Sunday, 8 February 2015


Sunday, 8 February 2015
★½ (out of five)

THE INTERVIEW has achieved an unprecedented level of controversy the material doesn't deserve, because the script is a toothless and simpleminded "attack" on North Korea's strange/terrible regime and its 'Supreme Leader' Kim Jong-un.

Seth Rogen plays Aaron Rappaport, the producer of James Franco's cheesy talk show host Dave Skylark, whose accidental 'outing' of Eminem on live TV makes him a big star, gaining the attention of Kim Jong-un--who requests an interview, with the usual caveats any journalist would refuse point-blank. However, the CIA--in the comely form of Agent Lacey (Lizzie Caplan)--seize an unexpected opportunity to have Skylark assassinate the troublesome despot.

It's a setup that's undeniably juicy and promisingly risky, but writer-directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg are not master satirists. The best scene is where Skylark realises a public supermarket in Pongyang is actually a facade stocked with plastic fruit. That's about as interesting as it gets, because the core of this comedy is a parade of frat boy gags as the two hapless TV men cope as VIP guests of a nasty communist--whom, for while, manages to charm Skylark into submission thanks to revealing his love of Katy Perry songs and a hanger full of tanks and sports cars.

I barely smiled throughout THE INTERVIEW, and there were probably about three actual jokes that "worked" for me. Franco pulls a thousand faces in a committed but uncharismatic performance, Rogen does his schlubby fool act (again), the beautiful Caplan's wasted after a promising first-scene introduction, and Randall Park's impersonation of Kim Jong-un was predictably broad and uninteresting to me. It has brief periods of interest, and some surprisingly hardcore violence in the third act gets your attention, but THE INTERVIEW doesn't live up to the real-world brouhaha that's surrounded it.

I'm glad it's available to be seen and discussed, but I really wish it was a more incendiary piece of filmmaking than it is.

★★½ (out of five)

Cards on the table, I was a huge fan of the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES back in the late-'80s/early-'90s--specifically the popular cartoon that brought them to mainstream attention, and inspired three feature-films. What can I say? I have fond memories of these characters and the world they inhabit, so went into this movie with expectations low but a readiness to enjoy it on the level intended.

And, while it has obvious problems and the script could have been much funnier, Jonathan Liebesman's TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES movie wasn't as horrific as I'd been led to believe. It was actually surprisingly enjoyable at times, the fight sequences were coherently staged, and the special effects (notably the motion-capture of the four Turtles) were rock solid.

I didn't even mind the design of the amphibious heroes, which amplifies the fact the Turtles are unnatural mutations and gives each one more individuality on a visual level. It really helped differentiate Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michaelangelo when they were engaged in battle. Their arch-nemesis Shredder is (again) the main antagonist here, and even his overhaul didn't bother me--as he's upgraded from a 'ninja wearing a cool helmet and forearm blades' to a 'samurai behemoth in a high-tech suit'. I mean, you need to supercharge your villain if these Turtles have become miniature-Hulks with extraordinary strength and stamina, no?

Some of the creative choices were a bit suspect, of course. The coincidence level of reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) being the former owner of the four turtles, before their transformation, is astronomical; and the fact mutated rat sensei Splinter was never human, but learned ninjutsu from a discarded guidebook, is a bit stupid. I also didn't like that the overall sweep of the narrative was so formulaic, and the dialogue for the Turtles was never as funny as intended.

However, there's a wonderful action sequence with a truck sliding down a mountain, chased by villains in jeeps, with the Turtles themselves sliding and catapulting themselves around the mayhem. And occasional moments where the humour and behaviour of the Turtles comes to the fore in an enjoyable way (such as a comic moment in an elevator where they pass time by improvising some music with their weapons, while beatboxing).

TMNT was an unexpected hit last year, and I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel that does something we haven't seen with this franchise in live-action form yet: utilise the cartoon's more fantastical and imaginative side. I hear that popular mutated henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady will be featuring, but here's hoping the filmmakers embrace a storyline that's more creative and crazier.

Would it be too much to ask for a plot involving Dimension X and Krang, the squid-like pink alien that sits in the stomach of a gormless automaton?

★★★★ (out of five)

Only nominally based on the 1980s TV series starring Edward Woodward, THE EQUALIZER has absolutely nothing original on its mind. It's yet another 'quiet man revealed to be a supreme assassin' movie, with Denzel Washington basically reprising his bad-ass character from MAN ON FIRE--only now he's Robert McCall, a nondescript nice-guy working in a local DIY store, who has past training as a top government hitman.

Similarly to JOHN WICK, it's the Russian mob who make the mistake of kicking this sleeping giant, after viciously beating a teenage prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz) Richard befriended in a diner. How unusual this Cold War menace are suddenly the go-to villains in recent U.S action movies. I guess more pressing modern-day threats from the Middle East just aren't cinematically "cool" enough, and bring awkward baggage?

Antoine Fuqua's direction is straightforward but stylish. Denzel is dependably charismatic and impressive during the action sequences. Those two things add up to THE EQUALIZER succeeding in its modest aims. For what it's worth, I preferred this movie to the Keanu Reeves-starring JOHN WICK because the storyline was more complex and the main antagonist, cold-blooded Teddy (Marton Csokas), was a huge amount of fun to watch. It's been awhile since a big screen villain impressed me as Csokas managed to here, but he's an excellent counterpoint to Denzel's thoughtful and precise killer.

(Note: I've had enough of the modern trope that skilled assassins and detectives can sweep their environment for "clues" on dead bodies, or "weaknesses" in aggressors, in microseconds, but thankfully this quirk gets less prominent in THE EQUALIZER as the story develops.)

In the action movie stakes, I really can't fault THE EQUALIZER to any serious degree, and welcome the planned sequel.

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