Friday, July 20, 2018

The Equalizer 2 review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: ** ½ out of 4
Denzel Washington returns in The Equalizer 2

            Denzel Washington (Glory, Training Day, Flight) reunites with director, Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Shooter, The Magnificent Seven (2016)) in the sequel to the 2014 action hit, The Equalizer, based on the TV series of the same name. I’ve never seen the show but as a standalone movie, the first film was perfectly decent, I’ve seen better, but I’ve also seen worse, it’s a passable action thriller with plenty of Denzel kicking some ass.
            Well, because movies can never be self-contained anymore we got a sequel, The Equalizer 2 with Washington reprising his role as former CIA agent, Robert McCall. I was very skeptical going into it because while I thought the first film was enjoyable it didn’t really leave an impression with me and that the sequel would just be a watered-down copy of its predecessor.
            Thankfully The Equalizer 2 doesn’t fall victim to rehashing the first film and offers plenty of thrills and Denzel always shines every time he’s on-screen. But it does suffer from a convoluted story, questionable existence, and predictable plot twists.
            The film follows Robert McCall (Washington) living in an apartment complex in urban Massachusetts and working as a Lyft driver and helping the less fortunate with his friend, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo-All My Children, Frozen River, The Fighter). When Susan is suddenly killed after a murder-suicide investigation in Brussels, McCall must leave his peaceful life once again and put his old skills back to good use and set out a path of revenge to find the man who killed her and take him down.
            The film also stars Pedro Pascal (The Good Wife, Game of Thrones, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) as Dave York, Ashton Sanders (The Retrieval, Moonlight, The Skinny) as Miles Whittaker, Bill Pullman (Spaceballs, Sleepless in Seattle, Independence Day) as Brian Plummer, Orson Bean (The Hobbit (1977), Being John Malkovich, How I Met Your Mother) as Sam Rubinstein, Sakina Jaffrey (Raising Helen, House of Cards, Red Sparrow) as Fatima, and Jonathan Scarfe (Madison, Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice, Van Helsing (TV series)) as Resnik.
            Overall, The Equalizer 2 delivers exactly what it advertises, Denzel Washington kicking ass and solving a murder mystery for two hours, nothing more and nothing less. Though this movie is a milestone as the first time Denzel Washington starred in a sequel to one of his films.
            Despite being a repeated performance, Denzel still gives it his all, he’s a tough badass who shoots, breaks necks, and snaps wrists but he retains this collected persona and is able to stay on-time even when a bunch of bad guys are trying to kill him. But at the same time, he helps other people on the side and even allows his enemies to do the right thing, which was something I really appreciated about the first film and it wasn’t just a bloody slaughterhouse all the way through.
            Denzel and the action sequences are where the movie shines and they’re a lot of fun to watch, but the plot structure is where this movie goes downhill. The first film had a lot going on with its story but at least I was able to follow it okay, this one shifts tones by starting off like a gritty Equalizer movie as it should be but then it turns into a disaster movie, has plot elements that don’t really go anywhere, and at times the film is predictable, specifically with its final act.
            I was able to catch on rather quickly what was going to happen in the story and who would end up being the villain, and a good chunk of the movie lived up to those expectations unfortunately. The plot of this movie just isn’t that interesting and the more time it’s being focused on the more I want the movie to cut to Denzel harpooning someone in the neck.
            On the plus side the plot detour doesn’t feel like a huge waste of time because you know an action sequence is on the way and when Denzel kicks ass it’s great. So yeah, it’s a mediocre story with cool action sequences, an engaging Denzel Washington performance, and strong chemistry between Washington and Sanders that’s almost like a father-son relationship and is probably the most interesting part of the film’s plot.

            If you enjoyed the first Equalizer then you’ll probably find something to like about The Equalizer 2, it isn’t bad and has some legitimately good moments but not quite enough to make an impression. Aside from Denzel’s performance and the action sequences I’ll probably forget about it in a day or two, generic, confusing, predictable, and forgettable, that’s The Equalizer 2 for you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
Dracula is back for a “Monster Vacation” in Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

