his son while driving drunk. When he comes across a young mother and her daughter his conscience forces him to intervene and save them. He also decides to help a young couple who are on the run after their car broke down on the way home. Together they must survive roaming gangs, drunk snipers and savage killers.

The events this time take on more of a straight forward action thriller than the horror elements that dominated the first movie. There are a lot of fire fights and chases. I enjoyed this a bit more than the original to be honest. It is interesting to see the normal world turn to chaos once the inaugural horn fires up.

I also liked the political elements that were shown this time. The rich people are shown paying local street thugs to kidnap victims for their private auctions. Innocent people are then thrown in to a sort of giant rat maze where they can be hunted. I was reminded a bit of “Hard Target” where the wealthy paid a high price to hunt homeless people for sport.

As a summer thriller this works. It hints at larger themes but never truly explores any of them which is kind of a shame. It is still a horrifying vision of the future that should cause some mixed reactions.

Transformers: Age Of Extinction **

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What more is there to say about another “Transformers” movie? Did we need another one? I re-watched the original three earlier this week and I have to say that my mind was numb from the mayhem. I enjoyed them in theatres but watching them back to back really shows how repetitive they got. This fourth movie, “Age Of Extinction”, is basically more of the same but without a coherent narrative.

The original cast is replaced with a new family. Mark Wahlberg is the head of the house hold. He is an offbeat inventory who comes across a scrap heap that turns out to be a barely alive Optimus Prime. I will say that almost nothing beats hearing the voice of Peter Cullen on the big screen, no matter how bad the film gets. Most of the story involving Wahlberg’s family involves his issues with how fast his daughter is growing up and the fact that she is dating some guy behind his back. Yawn.

The Transformers are spread out all over the country and are now being hunted by the CIA, lead by Kelsey Grammar, with the aid of some new Decepticons. Basically they want the space metal that they are made of so they can create their own version of the Transformers. They start with the remaining metal of the defeated Megatron which turns out to be a mistake when some how they bring over Megatron’s soul, basically recreating him.

Then suddenly the action moves to Shanghai for no other reason than to sell more tickets to this movie in Asia. The Transformers end up in a giant battle that does a ton of damage to the city. The Dinobots show up out of no where to join the mass destruction. Giant aliens ships hover over the city, massive robots get tangled up in to confusing heaps of scrap metal, millions of bullets are fired and many things blow up real good. By the end of this cinematic insanity I was exhausted.

Out of all the films in this series this one seems the most half assed and stupid. Director Michael Bay promised to dial down the dumb characters and make this film a little more serious and focused but some how he has done the opposite. There are too many villains, too many idiotic characters and just too much incoherent CGI destruction sprinkled with moments here and there that I thought were funny or neat. I found Stanley Tucci to be so weirdly quirky that it was like he was in a different movie.

At this point you know if this movie is for you or not. I liked the first three to a degree but I have reached my limit. If there is to be more films then they need a new director a new writer and it needs to be set some where else other than earth. I do not need to see another City destroyed by CGI.

22 Jump Street ***

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“22 Jump Street” is the sequel to “21 Jump Street” from two years ago. The original movie was a remake of a TV show that ran in the late 80’s and starred Johnny Depp. It was a fairly dramatic show. The film version, starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, was made as a flat out comedy, which sort of rubbed me the wrong way. I thought it was funny and I enjoyed it but it was I did find it a missed opportunity. The sequel takes that even further, almost bordering on parody of most buddy cop movies. I laughed and had a great time yet again.

The directing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller are back again as is writer Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill. These guys know how to write comedy. Miller and Lord are fresh off of “The Lego Movie”, which was a hilarious romp as well. This time they take a lot of shots as sequels in general. The captain even tells them they got luck with reboot in 2012. The department is provided them with a bigger budget and they want them to do the same thing all over again. You see where this is going.

Tatum and Hill return as partners Jenko and Schmidt. These two guys should not be police officers. They are very funny as a duo but they freely drink, do drugs and get innocent people in to dangerous situations. The comedic chemistry just works though. I especially love the moment when they try to get in to character is potential Mexican drug dealers. Hill goes complete cholo, with a hilarious Mexican accent. Tatum attempts to match him with side splitting results.

