Coen brother Joel delivers a vision that’s both decidedly theatrical and profoundly cinematic with his solo directorial effort, The Tragedy of Macbeth.
This film is gorgeous, in an almost Bergman manner. Hardly aesthetic for aesthetic’s sake, in true Coen fashion, every inch of screen is dedicated to a purpose. The square aspect ratio, off-kilter framing and specific use of black and white add to the film’s look of madness. Up is down, black is white, and the ground is always moving beneath your feet.
Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand play the Lord and his Lady and this, friends, is a dream team. Two of the most celebrated and talented actors of modern cinema square off. The veterans give the relationship a depth that tinges the eventual madness with grief.
Washington humanizes Macbeth with a turn full of pathos. And no soliloquy, no matter how well-worn by time and pop culture, feels stale in McDormand’s bloody hands. The adaptation and cast forego lust for something deeper and more tender, but that tradeoff does rob the film of some excitement. If there is a chink in Macbeth’s armor, it is the muted emotion of it.
A supporting cast including Brendan Gleeson, Bertie Carvel, Harry Melling, Stephen Root and Ralph Ineson impresses scene after scene. A slippery Alex Hassell is particularly memorable as Ross, but Corey Hawkins’s powerful turn as Macduff is the film’s biggest surprise.
Let us pause a moment on the witches. The spectral sisters are played by Kathryn Hunter: spellbinding, contorted and unsettling. Her voice and image poison the beauty onscreen as they poison the mind of the Scot. The choice is inspired.
It’s not the only one. Coen’s writing — or editing, as he adapts the Bard – is precise and pointed. When is it not? Coen’s venture into Shakespeare, though it strips away the humor and quirk you may associate with Coen Brother filmmaking, stands as a strikingly Coen film. And that has never one time been a bad thing.
Back again? So are some of the same old titles—it’s the week of sequels! We talk through the best and the worst: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, The Equalizer 2, Unfriended: Dark Web, plus a couple of original ideas—The Cakemaker and The Night Eats the World. We also run through the best and worst in the boatload of new movies available in home entertainment.
It still confounds me why John Wick gets more action cred than The Equalizer. Released less a month apart in 2014, Denzel and director Antoine Fuqua bettered Keanu and Chad Stahelski in nearly every respect. But, in fairness John Wick helped inspire Key and Peele’s very funny Keanu so I’ll move on.
JW already dropped its deuce (with part 3 currently in the works), and now The Equalizer 2 gets its director, star and screenwriter (Robert Wenk) back together for a slightly less satisfying dose of the same medicine.
Robert McCall (Denzel) has moved on from that big box hardware store he decimated in part one and settled in as a Lyft driver, making friends around his Boston neighborhood, and enemies when someone wrongs his friends.
E2 lets us see more of that random equalizing, which means more time before we get to the core conflict, but also more helpings of those bad guy beatdowns that bring such primal satisfaction.
Denzel is effortlessly good, which comes as a shock to no one. He digs deeper into the character this time out, maintaining the ticks that outwardly define McCall while sharpening the edges of a mysterious past that is never too far out of reach.
Secrets from that past begin to leave a bloody trail, and after a hit is ordered on his old boss Susan (Melissa Leo), McCall promises to make the guilty pay, his only regret being that he “can’t kill them twice.”
Denzel as a badass is so much cool fun, and he’s clearly the muse for Fuqua’s best work (Training Day, The Magnificent Seven). The stylized violence that so elevated the first film is here as well, but like most of the other elements, in lesser numbers.
The absence of a memorable villain is also felt. Marton Csokas was a great one, and E2 comes nowhere close to matching his simmering intensity. Substantive moral ambiguities are raised in fairly generic fashion, metaphors get a touch too weighty and the running time a bit too excessive.
The Equalizer 2 does offer plenty to like – Denzel, some scenes with unexpected turns, a surprisingly touching epilogue, Denzel – but little of it can match the style or the vibe of the original.
