DON’T MESS WITH HIM: Denzel Washington stars as Robert McCall in The Equalizer.THE EQUALIZER (MA 15+)
Roadshow, 132 minutes
NOMINALLY based on the 1980s’ TV series with Edward Woodward, this gruesome, overlong action thriller from the modestly talented Antoine Fuqua (Olympus Has Fallen) is clearly conceived as the first in a series designed to do for Denzel Washington what the Taken films did for Liam Neeson.
Where Neeson is a professional, grumpy old man, Washington’s gimmick is his easygoing, shooting-the-breeze manner – though his character, Robert McCall, also displays lovably quirky obsessive-compulsive traits, such as using a stopwatch to time how quickly he can kill people.
We first meet this paragon of complexity as a retired CIA agent living anonymously in Boston. Isolated after the death of his wife, he spends his leisure hours in a diner reading classics such as The Old Man and the Sea, which handily doubles as a metaphor for his own lonely heroism.
Another customer at the diner is a husky-voiced underage sex worker (Chloe Grace Moretz) whom he befriends; when she’s menaced by Russian gangsters, it’s his cue to start dishing out ultra-violence once more.
The early scenes with Moretz have the creepy sentimentality associated with Taken’s Luc Besson (the actual screenwriter in this case is Richard Wenk, an action specialist whose credits include The Expendables 2).
Thankfully, her character vanishes once she’s completed the task of setting up the plot, which winds up pitting McCall against an articulate yet deadly Russian sociopath named Teddy, played with some flair by New Zealand actor Marton Csokas.
Besides being an elf in The Lord of the Rings, Csokas has appeared in many Australian films – but you may not recognise him at first, given Fuqua’s technique of shooting him from below so that he looms ominously and lighting his face so every line stands out in harsh relief.
This sort of visual jazziness lends a moderate amount of interest to a film that remains both leaden and absurd.
Fuqua and cinematographer Mauro Fiore opt for a bourbon-and-mahogany colour scheme and play various tricks with reflective surfaces, including a digitally enhanced zoom into McCall’s glistening eyeball as he contemplates how best to dispatch his foes.
If you like spotting allusions to Edward Hopper and watching villains get stabbed with power tools, there’s a fair chance you’ll enjoy The Equalizer a lot more than I did.
– Jake Wilson
Universal Sony Pictures, 97 minutes
THE American animation studio Laika has a mixed track record: its 2009 Neil Gaiman adaptation Coraline was truly imaginative, the recent ParaNorman a relative dud.
In general, though, its mock-Gothic stop-motion productions have a richness of texture that’s a welcome alternative to the streamlined style of Pixar.
Directed by Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable, Laika’s latest offering, The Boxtrolls, is more steampunk fantasy than fairytale.
YOUTHFUL UNDERDOG: A scene from the imaginative animation film The Boxtrolls.
The setting is Cheesebridge, a fantastical city resembling 19th-century Paris rebuilt on a steeply sloping island, with narrow tenement blocks looming over winding cobbled streets.
Beneath these streets dwell the Boxtrolls, snot-coloured little monsters who gobble creepy-crawlies and wear cardboard boxes that double as hiding places when they’re scared.
Loosely based on a book by British children’s author Alan Snow, the convoluted plot has the flavour of Dickens or Victor Hugo.
The human hero, known as Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright), is kidnapped as a baby and raised by the Boxtrolls to believe he is one himself.
Above ground, the legend of his disappearance encourages paranoia among Cheesebridge citizens, allowing crazed pest exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) to pose as the city’s saviour.
In short, this is good subversive kids’ stuff in the tradition of Joe Dante and Tim Burton, championing freaks and youthful underdogs while portraying adults, especially those in authority, as corrupt, foolish or deranged.
There’s also some genuinely witty dialogue, especially the philosophical exchanges between henchmen Mr Pickles (Richard Ayoade) and Mr Trout (Nick Frost).
– Jake Wilson
20th Century Fox, 107 minutes
I MUST admit, I asked myself the same question a few times as I watched the doe-eyed Chloe Grace Moretz wander aimlessly through this rather morbid teen romance.
Of course, I did stay but I have to say it was a rather insipid experience with little drama and an absence of anything resembling an inspiring character.
Moretz plays 17-year-old Mia Hall, eldest daughter in a homely family of musicians-turned-cheesy good folk. There’s ex-drummer dad (Joshua Leonard), ex-groupie mum (Mireille Enos) and little brother Teddy (Jakob Davies), who could have come straight from the set of The Brady Bunch.
Cerebral and an obsessively talented cello player, Mia feels like she’s the odd one out in the family, and when she starts dating Adam (Jamie Blackley), who is the lead guitarist in a fast-rising local rock band, she has trouble fitting into his world, too.
When a terrible car accident puts Mia and her family in hospital on the critical list, we witness Mia’s out-of-body persona both following events at hospital and remembering her romance with Adam.
Neither storyline is particularly absorbing – the teen dating plot following a well-established trajectory of make-up-break-up-repeat, and the hospital plot overly focuses on following Moretz floating in white in various stages of bewilderment.
DOE-EYED: The watchable, ethereal Chloe Grace Moretz stars in If I Stay.
Though Moretz is ethereal and highly watchable, there’s little of any real substance for her – or any other of the cast – in the banal script that Shauna Cross has crafted from the young-adult novel by Gayle Forman. Watch out for young Brit talent Jamie Blackley – he certainly makes the most of his time on screen, even in the most cliched scenes.
Director R.J. Cutler maintains as much interest as possible by cross cutting between plots, but really, there’s no hiding dull slush, even when you throw in a few good songs and some classic cello.
– Simon Weaving
Madman Entertainment, 85 minutes
I SAY it with love, but time-travel cinema is the perfect genre for nerds. Stories that double back on themselves, developing into closed systems, nearly always seem like mirrors of the kind of mind that obsesses over detail while ignoring the bigger picture.
A first feature from Australian writer-director Hugh Sullivan, The Infinite Man is part of this solipsistic tradition, as well as a demonstration of what an inventive filmmaker can do on a low budget with a single location and a cast of just three.
Josh McConville plays Dean, a control-freak inventor who heads out with girlfriend, Lana (Hannah Marshall), for a weekend away that he’s planned step by step. But the beach resort where they stayed the previous year appears to have shut, and things worsen with the arrival of Lana’s old boyfriend, Terry (Alex Dimitriades).
Luckily, Dean has brought along a time machine, allowing him to turn back the clock and start again. Like a writer composing draft after draft, or a filmmaker in an editing suite – significantly, Sullivan edited this film – he treats the past as a text to be tinkered with endlessly until he finally gets it right.
The film pitches itself as a cute rom-com, but also as a study of male obsession, a topic broached with some self-awareness. This is a promising film rather than a successful one.
Sullivan needs to find a co-writer: though visually he’s more talented than most Australian directors, his would-be witty dialogue is atrocious, and characters no more than sketches.
– Jake Wilson
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