Blu Tuesday: The Equalizer and The Good Lie

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Equalizer”

WHAT: When former CIA agent Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) saves a young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz) from her abusive, mob-connected pimp, the Russian mafia sends in a specialist (Marton Csokas) to track down the men responsible. But after it’s revealed that the seemingly ordinary McCall acted alone, the Russians plan to make an example out of him, unaware of who they’re dealing with.

WHY: Very loosely based on the 1980s TV series of the same name, “The Equalizer” is probably the closest that Denzel Washington will ever get to playing a superhero – a one-man army who takes down his opponents with such Bourne-like precision that he knows exactly how long it will take before he even throws the first punch. While director Antoine Fuqua obsesses a little too much over McCall’s methodical habits, when he just lets Denzel be Denzel, kicking ass and taking names with the poise and gravitas that he brings to each role, the film is all the better for it. Washington could read the dictionary and it would probably be riveting, so it goes without saying that he elevates the material here as well, even if he doesn’t get much help from the supporting cast. With that said, you don’t go to a movie like “The Equalizer” for the story or the acting, and Fuqua is well aware of this, populating the film with some excellent action sequences and unexpected moments of brutal violence on both sides. It’s hardly groundbreaking stuff compared to Fuqua and Washington’s last collaboration (“Training Day”), but it’s a slick crowd-pleaser that provides the escapist entertainment of any good action flick.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary/behind-the-scenes featurette with director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington, as well as additional featurettes on bringing the TV series to the big screen, the fight choreography and stunts, and profiles on Fuqua, Washington and Chloe Grace Moretz.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Good Lie”

WHAT: A group of Sudanese refugees – orphans of the civil war that ravaged their country in the 1980s – are given the chance at a better life when they’re relocated to the United States, aided by an employment counselor (Reese Witherspoon) that takes a personal interest in them.

WHY: “The Good Lie” isn’t the first movie to be made about African immigrants escaping the horrors of their homeland, and it won’t be the last, which is exactly why you shouldn’t waste your time on such a mediocre film when there are much better options available. Though it boasts an A-list actress in Reese Witherspoon, she’s far from the headlining star that Warner Bros. would lead you to believe, instead focusing on the Sudanese refugees (specifically Arnold Oceng’s Mamere) as they struggle to adapt to life in Missouri. It’s a refreshing departure from the typical “white savior” movie, but that doesn’t prevent it from devolving into a generic fish-out-of-water story that appears to have been made using the Disney Guide to Inspirational Family Dramas. “The Good Lie” isn’t a bad film, but it’s not a particularly memorable one either, so safe and vanilla with its dramatization of real-life events that it lacks any genuine surprise. And in the end, the movie gets so caught up trying to hit all the usual beats of a feel-good drama that it forgets to give you anything to actually feel good about.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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Movie Review: “The Equalizer”

Starring
Denzel Washington, Marton Csokas, Chloe Grace Moretz, David Harbour
Director
Antoine Fuqua

Denzel Washington has never shied away from making movies that many would consider beneath his talents, balancing Oscar-caliber films like “American Gangster” with less serious fare like “2 Guns.” But while it’s not the first time that the veteran actor has indulged in a little butt-kicking fun, “The Equalizer” is certainly his most entertaining – a “Taken”-like action thriller that reunites Washington with “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua. In fact, the movie has a certain air of arrogance to it, as if to say, “Anything Liam Neeson can do, Denzel can do better,” and “The Equalizer” makes a pretty good argument for that, heralding a potential franchise for the actor which has curiously evaded him up until now.

Washington stars as Robert McCall, a former CIA black ops agent who faked his own death in order to live a quiet life in Boston, where he spends his days working at a hardware store and his nights drinking tea and reading at a local diner. It’s there that he meets a young prostitute named Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), striking up a friendship with the girl during their frequent visits to the joint. When Teri doesn’t show up one night and McCall discovers that she was viciously beaten by her Russian pimp, he decides to pay the gangster a visit and teach him and his goons a lesson. McCall doesn’t realize that they had connections to the Russian mafia, however, and once word of the attack reaches Moscow, they send a specialist (Marton Csokas) to track down the men responsible, initially believing that it was rival mobsters starting a turf war. But after it’s revealed that the seemingly ordinary McCall acted alone, the Russians plan to make an example out of him, unaware of who they’re dealing with.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to September

september

The fall movie season is always pretty hit and miss, but this September features one of the most unpredictable lineups in quite a while. Though there aren’t many big releases apart from Antoine Fuqua’s adaptation of “The Equalizer,” there are several big names headlining smaller films, like Tom Hardy in “The Drop,” Liam Neeson in “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and the star-studded cast of “This Is Where I Leave You.” It’s too early to say whether any of the movies have a genuine shot at Oscar gold, but they’re just a few of the promising new releases this month.