Roman J. Israel is a character. And Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a fine character study, one that can’t quite use that device for all the resonant insight it’s aspiring to.
Last time out, writer/director Dan Gilroy rode a very similar formula to spellbinding heights with the brilliantly slick and cynical Nightcrawler. Though Gilroy’s writing is often just as sharp in this legal drama, a third act buoyed by sentiment and idealism weakens the film’s overall effect.
Sadly, Denzel Washington is wildly miscast as the titular Mr. Israel.
Sustained. Of course, Washington is characteristically terrific as a savant-like attorney with decades fighting for civil rights amid the “dominant tendencies of society.” Slowly, he’s seduced by the dark side, succumbing to the high-rolling lifestyle that comes with working for the suave and successful George Pierce (Colin Farrell).
As Roman moves from one world to another, Gilroy rails nicely against the systemic inequalities of our justice system, with Washington’s seemingly effortless brilliance bringing the nuance needed to make Roman’s moral waverings feel authentic.
They do, and the film has a nice groove going until Gilroy needs to find himself and Roman a way out of what they’ve boxed themselves into. Suddenly scenes are feeling padded and resolutions a bit tidy, and you’re waiting for the dreaded grand courtroom speech that’s destined to torpedo all these good intentions.
Thankfully, Gilroy’s instincts are better than that, leaving Roman J. Israel, Esq. with his integrity still intact, just a little dented.
It is that time again – the time of year where the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honors the best of the best, and we honor the worst of those best.
Yes, Skeletons in the Closet: Oscar Edition is back. It’s the day we dig around in Oscar nominee closets to find those low budget, horror bones hiding behind the fancier schmancier stuff.
And we can always find them. The great Viola Davis wasted her talent in the Rear Window/Fright Night knock-off Disturbia. The also-great Michael Shannon spent some time early in his career in the actually quite decent Dead Birds, while Ryan Gosling co-starred in the intriguingly titled Frankenstein and Me. Meanwhile, Octavia Spencer slummed it up in Pulse.
But there’s worse – and yet, somehow better – material to discuss. Here are our favorite not-good horror hiding in these A-listers’ closets.
5. Denzel Washington: The Bone Collector (1999)
Denzel! Just a year after the serial Oscar nominee and winner made the dark action thriller Fallen – not good, but not bad – he returned to the land of CSI with The Bone Collector. Must’ve had an itch to scratch.
In Phillip Noyce’s grim police procedural, Washington plays a quadriplegic homicide detective helping beat cop Angelina Jolie track down a serial killer who’s leaving grisly victims and frustrating clues.
Plus, Queen Latifah!
The film is bland, Noyce never able to focus on a physically immobile hero and still create an exciting pace. And yet, Washington commands your attention no matter how listless the scene or unlikely the rest of the casting.
4. Michelle Williams, Halloween 20: H20 (1998)
It’s been 20 years since Michael Myers escaped his confines and slaughtered all those people in Haddonfield. Thousands of miles away in a private school in Northern California, Laurie Strode and her brother come face to face again.
Who was excited? Back in 1998, we were. Jamie Lee Curtis was back, and we were allowed to forget Halloweens 3 – 6 ever happened. Plus – though he’s no John Carpenter – director Steve Minor does have a history with horror, and Curtis’s iconic mom Janet Leigh popped by.
The result was slick, and boasted a great deal more talent than the others: Alan Arkin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and 2017 Oscar nom Michelle Williams. The 4-time Oscar nominee was saddled with the one-dimensional sweetheart role, and though you’d never have known she’d one day be among the most talented performers in film, you knew she was too good for this movie.
3. Jeff Bridges: The Vanishing (1993)
In 1988, co-writer/director George Sluizer unleashed a daring, meticulous and devastating film on an unsuspecting world. Spoorloos asked you to follow a grieving boyfriend down a rabbit hole – one with no escape.