            Adam Sandler (Happy Gilmore, 50 First Dates, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan) and animation legend, Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars) returns in the third installment of Sony Pictures Animation’s Hotel Transylvania trilogy. While nothing spectacular and despite the series receiving mixed reviews from critics I found the first two Hotel Transylvania movies to be very enjoyable and probably the only good material Sandler is putting out these days, honestly, I’d be perfectly fine if he just sticks to voice acting for animation.
            The first film released in 2012 was a humorous and surprisingly sweet take on famous monsters living together in a hotel to stay away from humans who they fear just as much as the monsters fear them with some of the most energetic animation in recent years. The movie is filled with hilarious jokes and visual gags, homages and references to classic monster stories and movies, and some heartwarming morals about family and love, as well as a more restrained variation of Adam Sandler’s style of humor.
            Due to the film’s box-office success it was given a sequel in 2015, Hotel Transylvania 2 which thankfully wasn’t a nail in Dracula’s coffin. Sure, it wasn’t Toy Story 2 or How to Train Your Dragon 2, but it was a legitimately funny follow-up that offered more of what people liked about the first one with even more jokes and homages on top of it.
            And now we have Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, the first Hotel Transylvania movie to not be released around Halloween but rather in the summer. Even though I enjoyed Hotel Transylvania and Hotel Transylvania 2 I was a little skeptical with this one because of the time of its release and that the #3 is usually an unlucky number in a film series, would it make the franchise crash and burn, or would it be good?
            Well it certainly didn’t crash and burn, the film has just as much of the colorful, fast-paced animation as its predecessors, clever jokes, and moments of heart. But despite being the best-reviewed film in the series, somehow, I thought the first two movies were better.
            The film follows Dracula (voiced by Sandler) running his hotel business until his daughter, Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez-Wizards of Waverly Place, Ramona & Beezus, Spring Breakers) notices he may be overworking himself and needs a vacation from providing everyone else’s vacations. So behind his back she books a cruise for their entire family including Mavis’ husband, Johnny (voiced by Andy Samberg-Hot Rod, Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping), their half-human, half-vampire son, Dennis, Frankenstein (voiced by Kevin James-The King of Queens, Hitch, Paul Blart: Mall Cop), his wife, Eunice (voiced by Fran Drescher-This is Spinal Tap, Living with Fran, Happily Divorced), Griffin, the Invisible Man (voiced by David Spade-Just Shoot Me, The Emperor’s New Groove, Joe Dirt), Wayne the Werewolf (voiced by Steve Buscemi-The Big Lebowski, Monsters, Inc., Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams), his wife, Wanda (voiced by Molly Shannon-Saturday Night Live, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby), their many, many children, Murray the Mummy (voiced by Keegan Michael-Key-Key & Peele, Keanu, The Angry Birds Movie), Blobby, and Dracula’s father, Vlad (voiced by Mel Brooks-Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs).
            As soon as they board the ship, Dracula meets the captain and cruise director, a beautiful woman named Ericka (voiced by Kathryn Hahn-Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Step Brothers, Bad Moms) who causes Drac to zing again. However, this awesome ship captain is hiding a secret as Ericka is revealed to be the great granddaughter of famous vampire hunter, Abraham Van Helsing (voiced by Jim Gaffigan-Mr. Universe, The Jim Gaffigan Show, Super Troopers) who plots to eliminate all monsters with the cruise as a trap.
            Dracula must resist his desires for Ericka to stop Van Helsing from destroying all of monsterkind. Oh, and Dennis and Wayne and Wanda’s werewolf daughter, Winnie are trying to sneak his giant dog, Tinkles (Don’t remember him? You’re not missing much as he made his debut in a short film before the hugely-despised Emoji Movie) onto the ship.
            The film also features the voices of Chrissy Teigen (FABLife, Lip Sync Battle) as Crystal, Joe Jonas (Jonas Brothers, Camp Rock, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian) as Kraken, Alison Hammond (Big Brother, This Morning, ITV Play) as Frankenginger, Chris Parnell (30 Rock, Archer, Rick and Morty) as Stan, Tara Strong (Batman: The Animated Series, The Powerpuff Girls, Teen Titans) as Frankenlady, and Jamie Camil (Jane the Virgin, The Secret Life of Pets, Coco) as Chupacabra.
            Overall, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is a monster trip of fun for all ages even if it isn’t quite on par with its predecessors. The animation is just as wacky and colorful but at times it feels like the bare minimum of Hotel Transylvania’s animation.
            All the characters in the first two films had their own unique animation style and movement which made them feel more alive on-screen. Here, everyone is just as bouncy and exaggerated as the rest which takes away from what made a lot of the slapstick in the previous installments work.
            But with that said, when the film gets the jokes and gags right, they’re absolutely hilarious, Ericka’s plans to catch Dracula play like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, more funny monster references, and Van Helsing’s presence in this movie had me laughing on the floor the moment I saw him, ironically Van Helsing here has more dignity than Hugh Jackman in the Van Helsing movie.
            Like the previous two, the film also sneaks in some sweet moments, the relationships between Dracula, Mavis, Johnny, and Dennis are undeniably charming and Mavis trying to comfort Dracula when he’s feeling lonely after the loss of his wife, most of it feels natural. Though I was hoping for a little more on the heartwarming side, but the goofy humor doesn’t ruin the slow moments.

