CVIndependent

Fri04192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

In a summer of endless sequels, Equalizer 2 has the distinction of being both unoriginal and predictable. Yes, it stimulates that part of your brain that likes to see things go boom and bad guys get pummeled—but the part of your brain that likes to solve things and seeks intellectual depth will take a nap during this film.

However … Equalizer 2 also has a guy named Denzel Washington in it, supplying his every line with grace and punching up the quality of a rote script simply by being onscreen. He and director Antoine Fuqua team up once again and make this sequel to a cinematic update of an OK TV show worth your time. It’s fast food … but it’s good fast food.

Washington returns as Robert McCall, a former special-ops guy with a taste for vigilantism and tea. He’s just sort of hanging out in Boston, working as a Lyft driver and painting over graffiti at his apartment complex, when word comes in that a good friend has bit the dust at the hands of mystery killers. Robert does not like it when you kill his friends. In fact, it’s fair to say Robert will do bad things to you for such acts.

He goes on a search for the killer/killers … and you will probably figure out who the bad people are fairly quickly. Equalizer 2 isn’t worried about tricking you with mysteries. It wants to set up scenarios for McCall’s vicious showdowns with bad folks—and Fuqua does this multiple times with bloody action gusto. Sequences include a dustup on a train in Turkey, with McCall in a full-bearded costume, calmly drinking his tea before dispatching multiple attackers in the most improbable yet badass way. (Does the teapot become a weapon? Why, yes, yes it does!) There’s also a shootout in a hurricane, reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s showdown at the end of Patriot Games. Fuqua makes them all pop in a way that improves upon his work in the first film.

This time out, McCall comes off as a combination of Michael Myers and the Batman. He’s almost supernatural in his abilities to disarm and dispatch his victims. It doesn’t matter how many guns, hammers and blades are coming at him—he’s going to win. There’s a lot of knife play in this movie, so if you have a hard time with cinematic stabbings, this one is not for you. It sometimes plays like a slasher film. Balancing out the nasty violence, Washington plays the role with as much finesse as he does in those Oscar-nominated efforts of his. He’s just so damned cool.

There are other people in this movie, like Melissa Leo, Pedro Pascal and Ashton Sanders (Moonlight). They all do serviceable work, but let’s face it: They all need to shut up and get out of the way so the almighty Washington can orate and kick ass. Many of the people in this film are just around to have their noses broken, necks twisted and fingers pulled apart.

There were a couple of plot threads that, quite honestly, could’ve been dropped, although McCall’s fatherly relationship to Sanders’ character is one of the better parts of the film. Sanders plays Miles, a wannabe art student who dabbles in gang activity. Washington and Sanders have some good screen time together.

Back when the first Equalizer came out, I openly asked for it to become a franchise. With this—Washington’s first participation in a sequel of any kind—I got my wish. It’s everything that garbage remake of Death Wish wanted to be. The way this one finishes … it feels like it could be the last. But there’s no need to stop.

The Equalizer 2 is playing at theaters across the valley.

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Great actresses do great things in Novitate, a stunner from writer-director Margaret Betts.

Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) joins a convent in the 1960s, right in time for the major policy changes for nuns the Catholic Church made via Vatican II. She’s devoted, but also looking to escape a dreary childhood and her troubled mother (Julianne Nicholson). On her way to becoming a nun, Cathleen and her fellow sisters must contend with the fierce Reverend Mother (a scary Melissa Leo, playing one of the year’s best villains).

Reverend Mother has a few problems with Vatican II; she refuses to adopt some of its more lenient policies, and continues to practice something akin to fraternity hazing. Leo is a coiled snake in this movie, and her outbursts are frightening. The film is a testament to a nun’s faith, because a lot of the girls stick around even though the lady in charge is totally insane.

While Betts does focus upon the hypocrisy of organized religion, she doesn’t shy away from the potential beauty of religion, either. It’s an interesting balancing act she pulls off, with Leo and a very powerful Qualley making it entertaining.

Leo is probably in the running for awards consideration, while Qualley and Nicholson are equally powerful.