Five years later, Sluizer returned to the scene of the crime, current Oscar-nominee Jeff Bridges in tow. Bridges plays just an ordinary guy indulging a particular fantasy. Unfortunately, Bernrd-Pierre Donnadieu played the same ordinary guy to far, far more believable and therefore chilling effect back in ’88.
Worse still, the fantasy itself is gutted with an “America’s not ready for the real thing” ending that just makes you want to kick a guy. Infuriating!
2. Viggo Mortensen: The Prophecy (1995)
This is one of those bad movies that is fun to watch. Somehow the unusually talent-stacked cast doesn’t feel wasted as much as it does weirdly placed.
There is no question this film belongs to Christopher Walken – as do all films in which he graces the screen. His natural weirdness and uncanny comic timing make the film more memorable than it deserves to be, but when it comes to sinister, Oscar nominee Viggo Mortensen cuts quite a figure as Lucifer.
Unseemly, gorgeous and evil, he seethes through his few scenes and leaves the celluloid scorched.
1. Casey affleck: Soul Survivors (2001)
Good God, this one’s bad.
Writer/director Steve Carpenter – auteur behind such classics as The Dorm that Dripped Blood – somehow convinced talent to join this cast. Who? A post-American Beauty Wes Bentley, an established Luke Wilson, and pre-Oscar nominee Casey Affleck.
Affleck stars as the tragically dead (or is he?) boyfriend of Cassie (Melissa Sagemiller) an awkward runner. (Yes, it’s tangential to any reasonable conversation about the film, but she runs in nearly every scene and I have never seen a more awkward runner.)
Who’s alive? Who’s dead? What’s happening? Well, in case you’ve been lobotomized and can’t keep up, luckily Father Jude (Wilson) will literally explain everything.
Denzel Washington is an Oscar contender in about one of every three films he makes – Fences is clearly one of those special performances.
As a director, he’s chosen to focus on the African American experience – August Wilson’s Pulitzer and Tony-winning stage play being the strongest effort yet.
Troy Maxson – a 1950s garbage man with a lot to say – is a character that feels custom-made for Washington. Larger than life, full of conflict and bullshit, bravado and stubbornness, Troy is a big presence. He fills up the screen, he fills up a room, but it is Viola Davis as his wife Rose who offers an emotional and gravitational center to the story.
It doesn’t take much effort to pitch Viola Davis a ball she can hit out of the park. Denzel does just that.
As Rose – the force that keeps the family functioning smoothly – Davis quietly astonishes. She delivers every scene – from silly reminiscences to life-altering decisions – with the easy grace of a profound talent.
Together she and Washington boast such chemistry, their glances, smiles and gestures articulating a well-worn, bone-deep love. Their time together on screen – which is a great chunk of the film – is an opportunity to watch two masters riff of each other for the benefit of character and audience alike. The result is in turns heart-warming and devastating.
The two leads benefit from the remarkable support of the ensemble – longtime character actor Stephen Henderson and Russell Hornsby, in particular.
True to the source material, Washington’s direction feels very stage-bound and theatrical. But in most respects, Washington’s delivery – faithful as it is to the idea of the stage from which it leapt – retains what is needed about the sense of confinement allowed by the few sets and locations.
This is a respectful and powerful tribute to the late Wilson, the playwright whose on-stage Fences saw its 2010 revival starring both Washington and Davis. There is no doubting this play’s bonafides, and Washington honors its intimacy and universal themes.
What if women, traumatized veterans, blacks, Asian Americans, American Indians, Mexican Americans and whatever white men we have left with a conscience exerted their inalienable right to govern a country that belongs as much to them as to anyone?
Or, what if Hollywood injected these themes into an old Western and hired fewer white guys playing Mexicans?
I give you, Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven.