            If you enjoyed the first two you’ll probably like Hotel Transylvania 3 fine even if it doesn’t quite have the same “Zing” as its predecessors, it’s still fun for kids and adults.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Skyscraper review (400TH POST!)

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: ** ½ out of 4
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson making a leap of fate in Skyscraper

            Action superstar, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Fast & Furious franchise, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Rampage) reunites with director, Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, We’re the Millers, Central Intelligence), who have previously worked together on the 2016 action comedy, Central Intelligence in the latest action film that follows in the footsteps of Die Hard and The Towering Inferno, Skyscraper. The Rock in a movie where he battles terrorists in a burning building, my only expectation was entertaining trash with over-the-top action sequences and Johnson doing his usual shtick.
            And that’s about what I got, a dumb popcorn flick with a basic plot, thrills, and The Rock being a badass with charm. How does it fare compared to Die Hard? Not even close, unless you just want to turn your brain off and enjoy The Rock kick some ass for a couple hours I’d suggest watching Die Hard again as the superior alternative.
            The film follows former FBI agent, Will Sawyer (Johnson) who after an incident involving a suicide bombing, is left using a prosthetic leg and now works assessing security for skyscrapers. He lives and works in the tallest and “safest” skyscraper in the world in Hong Kong with his family known as The Pearl.
            Suddenly terrorists attack the building and set it ablaze with Sawyer’s family trapped inside above the fire line, and somehow, he is framed for it. Will must find the terrorists, bring them to justice, clear his name, and save his family.
            The film also stars Neve Campbell (Party of Five, The Craft, Scream franchise) as Sarah Sawyer, Chin Han (Masters of the Sea, The Dark Knight, Last Resort) as Zhao Long Ji, Roland Møller (A Hijacking, Atomic Blonde, The Commuter) as Kores Botha, Pablo Schreiber (The Wire, Orange is the New Black, American Gods) as Ben, Noah Taylor (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Game of Thrones, Edge of Tomorrow) as Mr. Pierce, Hannah Quinlivan (S.M.A.R.T. Chase) as Xia, Byron Mann (Street Fighter, Arrow, The Big Short) as Inspector Wu, Kevin Rankin (Dallas Buyers Club, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Hell or High Water) as Ray, Adrian Holmes (Stargate: SG-1, Arrow, Elysium) as Ajani Okeke, and Tzi Ma (Dante’s Peak, 24, Arrival) as Fire Chief Sheng.
            Overall, Skyscraper is mindless summer blockbuster fun that’s worth watching if you’re looking for cheap thrills and over-the-top action. I can’t say that it’s a “Good” movie but for what I saw it was entertaining and usually I’m down for anything with The Rock, unless it’s Baywatch but I digress.
            The Rock doesn’t do much different compared to his other films outside of his character using a prosthetic leg, he remains the tough badass with a heart of gold and a charming smile. Basically, he’s like a less aggressive and non-vulgar version of Bruce Willis’ John McClane character from Die Hard.
            For the most part the action is exciting despite an overreliance on CGI, I don’t know if it’s just me but I’m never fully convinced watching people in peril or trying to fight in an action sequence when the fire and destruction aren’t really there on-camera, also I see no point in seeing this movie in 3D outside of a few shots of the skyscraper, they don’t really exploit the gimmick or do anything creative with it.
            There are plenty of things to nitpick of poke fun at in this movie, such as the unoriginal plot that’s trying to be a PG-13 remake of Die Hard (Though an actual PG-13 Die Hard movie was ironically better than this) which thankfully The Rock’s performance and the action sequences make up for it, the side characters are pretty forgettable or in the kids’ case annoying and awkwardly portrayed especially the daughter, she sounds disinterested in what’s happening and she never sounds convincing. Let’s not forget the action movie tropes, implausibility, script clichés, and the destruction of a helicopter that belongs in a Michael Bay production, some of it is enjoyable and other times it can be lazy.
            Skyscraper delivered exactly what I was expecting and I’m glad I saw it, is it a perfect, groundbreaking action movie? No, does it have a lot of dumb moments? You bet your ass, but I had fun with it. There are far better action movies as well as movies starring The Rock but if you’re looking for a dumb popcorn night of action and fun, Skyscraper is definitely worth a stay.