Novitate is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565) and the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Published in Reviews

Tom Cruise spends most of Oblivion in a goofy, impractical-looking leather space suit that clashes with his 2013 hairstyle and reminds of Captain EO.

Yes, it’s silly to notice these things, but Oblivion is the sort of film that causes one to notice such trivial matters, for the movie surrounding that goofy outfit is not that good.

Cruise, however, is in typically fine form as Jack, a scout/worker for the surviving human race, following a devastating alien attack 60 years before (in 2017). The remaining population of Earth has been sent to a moon of Saturn, and Jack’s job is to make sure Earth’s energy resources are properly mined. He lives in a stylish outpost with a hot partner (Andrea Riseborough), and their work is being monitored via video by Sally (Melissa Leo), an overly nice boss.

Jack is haunted by dreams of a past Earth world that he is too young to have experienced. In his dreams, he meets up with a woman (Olga Kurylenko) atop the Empire State Building, just like in Sleepless in Seattle. He’s found a cabin in the woods where he wears a Yankees cap and listens to Led Zeppelin. He seems very at home for a guy who supposedly never set foot on pre-invasion Earth.

Of course, there’s more to Jack’s universe than meets the eye. He eventually comes face-to-face with Beech (Morgan Freeman), a wise, old, cigar-smoking man (those cigars must be 60 years old and awful) who is going to turn Jack’s world upside down.

The movie has some significant twists and turns, and some of them are not at all surprising. However, one particular twist caught me off guard, and is pretty clever.

As for the action, it’s sub-par. I actually stumbled upon Cruise on Jimmy Kimmel’s show the other night before I saw the film. I turned it on during a clip showing Cruise in a funny-looking little spaceship, shooting a drone-type thing out of the sky with a pistol and crashing in the desert. I thought it was a gag, because it looked cheap. Turns out it was the movie’s major action-set piece.

While the Cruise performance is good, he does slip into that Tom Cruise-yelling mode, often reminding of his interrogation of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Tom Cruise yelling is, sometimes, unintentionally funny.

Oblivion is derivative of many sci-fi films that came before it, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Total Recall, etc. A little bit of all of those movies and others can be found among the plot threads and visual effects.

As for those visual effects, they aren’t spectacular. I did like seeing the top of the Empire State Building protruding from grey Earth, the ground having risen to the famous landmark’s observatory deck. Otherwise, there are some weak CGI recreations of demolished landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty.

The film drags itself to its inevitable conclusion, providing no real surprises or excitement. The last scene involves something that is supposed to be triumphant, but is actually quite weird.

Joseph Kosinski directs; his only other directorial credit is TRON: Legacy. Oblivion is a marked improvement over that fiasco. As with TRON, Kosinski is far more preoccupied with visuals over substance. And in both cases, the visuals aren’t anything to get excited about.

Cruise is in a sci-fi state of mind these days. Up next is Doug Liman’s All You Need Is Kill, in which he plays a soldier caught in a time loop and repeatedly getting killed by aliens. (Cruise haters will probably get a kick out of seeing their nemesis getting repeatedly smoked.) Then it’s Yukikaze, based on yet another alien invasion scenario.

In his most recent three films, Tom Cruise has played similarly titled characters: Stacee Jaxx (Rock of Ages), Jack Reacher (Jack Reacher) and just plain Jack in this film. That’s another useless factoid I fixed on while being mildly bored by the ho-hum Oblivion.

Oblivion is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Gerard Butler stars in one of the most ridiculous action films you will see this year.

He’s a Secret Service agent on duty the night something very bad happens to the president (Aaron Eckhart); he winds up with a desk job. Later, some nasty North Koreans hilariously infiltrate the White House and hold the president and his Cabinet hostage—so it’s time for Gerard to dispense with the paper clips, and pick up an automatic weapon! Yes, it’s Die Hard in the White House, or at least it wants to be.

There’s some fun to be had here, but the movie has some tragic flaws, including terrible CGI and mawkish patriotic crap that distracts. (Melissa Leo screaming the Pledge of Allegiance as she is dragged to certain death comes to mind.) This is one of those “so bad it’s almost good” movies.

Olympus Has Fallen is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews