Monthly Archives: September 2014

THE EQUALIZER Review

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“I can’t play Green Lantern, huh? Then I’ll just play the Punisher!”


Denzel Washington is back and so are the 80s with the release of The Equalizer, the TV series upon which this is loosely based. That series aired from 1985 to 1989. But that’s not the reason for my associating this film with the 80s. It’s because Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall is the second coming of the archetypal 80’s action hero while the villains are straight out of the Lethal Weapon and Death Wish franchises.

Washington’s Robert McCall lives like an obsessive-compulsive monk. The first shot of the film is a relatively long tracking shot through McCall’s banal and mundane apartment, setting up his banal and mundane life. Everything is measured by time and everything is in order, down to the dish towels. His daily routine is mundane; a nine to five job at House Mart (a.k.a Home Depot), a nightly jaunt at the local diner–he even has the moment when his teabag is placed in the cup while the waiter pours the water down to the second. He doesn’t pollute his body with sugar or salt. He never slouches in his seat, he sits as if on a throne. He rarely sleeps. We see this routine repeated a few times at the beginning of the film.

One evening while reading The Old Man And The Sea, one of the diner’s patrons, a young girl named Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz, looking six years older than she actually is) strikes up a conversation with McCall. He befriends her. Not too long after, Teri befalls a tragedy at the hands of her pimp. McCall’s hyper-ordinary life gets pushed to the side and he goes into Equalizer mode. And make no mistake, Washington, one year shy of 60, is an extremely convincing Equalizer. He is efficient–in one adrenaline-pounding fight scene, he times himself with his wristwatch stopwatch–and quite deadly. Not long after the fight, we see McCall asleep in his bed for the first time, indicating that he can’t hide who is; “equalizing” is just as much a part of his biology as eating and in this case, sleeping.

The movie manages to sidestep being a sequel to 2004’s Man On Fire, which had a similar premise of one man fighting against the odds for the sake of a child. In avenging Teri, McCall has made enemies of the Russian mob. A good night’s sleep aside, he’s wary of bringing out his past demons. There are moments when you can almost hear his character thinking, every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in! With a dash of Straw Dogs and a scoche of Death Wish, McCall becomes a…man on fire? Well, he becomes something more akin to the 80s action hero I mentioned earlier. The film takes a slight turn towards cheesy, what with the cliched shot of the hero walking towards the lens in slo-mo while something explodes behind him, to McCall actually uttering the line, “I’ll be back.” McCall becomes somewhat of a superhero.  The only thing missing is his cape. He blows things up, thwarts the villains’ plans, and evades them by moving about from apartment to apartment inexplicably. At a certain point, perhaps near the end of the second act, implausibility begins to rear its ugly head. McCall is a man “with a particular set of skills” so well-honed, he never appears to be in danger of defeat. The character is so good at what he does that director Antoine Fuqua doesn’t bother to show McCall dispatching a few bad guys. There are times where the script simply tells us he’s kicked ass, or a dolly shot past henchmen in varying states of comatose repose hint at what we the audience weren’t shown. Most egregious is the scene in the trailer involving a House Mart robbery, cut to McCall returning a hammer to its sales rack; we don’t get to see the creamy filling in the middle of that cookie. The final act plays like a mixture of Saw, Home Alone and, with a brief moment of slo-mo, Flashdance.

Martin Csokas, the lead villain, chews scenery like Pac-Man. Chances are you won’t remember Csokas as the weird lab scientist running experiments on Electro in this summer’s Amazing Spider-Man 2. He chewed the scenery embarrassingly during his brief scene in that film as well, playing the role like a Rocky Horror Picture Show reject. Here, his mixture of Victor Maitland (Beverly Hill Cops), Hans Gruber (Die Hard) and a splash of Kevin Spacey make for a menacing , if not hammy, Russian scoundrel. Bill Pullman and Maggie Leo appear as associates from McCall’s dark past, but for all they contributed to the plot, I wonder why they bothered.

