the Equalizer 2 review

It’s fairly cold comfort that The Equalizer 2 is an improvement on its 2014 predecessor. That film’s director and star, Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington, have returned for this follow-up, which is largely more of the same. The first film was exceedingly dour, grim and gratuitously violent, with Washington’s Robert McCall laying waste to all sorts of faceless baddies. This time around, while the reasons why McCall has to fend off bad guys hit closer to home, much of the story is predictable and Fuqua’s unable to rein in the film to a more manageable length. All told, this manages to be a bit better simply by not being that excessive.

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(Welcome to The Dark Knight Legacy, a series of articles that explore Christopher Nolan’s superhero masterpiece in celebration of its 10th anniversary.)

A decade ago, Christopher Nolan stepped into an echelon that only a few filmmakers occupy, wherein moviegoers around the world know his name as well as they know any movie star. Only a handful of directors — Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese — can claim entrée into this exclusive club. For Nolan, it’s thanks to his second superhero film, The Dark Knight, celebrating its tenth anniversary this week. There are many reasons why The Dark Knight remains an incredible, exciting, if still very disquieting blockbuster; perhaps the biggest reason of all is the conception, in writing, directing and performing, of Batman’s most feared villain, the Joker.

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It is the height of chutzpah for Universal Pictures to release Skyscraper, the latest action-movie event starring Dwayne Johnson, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the film to which it owes a massive debt, Die Hard. Though Skyscraper isn’t solely derivative of the seminal action movie about a down-on-his-luck cop who has to fend off a series of Eurotrash terrorists while trapped in a fancy high-rise, it’s unable to escape from the shadows of better action films. Johnson is charming as always, even if the film around him can’t measure up.

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(Welcome to The Disney Discourse, a recurring feature where Josh Spiegel discusses the latest in Disney news. He goes deep on everything from the animated classics to the theme parks to live-action franchises. In this edition: a visit to the opening days of Disney California Adventure’s Pixar Pier reveals the future of Disney theme parks.)

Last weekend, Disney unveiled a re-imagining of a section of the Disney California Adventure (DCA) theme park at the Disneyland Resort. It’s called Pixar Pier, featuring revised versions of old attractions, a handful of new fast-food restaurants, and more. It’s all part of the Pixar Fest theme of the summer at Disneyland, which you have no doubt heard about, at least if you live on the western half of the United States and/or you’re enough of a Disney parks fan.

One pre-existing piece of entertainment that’s taking center stage in Pixar Fest is the Pixar Play Parade; previously, this high-tech parade full of floats, Audio-Animatronic characters, live dancers, puppets, and more would be performed once or twice a day at DCA. Now, it’s the afternoon parade at Disneyland Park; watching it live on Pixar Pier’s opening weekend — as I did — was, like being at Pixar Pier on its first two full days, quite the experience.

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Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

Though it feels like roughly two decades have passed since April, it’s only been two months since the release of Avengers: Infinity War, the first part of a two-part capper to the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. Infinity War ended grimly enough, even though there’s next to no doubt that much of its tragedy will be undone at some point in the conclusion next May. It’s a pleasant surprise that the specter of that dark cliffhanger doesn’t hover over Marvel’s latest, Ant-Man and the Wasp, which smoothly course-corrects from its 2015 predecessor while keeping things low-key.

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Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit

There is a man squatting at the lowest point of his personal and professional life. He’s a classic film-noir detective living from job to job in Hollywood in the late 1940s, the dark hero of an ’80s neo-noir. The man used to be on the LAPD, but now he’s just a hacky private investigator who’s drowned his former glory by guzzling scotch day and night. But the job he’s on now is tough, the toughest one he’s had yet: it started small, with him taking sleazy pictures of a gorgeous woman fooling around on her husband, but it’s turned into a case full of greed, murder, and a city-wide conspiracy.

The worst cut of all: to save his reputation and his life, this gumshoe has to go to the one place he’s feared for years, the place where his cop brother was killed. As he stares into the abyss of a tunnel where doom waits on the other side, the camera zooms in on his sweaty, terrified face. He bucks up the last shreds of courage he has, gets back into his car, drives through the tunnel, and is confronted with…

Bright colors, hand-drawn animation, literal songbirds, and half of the most beloved animated characters of all time. The man is Eddie Valiant, the place is Toontown, and the film is Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which turns 30 today.

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second half of jurassic world fallen kingdom

When the film he was reviewing would demand it, the late Roger Ebert would retell an old story he’d once heard. It was about a child prodigy, gifted at playing the piano, who was lucky enough to meet one of the old masters to perform. And so he did, skillfully getting every part of a famously tricky composition correct in his performance. When the child finished, the old master patted him on the head and said, “You know the notes. One day, maybe you will know the music.”

That’s a line that’s hard to ignore when watching the chaotic Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the second new film in the franchise that knows the notes without getting any of the music correct. This movie is chock-full of references to Steven Spielberg’s modern classic, all of which are simply reminders that this material has been done much better before.

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(Welcome to The Disney Discourse, a recurring feature where Josh Spiegel discusses the latest in Disney news. He goes deep on everything from the animated classics to the theme parks to live-action franchises. In this edition: )

When Pixar Animation Studios began making features, they wanted to differentiate themselves in more ways than one from other animation companies. In the mid-1990s, it was daring to make a full-length computer-animated feature, but Pixar knew there was another trend of modern animation that they should boldly sidestep. To quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail: no singing.

The Disney Renaissance of the 1990s was marked by Broadway-style songs in Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and more. For a while, Pixar’s filmmakers would compromise with Disney, to the point where a song or two played over the soundtrack in their early films, such as Toy Story and A Bug’s Life. Nearly a quarter-century later, Pixar is the standard-bearer of American animation, only slightly delving into the musical genre with last year’s Coco. Though Pixar’s cautiously utilized songs in their films, they’ve had a very strong association with music, akin to Disney and its relationship with the late Howard Ashman, even if they intended to avoid such associations. With Pixar, many of their recent films have been defined and enhanced by the work of Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino.

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Pixar After John Lasseter

(Welcome to The Disney Discourse, a recurring feature where Josh Spiegel discusses the latest in Disney news. He goes deep on everything from the animated classics to the theme parks to live-action franchises. In this edition: how Pixar can move forward following the departure of John Lasster by championing its younger filmmakers.) 

This week marks the release of Pixar Animation Studios’ twentieth computer-animated feature film, Incredibles 2. Over the past 23 years, Pixar has risen from rebellious upstart in the industry to the dominant force that other animation studios can only hope to follow. In 1995, making a computer-animated feature film was a folly on the same level as Walt Disney deciding to make a hand-drawn animated feature back in the 1930s. As with the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the success of Toy Story represented the beginning of a sea change in animation.

Last Friday saw a different change, one that is arguably overdue: John Lasseter’s announcement that he’s stepping down from his posts at Disney and Pixar at the end of 2018.

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The charms of Pixar Animation Studios’ first wave of original films have been replaced in the 2010s by a barrage of sequels. Their early films felt fresh. Even though the company’s third film was the beloved Toy Story 2, Pixar avoided the Hollywood impulse of turning into a sequel factory. But recently, they’ve made Cars 2, Cars 3, Monsters University, and Finding Dory, which mostly failed to live up to expectations.

Now, we have Incredibles 2, whose writer/director Brad Bird is only a few years removed from the live-action flop Tomorrowland. So, it’s not wrong to wonder if the new adventures of the superheroic Parr family would feel creatively uninspired. Happily, while Incredibles 2 doesn’t reach the same heights as the 2004 original, it’s more intelligent than other recent sequels.

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