Fury **

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“Fury” is an amazing movie from a technical stand point. There are a few tank battles that are truly harrowing and spellbinding. The cinematography, locations and visual effects are all fairly astonishing. I just wish that all of this supporting characters and a story that were so dull.

Brad Pitt stars as Don “Wardaddy” Collier. He is in command of a tank and it’s crew which consists of characters played by Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, Logan Lerman and Jon Bernthal. All of these characters are assigned one dimension each. There is the solemn preacher, the cocky bully, the brutal leader, the inexperienced private and a Mexican character who simpy provides comedic relief. We don’t truly get to know anyone on a personal level so when their lives are in peril we really are not that invested. Eventually some of them change and grow suddenly and sometimes jarringly.

That is not to say that this movie is poorly acted. Everyone does there best. There are some scenes that really stood out such as when Pitt forces the new private, quite literally, to murder a prisoner of war. Then there is the disturbing moment where the crew liberate a small German town then proceed to debase themselves and some times rape the inhabitants.

My issue here is that none of these scenes added up to much. These characters are all clich├ęs, which is not too bad except that they are done so poorly.

The real reason to see this movie is for the technical aspects. The tank battles, although few and far between, are well staged using real props and special effects. There might of been CGI but I couldn’t tell at all. There are some point of view shots here that are mind blowing, especially when the we see a tank fire from the inside. My only complaint is that there are only a few brief conflicts. The final battle takes place after their tank has broken down. They defend themselves from within, basically mowing down German soldiers as they confusingly keep running at their vehicle.

Now once again I find myself at odds with almost everyone on this film. It has a very high score on Rotten Tomatoes and word of mouth is quite good. I may watch it again some day but not too soon.

Annabelle ***

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“Annabelle” is a prequel to last year’s best fright flick “The Conjuring”. “Conjuring” was a tense and scary haunted house thriller that really delivered the goods. The prologue to that film involved a possessed doll named “Annabelle”. This film explores the story of that doll and how it came to be possessed. The over all result isn’t quite as intense as “The Conjuring” but it does have some jumpy moments and is pretty fun.

The doll itself is intensely creepy to look at and it seems to decay more and more as the film goes on. Annabelle is not a toy I would buy for any child just based on it’s disturbing appearance. Now I had it in my mind that this film was going to be more along the lines of “Child’s Play” where the doll itself was walking around stalking people. Instead the doll is basically attached to a demonic force that causes the usual objects breaking and illusions happening around the house. I especially liked the moment where one character keeps pressing elevator buttons and the doors always open to the creepy basement.

The acting in this one isn’t quite as effective as in “The Conjuring”. That has to be expected with a much lower budget and none of the original cast. The director, John Leonetti, is a veteran cinematographer who who worked on “The Conjuring” as well as the “Insidious” series among other films. He certainly knows how a film like this should look and feel. Maybe with a tigher script and a more experienced cast this could of been something more. But it is a fun time for a Friday night in October.

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.

A Walk Among The Tombstones ***

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“A Walk Among The Tombstones” is not what I expected after seeing the advertisements. The studio is positioning this as another action thriller starring Liam Neeson. They made it look like “Taken” or “Non-Stop” when it is anything but. Yes there are moments where Neeson must shoot his way out but those scenes are few and far between. This is a slow moving, methodical thriller that is entertaining and has some good performances.

Now this movie is not for everyone. It is R rated for good reason. The two sadistic killers depicted here are not opposed to rape and dismemberments. In fact they are a little too casual about it all. The performances by the two actors playing the killers are fairly chilling. David Harbour in particular is almost thrilled by messing with peoples lives. These guys take the extra step of targeting mob families who they know will go to the police. What they didn’t expect is these families to bring in Matthew Scudder (Neeson), a former cop turned shady Private Eye.

The director is Scott Frank who I am not totally familiar with. He also wrote the screenplay. When I looked him up I noticed he has had a hand in writing movies like “The Lookout” and “Minority Report”. I look forward to his work in the future as he is now a proven director.

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.

Let’s Be Cops **1/2

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“Let’s Be Cops” is this years high concept August comedy, much in the tradition of films like “We’re The Millers”. This movie stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayan’s Jr. as two slackers who decide to masquerade as real cops in order to keep them selves entertained. Not unexpectedly they run in to real trouble with some of the local criminals in the area.

The results are pretty funny through most of the movie. The director and writers don’t take the plot too seriously and let the actors run with their roles. I laughed through most of the movie. I did find that the third act started to get a little too carried away with some boring action sequences.

Movies like this are like comfort food. It feels good at the time. Might not be too good for you but as long as it is not all you dine on then it isn’t a problem.

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.