Denzel Washington anchors the septet as Sam Chisolm, bounty hunter. Newly widowed Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) approaches him with a proposition: Rid Rose Creek of its evil despot (Peter Sarsgaard, wearily evil) in return for everything they have to give.
He’s been paid a lot before, but never everything.
So, Chisolm gathers a group of amiable rogues and heads to near-certain doom in the name of justice – like a Suicide Squad that doesn’t suck.
Based on John Sturges’s 1960 adaptation of Kurasawa’s 1954 classic Seven Samurai, Fuqua’s attempt is already three steps removed from originality. More than that, it’s tough to reignite the spark that made a 50+ year old story fun in the first place.
Not that Fuqua doesn’t take some liberties. Riding alongside Chisolm is as diverse an array of gunslingers as you’re likely to find.
Byung-hun Lee’s efficient knife expert, the solitary Comanche (Martin Sensmeier), and Mexican lawbreaker Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) join haunted Confederate Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawk, voted coolest name), Chris Pratt (playing Chris Pratt) and Vincent D’Onofrio as something else entirely. As Pratt’s Faraday describes him, “That bear was wearing people clothes.”
The film’s multicultural, multi-gendered slant, while appealing, is also jarringly anachronistic. Aside from a handful of good-natured barbs from inside the posse and a bit of stink eye from some of the dodgier locals, there’s nary a racist whisper. In America, circa 1867.
Let’s not even talk about Bennett’s cleavage.
Obvious flaws aside, you can’t argue the cast. D’Onofrio’s a freak (I mean that in the best way), Lee is quietly fascinating, and Denzel has the inarguable gravitas and wicked charm to pull the plan together.
For those of you afraid that Hollywood was about to turn your favorite old Western into an action flick with one liners – I give you…
Seriously, though, Sturgis’s film is more charmingly nostalgic than it is classic – like a toothless Wild Bunch. Fuqua respects the film that inspired his, and works in affection for many of the Westerns that define the genre.
He proves again his capacity to stage action, and the film’s final hour is a mixture of genre odes and glorious choreography as explosions crash, bullets fly and projectiles project.
Which would be great – given the cast, it might even be enough – if Fuqua understood the element that separates Westerns from other genres. It’s not a gatling gun, a saloon or a lonesome street itching for a shoot-out. It’s the haunted heartbeat of the damaged gunslinger. The Magnificent Seven, though fun, is too slick and superficial to find that rhythm.
The title The Equalizer probably should have been used in a late 80s Schwarzenegger flick, with a catch phrase like “You plus me equals..dead!” Instead, it was a late 80s guilty pleasure TV series, with Brit Edward Woodward starring as an ex-covert op specialist helping those with nowhere else to turn.
Actually, the big screen version may remind you more of Taken, with Denzel Washington as the new hero with a particular set of skills. No offense to Liam Neeson’s ass-kicking resume, but if Liam is bad then Denzel is superbad, and he and director Antoine Fuqua make The Equalizer a ton of fun.
Be aware, though, it’s plenty violent, as gentle hardware store employee Robert McCall (Denzel) awakens his mysterious past after befriending a young hooker (Chloe Grace Moretz, redeeming herself well after the If I Stay disaster). When she’s badly beaten, Robert takes very bloody revenge, and that doesn’t sit well with the Russian mob controlling the prostitution ring.
Washington and Fuqua again prove a formidable team. But while their Training Day was infused with a gritty mean streak that story deserved, The Equalizer‘s violence is all about style, with Fuqua using slow motion techniques and flashy panning shots to offset the brutality.
Denzel is equally effective bringing some humanity to his role as vigilante. McCall is picky and meticulous in his personal life, with a caring interest in his coworkers. Yes, there’s some cheesy humor and a few clunky metaphors (a chess game, reading The Old Man and the Sea) but Denzel absolutely sells it. Did we really think he wouldn’t?
Though the film is a tad long at 131 minutes, Fuqua’s pacing is on the money. He knows how to build palpable tension before an oncoming beat down, and he knows when it’s more effective to skip the fight altogether, letting a single “after” shot (bloody eyeglasses) do the talking.
