The Equalizer 2


You never know what might be peering around the corner.

(2018) Action (ColumbiaDenzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Orson Bean, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Jonathan Scarfe, Sakina Jeffrey, Kazy Tauginas, Garrett A. Golden, Adam Karst, Alican Barias, Rhys Cote, Tamara Hickey, Ken Baltin, Colin Allen, Antoine de Lartigue, Abigail Marlowe, Jim Loutzenheiser, Rex Banning, Lance Williams, Caroline Day. Directed by Antoine Fuqua

 

Washington returns as Robert McCall, the retired CIA black ops assassin turned do-gooder in the movie franchise based on a popular 80s TV series. Here his- vengeance takes a more personal note; his former CIA handler (Leo) is brutally murdered in Brussels while investigating the deaths of informants and assets there. Naturally, Denzel doesn’t take kindly to this; she’s one of his only friends. So, it’s up to McCall to go medieval on a bunch of asses before finding the man behind it all – whose identity should surprise no-one.

Fuqua is a skilled action director and Washington one of the most charismatic actors to ever appear onscreen. Even their considerable talents though can’t quite make you forget that the script is heavy with predictable plot points and leaden dialogue. There is also a subplot involving Bean as a nonagenarian Holocaust survivor trying to reunite with his sister which while sweet adds absolutely nothing to the story; we get plenty of other instances of McCall’s charitable nature to get the point.

This isn’t a bad movie by any means but with talents like Fuqua and Washington involved it should be a better movie. Action fans will love the sequence when a knife-wielding assassin tries to take out McCall in a moving car while Denzel fans will love the fact that the Oscar-winning actor is as good as ever in the movie. I still wish that some of the writers from the old TV show might have taken a crack at the script here. With a little bit more care and imagination this could be essential viewing. As it is, it makes for a mindless way to spend a couple of hours.

REASONS TO SEE: Denzel is, as usual, a force of nature.
REASONS TO AVOID: The plot is a tad too predictable.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, some occasional drug content and a lot of violence, some of it brutal
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first sequel for both Fuqua and Denzel.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Sling TV, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/27/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 52% positive reviews: Metacritic:50/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Punisher
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Dark Matter 2019 short

The Most Unknown


Jennifer Macalady explores a new world.

(2018) Documentary (Motherboard/Abramorama) Jennifer Macalady, Davide D’Angelo, Axel Cleermans, Luke McKay, Rachel L. Smith, Victoria Orphan, Jun Ye, Anil Smith, Laurie R. Santos, Emelie Caspar, Brian Hedlund, Joseph Garguglia, Erik Cordes Chris Gates, Warrick Roseboom. Directed by Ian Cheney

 

These days, science isn’t the sexiest career choice as it was in the glory days of NASA or at the beginning of the computer revolution. Scientists are looked upon with suspicion and even disdain by much of the general American public, which says less about science and scientists than it does about America and the political landscape of the country at present.

But even though there are fewer college students going into science majors and careers in the sciences, that doesn’t mean there is a lack of excitement in the varied fields. This is something of a scientific experiment courtesy of the science journalism arm of Vice News, taking nine scientists, all of them working on some of the most basic and important questions ranging from what would life on other planets look like, how does the brain create consciousness, how are stars and planets created and what is the nature of time. Each scientist journeys to a different place in the world to meet up with a scientist in a different field; the resulting conversations are lively, and more importantly, accessible to the layman.

We are introduced to microbiologist Jennifer Macalady who journeys to Italy to meet physicist Davide D’Angelo who in turn heads to Brussels to meet cognitive psychologist Axel Cleermans. He heads to Nevada to meet up with astrobiologist Luke McKay. McKay’s assignment is to go to Hawaii to meet astrophysicist Rachel L. Smith. She gets to go on a deep dive off of Costa Rica with Cal Tech geobiologist Victoria Orphan to explore the life forms in a methane seepage. She in turn meets physicist Jun Ye in California to see the world’s most accurate atomic clock. He heads to the UK to meet neuroscientist Anil Smith who then heads to the office of cognitive psychologist Laurie R. Santos who eventually goes full circle to the Italian caves where Macalady is working.

Their enthusiasm is infectious and inspiring; their passion is undeniable but these are not movie scientists rocketing in all directions willy nilly without restraint; these are dedicated professionals who are absolutely obsessive about doing this right. They are methodical and patient, knowing that these questions won’t have easy answers and therefore will require time and determination in order to find te right direction. Some of them, like D’Angelo who is exploring the mystery of dark matter, isn’t sure that he’ll find answers in his own lifetime but he’s confident that answers will one day be found and that he will help find either by steering future researchers onto the right path or at least away from the wrong one.

