The Equalizer (2014)

★★★ / 👎

The Equalizer (2014) poster

Former “Agency” operative and widower finds peace in civilian life through a combination of bibliotherapy, community engagement, and vigilantism.

This version of Robert McCall—bearing virtually no similarities to the Edward Woodward television series—eschews firearms, instead employing a variety of improvised weapons to carry out his many kills. By the climax, the movie effectively becomes a slasher film, with Washington as the offscreen-teleporting remorseless killer, picking off doomed Russian mobsters one by one. (He contemplates a man he’s just hanged with razor wire as dispassionately as The Shape admired his handiwork in Halloween.)

The film is absurdly overlong for its thin premise, but it only really drags when Fuqua overindulges in the slow-motion power walks. All the actors, from Washington on down, give better performances than the material deserves.

Birdman (2014)

★★★ / 👍

Birdman (2014) poster

You know, I’m a total sucker for this sort of thing. I prefer Opening Night to A Woman Under The Influence, Brewster McCloud to Nashville, and even Friz Freleng’s “Show Biz Bugs” to Chuck Jones’ “Duck Amuck.” I liked much of Birdman, and think that it’s more self-aware than a lot of people acknowledge. But even I wouldn’t have given it four Oscars. (Or at least, not the ones it received.)

Blackhat (2015)

★★★/ 👎

Blackhat (2015) poster

A number of tools are on a table, arranged in a row by size. A hand reaches into frame, and adjusts one of the tools into perfect alignment. That’s Blackhat in a nutshell: a Michael Mann pastiche by Michael Mann, enjoyable in direct proportion to how endearing you find his pet obsessions and stylistic quirks. The plot is a hot mess. The video aesthetic is as smeary and ugly as Mann’s other digital productions, only partially redeemed by striking night-time scenes lit solely by practical fluorescents, open flames, and the inner fires of stoicism.

Limiting myself to just the stuff I thought of while I was watching the film, Blackhat reminded me of:

• The jailhouse philosophy and the obsessive-compulsive treatment of tools, from—well, from damn near everything Mann’s ever directed, but particularly from Thief.

• The tedious romance between a brooding hunk with an iffy American accent and a largely wasted Chinese actress, last seen in Miami Vice.

• The battle of wits and tactics between professional criminals and mostly-competent law enforcement, punctuated by moments of sudden lethality and realistically loud small-arms combat. (Heat, Collateral.)

• The Eureka! moment where our hero pieces together the villain’s methodology set to a swelling synth score, cribbed directly from Manhunter (down to actual dialogue).

Casual audiences seeking light escapism with Chris Hemsworth will be baffled and put off by the style of the film; Mann completists have seen it all done before, and better, in other Mann films.

To end on a positive note, the “hacking” is vastly better than in most cyber thrillers. There’s a worrying CGI macro-visualization of silicon front-loaded for the “computers are magic” rubes, but after that it’s mostly command lines and social engineering around sloppy procedures. (The more egregious Hollywood OS stuff appears in connection with the NSA; in a post-PRISM/Boundless Informant world it practically seems realistic.)

The Raid 2 (2014)

★★★ / 👎

The Raid 2 (2014) poster

A sequel which uses its increased budget to magnify the flaws of the first film, Raid 2 ditches the confined-location cop thriller in favor of a meandering gangster saga punctuated by gore effects that would be grotesque if they weren’t so tedious. It’s like watching a film from an alternate-universe Michael Bay who actually understands how to stage and edit action, but is just as indifferent to coherent narrative.

I hated this movie, but there’s no question that it does exactly what it sets out to do, even if I thought the most impressive thing about the whole movie was the Foley work.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)

★★★½ / 👍

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010) poster

Horror-comedy with a one-joke premise (“hillbillies” mistaken for murderers by partying college kids) that runs out of gas fairly early on, but coasts successfully on the chemistry and comic timing of its leads. (With any luck, the recently-announced sequel in development will give these actors a better vehicle.)