It can’t go unmentioned that intended or not, cliched moments in The Equalizer gain more heft from memories of recent news headlines. What might have otherwise fallen a bit flat ends up reinforcing the entire theme of justice for the common folk.
The ending certainly leaves the door open for sequels, and as long as the Denzel/Fuqua team is intact, I’m in.
The last time director Thomas Carter made a feature film, it was the inspiring true story of high school coach Ken Carter who, though leading an undefeated team, believed there was something more important to the future of his players than winning.
The filmmaker’s next effort really shows his range – because that movie was about basketball.
When the Game Stands Tall is the true story of Bob Ladouceur, probably the greatest high school football coach in history. He led his La De Salle Spartans to an unprecedented, quite likely unbreakable 151 game winning streak.
Carter is not known for his light hand at the helm. Indeed, this film has as manipulative and leading a score as anything since Remember the Titans, and the similarities don’t begin or end there. But he deserves credit for situating his story where he does, not focusing on the obvious victories, but mining the team’s more challenging, less glamorous time for the values that transcend the sport.
Jim Caviezel plays Ladouceur as a stoic, noble, righteous soul – because that is all Jim Caviezel is capable of. Luckily enough, it generally suits the role and he has other actors to appear humanlike around him.
The performances skirt cliché but are handled admirably. Laura Dern is the loving, ignored and concerned wife. Matthew Daddario is the coach’s son who just wants his dad’s approval, while Alexander Ludwig is the teammate whose volatile father only loves his son for the vicarious glory and accolades. It all sounds eerily familiar.
Carter also provides plenty of on-field play, and does a fine job of lensing it, though cinematic gridiron action may never look better than it did in Friday Night Lights. But that’s an altogether superior film. By comparison, When the Game Stands Tall looks downright naïve in its portrayal of athlete lives off the field, where they drink soda from bottles and make promise pledges with their chaste girlfriends in a town where fans are exclusively positive.
It’s an exceedingly passable product of a threadbare formula. It might even be enjoyable if Caviezel could muster the charisma necessary to carry the film. Unfortunately, Caviezel is no Sam Jackson or Billy Bob Thornton – and he sure as hell is no Denzel Washington- so his film feels more junior varsity than it might.
This year they up the ante, utilizing a snappy script, one Mr. Denzel Washington and a solid ensemble cast to make 2 Guns one of the most entertaining films of the summer.
Granted, it may be forgotten by fall, but right now, as a weak film season winds down, this type of stylish fun is welcome. And it’s all rooted in the undeniable chemistry of the two leads.
Wahlberg is “Stig,” an undercover naval intelligence officer, and Denzel is Bobby, an undercover DEA agent. Though they’re working together to infiltrate a drug cartel, neither knows the other is one of the good guys.
A few double crosses later, and they’ve got a ruthless drug lord (Edward James Olmos), a sleazy CIA boss (Bill Paxton, gleefully over the top) and a crooked navy officer (James Marsden) threatening to kill them both unless they can hand over a massive load of stolen cash.
Kormakur sets the hook with a taut, mysterious opening, then maintains a crisp pace full of flashbacks, callbacks, and impressively staged action. Based on a series of graphic novels, the script from Blake Masters is witty but not overly comedic, and elaborate but not convoluted, while also managing to land a few jabs on U.S.- Mexican relations. Nicely done.
Wahlberg’s performances always seem to reflect the level of talent around him, and he is very effective here, relishing the chance to be the comic relief side of a badass duo. Washington seems equally engaged, letting you feel the wheels turning as Bobby coolly figures out what’s what. Their fun is contagious, to the audience as well as their fellow actors.
An engaging mix of buddy cop caper, spy thriller and Wild West shoot em up, 2 Guns is just the kick in the pants this movie summer needs.