Some of the images here are mind-blowing, including marine life that consumes methane and helps keep our planet’s atmosphere from becoming toxic or the glowing isotope that powers the atomic clock. The filmmakers go to all sorts of locations from the black rock desert of Nevada, the jungles of Costa Rica, the Atomium in Brussels and gleaming laboratories all over the world.

If there is a fault here, it is that there might be too many conversations plugged into an hour and a half. In some ways this might have worked better as an episodic series with a half hour to an hour devoted to each of the nine segments. However, if the only fault you can find in a documentary is that there isn’t enough of it, the filmmakers are doing something right.

This is a documentary that just might inspire you to take science more seriously, or at least appreciate the process more. Certainly these scientists are anything but arrogant, idiosyncratic or hidebound, nor are they loose cannons. They are fresh-faced, enthusiastic, passionate about their work and brilliant. They never talk down to each other nor the audience; the result is that you get caught up in their enthusiasm. Maybe I as a layman will never understand the importance of dark matter or be as passionate about cave slime but I can be very happy that somebody is.

The film is currently playing the Quad Theater in New York and will be making a limited run in various theaters and festivals around the country. In August, it will be heading to Netflix. There will also be additional material made available at that time. Keep an eye out for it – this is worth seeing both as an educational aid for young people and for adults who want to feel inspired by science.

REASONS TO GO: This may be the most effective advertising for a career in science since Cosmos. Some of the footage is truly remarkable. The film looks into some really basic but important questions. The science is explained in a relatable manner.
REASONS TO STAY: The film doesn’t get as in-depth into the conversations as you might like.
FAMILY VALUES: Although there is brief mild profanity, this is truly suitable for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Macalady was also featured in the 2012 science documentary The Search for the Origin of Life.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/21/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews: Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chasing Ice
FINAL RATING: 10/10
NEXT:
Grace Jones: Bloodfight + Bami

JCVD


JCVD

Mr. Brussels flexes his muscles.

(2008) Action (Peace Arch) Jean-Claude van Damme, Francois Damiens, Zinedine Soualem, Karim Belkhadra, Jean-Francois Wolff, Anne Paulicevich, Norbert Rutili, Michel Bouis, Alan Rossett, Gregory Jones, Paul Rockenbrod, Janine Horsburgh. Directed by Mabrouk El Mechri

 

Everyone goes to the movies and identifies with the star. Who wouldn’t want to be a movie star with all the glamour, the admiration and the adulation that comes with it. What w don’t usually get to see is what happens when the party’s over, when the crowds diminish and the movies go from tentpole releases to direct-to-home-video.

That’s where Jean-Claude (van Damme) is. Once one of the biggest action stars in the world, he finds his phone ringing less often and the parts he covets going to Steve Seagal instead. He is in a custody battle in Los Angeles which he loses when his daughter tells the judge that she is embarrassed whenever one of her dad’s movies comes on cable because her school mates tease her unmercifully about them.

He returns home to Brussels with his tail between his legs. There, he is still respected and beloved as a bit of a national hero, not just for his Hollywood movies but for his martial arts accomplishments. When his bank card won’t work at an ATM, he must go to a post office to get some cash. Just before going inside, he does a little photo op with a couple of video game store fanboys.

Shortly thereafter the post office is taken hostage by armed robbers. The police realize that Jean-Claude van Damme, the legendary muscles from Brussels, is in the thick of it, most likely as the leader of the gang.

Except he isn’t. Van Damme’s fame is being used by the actual robbers to become the center of attention; having the police think he’s involved in the robbery is icing on the cake. The action star finds himself in a situation that is very much like his movies except this is no movie and there are no cameras. Will he survive a situation that is out of control or will the real hero that is inside him save the day?

It’s no secret that van Damme’s career has been in a tailspin. Most of his movies in the last 15 years have gone from being summer staples to being lost on the direct-to-video shelf at your local video retailer. This is the movie that might bring him from those doldrums and back into the limelight (and in fact he has – you’ll be seeing him in The Expendables 2, a major action film with an all-star cast, in August). We see a side to him that is going to bust all the preconceptions you’ve ever had of him.

It was always my impression that van Damme had a wee bit of the arrogant diva in him with more than a bit of ego in him. Here, he is a little vulnerable; unsure of himself and not quite the arrogant movie star I thought he was. He was fully aware that the luster of his stardom had dimmed and there was a bit of uncertainty in his own abilities, something you wouldn’t think that an action star would possess and yet van Damme points out that he is just as human as his audience. In fact, there is an amazing scene near the end of the movie where he breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly; some of what he says is cryptic and confusing, but for the most part it is an amazing look at the relationship between a star and his audience, and how it feels when one deserts the other, and how it feels living in a fishbowl where every mistake you make is magnified. It’s an extraordinary six minute soliloquy and if you remember nothing else of the movie, you will remember those six minutes.

