It’s here! It’s finally here! Spring is in the air. Thunderstorms are on the horizon. Finals are just around the corner. And then, the best part of the year . . . summer blockbuster movie season!
This month, I decided to go with two movies I saw recently that, in my humble opinion, should have been blockbuster hits. Except they weren’t. The first film, The Equalizer, pulled in a respectable $200 million worldwide. That was roughly the budget for last year’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy. Our second movie, Top Five, pulled in around $25 million. That’s half of what Robert Downey Jr. made for Iron Man 3.
And yet, both of these movies were every bit as entertaining and enjoyable to me as any other summer blockbuster I saw last year. So, let’s get to talking about these diamonds in the rough, shall we?
The Equalizer (2014) [R]
One of my buddies here at the college came up to me the other day and said, “Collin, have I got a movie for you! You need to go rent The Equalizer. You’ll love it!”
Bold statement, right? And while I can’t say I loved it, I CAN say it was really entertaining and is one of those movies I can watch over and over again.
The Equalizer is a bit of a reimagining of the 80’s TV show of the same name. Denzel Washington stars as Robert McCall who is, in the movie, an employee at the local home improvement store with a mysterious past. He is an insomniac and goes to the same diner every night where he reads. At the diner, he meets a young woman, Teri, who is under the control of a group of violent Russian gangsters. When Teri is beat up by the gangsters, McCall pays them a visit where his taste for justice is reawakened.
Okay, there are a few things I could have done without in this. Why oh why can’t Hollywood find actual Russian actors to play Russian characters in movies? Is it really that hard? Surely there are a few Russians in Los Angeles trying to break into acting. But there are also some many thing I loved. The movie climaxes in, what I can only describe as, a 20-minute, ultra-violent Home Alone sequence. I know it is totally unrealistic but it’s also really entertaining.
Yeah, you’ve seen plenty of movies with a plot like this. And indeed, Denzel portrays McCall in the same quiet, boiling rage mode that he perfected years ago. But watching The Equalizer is sort of like slipping on your favorite pair of shoes. You already know what to expect. It’s comfortable and easy. It’s also pretty fun.
7 paws out of 10
Top Five (2014) [R]
Comedies are tough to review. What I think is funny, you may not and vice versa. But sometimes a comedy is so well made that you almost forget that it is full of lines designed to make you laugh and just concentrate on the story itself.
That’s exactly what happened to me with Top Five.
Top Five is written by, directed by and stars Chris Rock. The story revolves around a comedian, Andre Allen, who wants to be taken seriously. While trying to promote his new, “serious” movie about a slave revolt in Haiti, his fiancé, played by Gabrielle Union, is filming a reality show about their wedding. Allen has an interview scheduled with Chelsea Brown, played by Rosario Dawson, who follows him around throughout his day trying to get to the truth of who Andre Allen is.
If you read any of the other reviews of Top Five, you’ll notice a lot of people referencing Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories. That certainly does feel like an inspiration for this. But Top Five is most definitely a slice of Chris Rock. The comedy which ranges from subtle satire to outrageous, bawdy site gags all feels like a natural outflow from Rock’s standup performances yet the heart behind the movie is also plainly evident.
Comedy is hard. Comedy that means something to your audience, even harder. What really impressed me was that the movie feels both incredibly personal and yet open enough for anyone to find a connection to the story. The key to that, I suspect is a tenet of Alcoholics Anonymous that is brought up several times in the film – “rigorous honesty.” Top Five doesn’t feel like a series of jokes smashed together. It feels like real life and that is incredibly hard to pull off well. To me, Top Five does just that.
8 paws out of 10