Despite the plot being lightweight, the film being longer than it needs to be, and having a dated feel in terms of technique and character (one man’s “dated” is another man’s “homage”), The Equalizer has some exciting scenes and great action. Denzel does what he does best, and that is, he is Denzel. There’s no frame he appears in where he doesn’t own it. Everyone around him seems unworthy to share the screen with him. He is the African-American DeNiro for my generation, playing in a genre Liam Neeson made possible for a 60 year old to play in. The film is worth seeing to watch Denzel deliver his trademark slow burn gaze as he delivers lines such as, “What do you see when you look at me?” I see a man I wish had been doing action like this awhile ago, so I could get at least three or four sequels out of him, understanding there is room for improvement. 3.5/5 reels

DRIVE-BY SHOOTING: PARIS, Pt 3

Arc at night*

A brief history of the Arc de Triomphe as we visit this grand monument, walking along the world famous Champs-Elysee, dinner at a 4 star restaurant, and the Arc at night.

Announcing A DRIVE-BY SHOOTING CONTEST!! In honor of American Express, which got me through Paris and London (as I mention in the clip), watch Part 3 and answer these three questions to win a $10 AMEX gift card!

1) What event in France’s history coincides with my son’s birthday?

2) The Champs-Elysee is located in which Parisian district?

3) What victory led to the commissioning of the Arc de Triomphe (no disqualifications for misspelling as long as it’s phonetically correct).

First person to leave the correct answers in the blog comments wins! Subscribe to DRIVE-BY SHOOTING on You Tube for more chances to win!

THE FLASH Review

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 11.02.56 PMThe pilot for The Flash certainly lives up to its title. Not long after meeting Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), the show is off and running (honestly, there was no way around that), with Allen acquiring superpowers and everyone coming together to form a team. Gustin is charming and affable, completely believable in the role. Jesse L. Martin as Det. Joe West gives a fine performance as well. After playing a detective on Law & Order for nine years, he could do this in his sleep. Tom Cavanaugh as Dr. Harrison Wells, also does a fine job. A cameo by John Wesley Shipp, who played the Flash in the 90s, is a nice nod to the past.

The problems I had were not major ones; as an older person, I suppose I have to look beyond the fact that bioengineering experts and mechanical engineering geniuses look like high school freshmen. This is, after all, airing on the CW network (although Fitz and Simmons on Fox’s Agents Of SHIELD are guilty as charged as well). I also have to look past hipster speak and annoying youth culture as exemplified in dialogue such as, “Really?” I think this retort should have disappeared two years ago. Dialogue like, “You’re doing that thing where you’re not talking English?” Statements like this are always intoned as questions by young people. A reference to twerking. A dated shout out to Lady Gaga’s Pokerface.A stereotypical characterization of females wherein the girl is totally clueless and nonplussed about all things science-related (hence the necessity to have another female character who’s a whipsmart experienced scientist, although as I said, she looks like she has yet to be voted valedictorian).

Things start off a bit cringe-worthy with the script hitting us over the head with lame foreshadowing. Dialogue from Barry, who was bullied as a child not being “fast enough,” and “always running.” The low point is one of Flash’s support team shouting at him to “run, Barry run!” I thought the climactic scene was somewhat anti-climactic. I suppose I’ve never been much of a fan of speedsters because I’ve never found their power set to be all that interesting in terms of fighting villains. Although I did like Quicksilver from the Avengers comic…and Northstar and Aurora of Alpha Flight. Okay, so maybe I’m just not that big a fan of the Flash. But I think the show has potential if nothing more than for Grant Gustin’s ability to carry the show. There’s another great cameo which I will not reveal, which is disappointingly brief, but extremely “cool.”

I think the setup for the first season runs a risk of being too similar to Smallville, but as mentioned, there’s enough here to keep me coming back for at least a couple more episodes. It was lightweight fun, in contrast to the heavy gravitas of ArrowI gave up too early on Agents Of SHIELD and on Arrow; I now have both series programmed on my DVR. I think the Flash deserves the patience I didn’t afford those other shows. I won’t run out on it just yet.