Unfortunately, in many ways the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to van Damme’s performance. The plot is a bit pedestrian and while there are some moments that are amusing or full of pathos, there is a real sense that the bank robbers are mostly cliché characters acting like a criminal gang that has been seen in hundreds of movies and TV shows over the years. The scenes just don’t play as genuine and could have use a bit more grounding.

This is the kind of movie that can resurrect careers and hopefully it has done that for van Damme, an actor who has done some pretty fine movies in past years (most notably Timecop, still my favorite van Damme movie although this new one is a close second). If nothing else, it might break the mindset of the movie-going public and more importantly, of casting directors who thought of van Damme as a fading action star whose high-wattage smile and good looks are beginning to be eroded by middle age. This proves there is an actual actor buried in there and a pretty good one at that – who will take a few risks not only as an action star but allow people to see him vulnerable and hurt. One has to think that takes far more courage than to do one’s own stunts in an increasingly digital effect-laden genre.

WHY RENT THIS: Van Damme lets his hair down and is surprisingly brutal on himself. This will change your perspective about action stars in general and van Damme in particular.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Bank robbery scenes lack the realism to add a sense of jeopardy.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some language and violence here.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nearly all of van Damme’s dialogue was improvised. El Mechri didn’t want van Damme to be limited by pre-written words as he has “his own music” in his head.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2.3M on an unreported production budget; the movie was quite likely profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dog Day Afternoon (really!)

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT:Moonrise Kingdom

Vampires


Vampires

Don't you just hate getting lipstick smeared all over your face when you kiss? Wait a minute that's not lipstick...

(2010) Mockumentary (IFC Midnight) Carlo Ferrante, Vera Van Dooren, Pierre Lognay, Fleur Lise Heuet, Paul Ahmarani, Alexandra Kamp-Groeneveld, Julien Dore, Batiste Sornin, Thomas Coumans. Directed by Vincent Lannoo

If vampires are to survive in the world they must by necessity keep well-hidden. For one thing, people would panic if they knew there were superior predators living amongst us, indistinguishable from our neighbors. For another, the panic would lead to genocide as humans have a vast numerical superiority; no, vampires benefit from secrecy.

Which makes a documentary about their society all the more puzzling. After several aborted attempts (when camera crews got invited into vampire enclaves and ended up being the main course), a film crew finally got placed with a vampire family in Brussels.

Vampire families are a bit different than humans. For one thing, they can’t procreate sexually (although they have plenty of sex). Children are brought into a vampire family by turning young people into vampires. However, vampires don’t age once they are turned so turning children is frowned upon – instead it is usually teens and youngsters who are turned.

This particular family’s patriarch is Georges (Ferrante), an old school bloodsucker who is a bit spineless in a lot of ways. He adheres strictly to the code of conduct set for vampires going back centuries from the first vampires. His wife Bertha (Van Dooren) is a bit more bloodthirsty but she’s a bit of a hausfrau as well. She and Georges make a good match.

Their kids are a bit of a problem. Grace (Heuet) is tired of her immortality and wants to be a normal human, going so far as attempting to kill herself on a regular basis. Since vampires can’t be killed by ordinary beings, the attempts are pretty laughable but still she perseveres – you have to admire her tenacity. Samson (Lognay) is, like many men his age, the libido of a 16-year-old. Of course, he’s considerably older – he’s 55 but he looks like he’s in his mid-20s. That leads him to a transgression that threatens the family’s stability.

Of course, vampires don’t really exist but that doesn’t mean they don’t make for an entertaining mockumentary. Belgian cinema hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but good films in a similar vein have come from that country before – see Man Bites Dog – and this one works very nicely. There is a very tongue-in-cheek sense of humor here that is occasionally unexpected, hitting you like a ton of bricks. For example, the vampires have human secretaries who take care of their daylight needs and occasionally serve as an alternate food source in case of an emergency – these are normally vampire fetishists who long to be immortal and hope to be rewarded eventually.

Their food supply are mostly immigrants and runaways – people who won’t be missed and who are kept in a pen out in the backyard. In all other respects however this is a normal suburban family with all the problems and issues that beset most modern families. Making that modern family vampiric adds an extra dimension and adds to the humor but it also allows the filmmakers to comment on those very issues without pointing the finger at society in general or suburbanites in particular.

I was rather surprised by this movie in that it I hadn’t heard virtually anything about it. So far as I know it got no US theatrical release and has mostly played the festival circuit in Europe. I caught it on the Sundance Channel here and so this might be rather hard to hunt down but it is definitely worth it, particularly those who love vampires and don’t mind poking gentle fun of themselves and vampires in general – and suburbanites. Definitely them.

WHY RENT THIS: Tongue-in-cheek funny. Nice idea and well-executed.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Drags on a bit.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some bad words and some depictions of bloodletting and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Honestly? Couldn’t find any.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Animal Kingdom