“NO GOOD DEED”

Who: Taraji P. Henson, Idris Elba, Leslie Bibb and Kate del Castillo
What: When a charming escaped convict shows up at her door claiming car trouble, a suburban mother finds herself fighting for survival when the man invades her home.
When: September 12th
Why: “No Good Deed” may sound like your garden-variety home invasion thriller, but while it doesn’t appear to offer anything new to the genre, it at least features a pair of great actors in Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson. Elba, in particular, has such an incredible star quality that it’s amazing he’s not headlining his own major franchise by now (Marvel Studios, take note), while Henson has proven on numerous occasions that she’s no slouch either. If nothing else, their involvement provides hope that the movie will be entertaining as a pulpy genre flick, but unless there’s more to the story than the trailer hints at, chances are that “No Good Deed” will be as forgettable as the hundreds of other likeminded thrillers just like it.

“THE DROP”

Who: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini and Matthias Schoenaerts
What: Bob Saginowski finds himself at the center of a robbery gone awry and entwined in an investigation that digs deep into his neighborhood’s past.
When: September 12th
Why: Though it comes with the undesirable label of being James Gandolfini’s final movie, “The Drop” has all the makings of a dark horse awards contender. Adapted by esteemed crime writer Dennis Lehane from his own short story, and directed by Michael R. Roskam, who first gained attention in 2011 with his Oscar-nominated film “Bullhead,” “The Drop” also boasts an excellent international cast led by Tom Hardy. Obviously, Gandolfini is the main draw, and he looks to be at the top of his game here, but Hardy has been quietly building an impressive body of work for years, and if we’ve learned anything from the last few Lehane adaptations, they always bring out the best in actors. Could this finally be the year that Hardy nabs a nomination?

“THE MAZE RUNNER”

Who: Dylan O’Brian, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario and Thomas Brodie-Sangster
What: When Thomas wakes up trapped in a massive maze with a group of boys, he must join forces with some of the other captives in order to escape.
When: September 19th
Why: Every studio in Hollywood wants their own “Twilight” or “The Hunger Games,” but the fact of the matter is that most movies based on young adult novels are massive failures. (Just ask the casts of “The Mortal Instruments,” “Beautiful Creatures,” “The Host” and “Vampire Academy,” all of which were released in the past 18 months.) With that said, first-time director Wes Ball’s “The Maze Runner” is one of the more intriguing YA adaptations in recent memory. Though its “Hunger Games”-meets-“Lord of the Flies” premise is every bit as uninspired as most of the novels permeating the genre, there’s something about its blend of mystery and science fiction that’s piqued my interest. 20th Century Fox hasn’t had much luck with these types of films, but this could be the one that finally breaks their duck.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with James Brolin (‘Christmas with Tucker’)

James Brolin has been a star of TV and film since the ’60s, rarely disappearing from either for very long before popping back up somewhere or other, and tonight at 9 PM he can be found starring in “Christmas with Tucker,” the debut original movie from the Hallmark Movie Channel (which, just in case you aren’t aware, is a separate entity from the Hallmark Channel), playing a gruff but loveable grandfatherly type fella who gets to have a lot of scenes with a very cute dog. I was fortunate enough to chat with Brolin for a bit when he attended this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, and – as you’ll read below – I was even more fortunate to be able to continue the conversation a bit later.

JamesBrolinHeader

Bullz-Eye: So you’re in a dog movie, but are you a dog guy by nature?

James Brolin: Yeah, but guess what? I don’t have a dog right now. But I’m kind of shopping! The thing is, I’m not sure where I’m going to be next, and I kind of hate to go off and leave a dog once I have it. I’ve found that didn’t work well in the past. But I got my wife a dog. And the dog is… I can’t believe she’s had it 10 years now. And it sleeps right here. [Points to his head.] It likes the top of the couch or the head pillow. So usually, if you roll over it or around it, it gets out of your way and just goes down to the other end. Anyway, I’ve been moved to the back seat of the car now. [Laughs.] Those two run things.

BE: Yeah, we just got a dog a few months ago, so I know what you mean.

JB: Oh, yeah. If it ain’t a baby, it’s a dog. [Laughs.]

JamesBrolinTucker

BE: How was this dog, Tucker, to work with?

JB: Fine! Really good natured. He would do all the things, and then when you’d go to shoot, sometimes the dog would have a little brain fade or confusion, but it’s not unusual. You just keep going. You have the trainer keep going, you run the camera, and now with digital, you can just turn the camera on and let it run for two hours, and then you go in there, wade through it, and pick out just what you need. But that’s Filmmaking 101, in a way. If you have time for that, you do that. And if you’re doing a dog picture, you make time. And the kids… Anyone youthful who was involved was just right on. Gage (Munroe) is just like a honed pro, so that wasn’t an issue. Kids weren’t an issue. But animals are always an issue, and you just need to schedule the time to shoot and shoot and shoot a little bit.

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