The movie then sends them to college to try and find the suppliers of a new drug that is making the rounds. They are enrolled in classes and move in to the dorms where they immediately start getting themselves in to troubles.

Basically what I am saying is that if you really got a kick out of the first film then you should see this one as well. It is mindless entertainment that works.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 **

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I can’t express how disappointed I am with “How To Train Your Dragon 2″, the sequel to the 2010 original animated film. The first movie was a great blend of beautiful animation and thrilling action all in service of a touching story about a boy and his dragon. So how did this movie end up so wrong? And did I see a different movie than everyone else because this movie is getting mentioned as a possible awards contender. Critics have been praising this and audiences have loved it. I found the story to be weak and forced. I found the animation to be drained of interesting visuals and colors. The screenplay was also lacking any real character development, humor and joy.

Now if you look at the box office of this film it is trailing the original films grosses by a wide margin. So where is the disconnect here? Stellar reviews and audience reactions but it is losing a large part of the original’s audience. I don’t get it.

The story follows Hiccup as he goes up against an old enemy of his dad’s named Drago. After much build up Drago turns out to be a pathetically written villain whose motives are pretty standard. He is bent on revenge, conquering the world, all the usual stuff. Eventually Hiccup finds his mother alive. She was presumed dead but was actually swept up during a dragon raid. Instead of venturing back to her husband and son she decided to spend her days protecting dragons. Hiccup gets over this lame excuse pretty quickly and accepts her back in to his life.

All of this leads in to a fairly boring battle between Drago’s forces and the Vikings. The mind blowing aerial action from the original film is traded in for some unappealing ground battles for some odd reason. Why create a 3D movie about dragons and not contain scenes where the glorious beasts fly through the air? None of this makes much sense to me.

After the film was over I was left confused about what I had just seen. Critic and audience reactions have left me puzzled as well. Some how I saw a different movie than everyone else has.

Edge Of Tomorrow ***1/2

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What a truly awesome sci-fi thriller this is. Who would of thought that after numerous alien invasion flicks, with the same boring action sequences and effects, that director Doug Liman and actor Tom Cruise could take the same sort of premise and make it fresh and exciting. The twist they have added is straight out of Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day”. Cruise’s main character keeps reliving the same day over and over until he can either stop the invasion or figure out how to break the cycle.

The plot is fairly standard at this point. An alien race has arrived on earth bent on destroying mankind. The people of earth have mounted a resistance. But like I said, the main character seems to be stuck in a loop where he wakes up on the day of the invasion, gets thrown in to battle and dies. But he retains his memories which give him a distinct advantage as he starts to memorize the patters of the enemy. Eventually he joins forces with other characters who understand his ability and they devise a plan that could lead to the end of the war.

Cruise plays Major William Cage. Cage isn’t much of a soldier as he is a PR guy. He makes the rounds on talk shows and news pundit programs to talk about the war and all things military. When he is unwilling thrown in to the front lines we learn just how under skilled he is. When the ships hit the beach he almost dies instantly. He wakes up the day before to the same conversations and people and is thrust in to the invasion again where he dies again. He starts to realize he is stuck in this loop. Eventually he meets Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), who seems to know what he is going through. Apparently she had this power transferred to her but it was lost when she tried to use it against the enemy.

Together they train in an attempt to know the enemies every move so they can get through the invasion and track down a specific location in which the enemy hub is hiding which if they can destroy it, then it would basically win the war. The invasion itself is an exciting, edge of your seat battle.

The screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie is fairly ingenious in the way that he manages to keep the movie interesting despite having to write the same day over and over. The characters and the dialogue are all very strong. It is a great blend of sci-fi excitement and humor. What more could we want from a big budget summer flick?

Director Doug Liman is no stranger to summer action films having directed “Mr. And Mrs. Smith” and “The Bourne Identity”. Here he takes his direction to a whole new level, seamlessly blending CGI action with a very human story. The action scenes are not a chaotic mess either. The battle is confusing to the soldiers fighting it but it is clear and easy to follow for the audience. CGI is used to create the aliens but they look terrific and blend in with the human characters perfectly.