Sorry about that. Oh, by the way: when you consider Batman (Gotham), Arrow and now The Flash, is it a pre-requisite for DC’s catalogue that parents must die in a superhero’s origin story?

 

 

GOTHAM Review

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 8.00.14 PMSmallville, the CW’s highly successful ten year series has got nothing on Gotham. Smallville’s credo was “no tights, no flights.” Gotham goes one better and takes the approach of  “the Dark Knight stays out of sight.” That is to say, we don’t even see a young Batman in this show. Batman hasn’t yet begun his one-man costumed vigilante spree; we have here a pre-teen Bruce Wayne, whose parents are gunned down in the pilot.

Rather than Batman, the show centers on detective Jim Gordon, who comes off as the inspiration for Bruce Wayne’s metamorphosis into the dark hero. This Jim is a fighter, a no-nonsense officer of the law, surrounded by a city immersed in corruption. It seems like every city in these shows is corrupt nowadays. Benjamin Mackenzie as Gordon and Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney, an underworld crime figure, are the best things about the show. Pinkett Smith is all campy menacing fun, but Mackenzie runs the show. He’s excellent and as such, is out of place is this lazy underwhelming pilot.

Right off the bat, the show makes the mistake of being overly self-aware by cramming so many familiar characters into the pilot as a wink-nudge to the audience. “There’s the young Catwoman!” who offers absolutely nothing to the plot. “There’s the young Penguin!” who also plays a very small role in advancing the plot. Even worse, his arc offers up no clue as to why he becomes the Penguin. As a matter of fact, none of the characters presented in the pilot who eventually become a part of Batman’s rogue’s gallery are provided any sense of motivation or explanation as to why they become the villains they become. They’re only here as window dressing and a means to remind the audience that this is Batman’s world. And cramming so many wink-nudges in the pilot only serves to make the world created in the pilot extremely small and implausible.

The world of Gotham is made even more insignificant by the simplistic plot, which I won’t reveal. There’s not much mystery here, there’s no sustained suspense, everything seems by the numbers. Donal Logue as Gordan’s partner Harvey Bullock is completely unbelievable as a stereotypical cynical grizzled hardened cop. His attempt at playing a jaded “seen it all” detective comes off as corny. There are a couple scenes where he exhibits some humor that make it clear he should’ve been written as more of a comic relief character. There’s the female cop who hints to having knowledge of Gordon and some sordid goings-on in his past, and of course, she confronts Barbara Gordon and bang! We have a ham-handed setup to what will be a derivative Gordon arc, perhaps a love triangle (please, no) which will most likely run through the first season. The dialogue is at best uneven. It hits a low point with Gordon, telling Bruce something like, “However dark and scary the world may be right now, there will be light.” Okay, Gordon’s a badass here, but he ain’t God, is he?

Look for one standout scene worthy of a better show. It features Jim Gordon in a tete-a-tete with criminal boss Falcone. It’s well-written, excellently acted and the only compelling moment of the show. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long. I was also surprised at the violence and language in the show, given that it’s airing in primetime. I suppose when you launch a show based on a legendary property and omit the central character, you have to up the ante somehow. God bless ’em, I guess they thought Smallville’s success could strike twice. I won’t hang around to find out if they’re right.

DRIVE-BY SHOOTING: PARIS, pt 1

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 9.27.00 PMBonjour! C’est Qstorm et j’espère que tout ça va! August 2014, my wife and I took a vacation, the first one without children since 2007 and we flew to Paris and London. I brought along four cameras–five if you include the GoPro, which led to a run-in with airport security in Paris!

In this clip, I reminisce about my previous trips to Paris while preparing to travel there once again. If you’re planning a trip overseas, maybe you’ll pick up a few tips or things to think about. But my hope is to give you an experience as though you are there. Enjoy!