December 30, 2018


We reviewed a slew of Blu-Rays, DVDs, books and CDs in 2018. Time to take a look back at the best & worst of them. While we have seen more movies than the Surgeon General recommends, our lists consist strictly of titles which were sent to us for review purposes.

PURR-R-R...THE BEST: We reviewed some good stuff this year, but the following titles were better than taunting a mouse to death:

10. SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (Disney) - If Rogue One is the classic war film in the Star Wars universe, then Solo is its classic western. We may not have needed a Han Solo origin story, but in the tradition of the coolest westerns, the film gives a true anti-hero as its main protagonist, a first for the franchise. I'm still surprised at some of the negativity aimed at this film.
9. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (20th Century Fox) - Sorry to Bother You is full of surprises, never once unfolding like we expect it to. That alone keeps it at-least interesting, whether you end up liking the film or not (I suspect many viewers definitely won't). That it's also wickedly funny, completely original and features a charming, relatable protagonist makes it one of the best films of the year.
8. ZOMBIE (1979) and MANIAC (1980): 3 DISC LIMITED EDITIONS (Blue Underground) - Both of these polarizing cult classics have been released numerous times over the years. While one may question the quality of the films themselves, there's no arguing that Blue Underground has put together two of this year's most comprehensive, fan-friendly Blu-ray releases. Beautifully restored in all their gruesome glory, both are loaded with hours of entertaining bonus features (new and old), along with soundtrack CDs and lenticular covers.

7. THE INSULT (Cohen Media Group) - As The Insult so effectively demonstrates, sometimes it takes just a few words for things to spin wildly out of control. In addition to its thematic relevance, the movie's massively entertaining, with outstanding performances. Karam, in particular, stands out among the great cast, doing a masterful job of making us empathize with someone we initially despise. The Insult is an all-around terrific film, not to be missed.
6. THE SEA HAWK (Warner Archive Collection) - Nearly 80 years later, The Sea Hawk is still loads of fun, belying its age with this terrific Blu-ray transfer. And by carrying-over one of the greatest bonus features ever concocted, we can once again experience it just as filmgoers did in 1940, when "a night at the movies" was just that. As classics go, this one is irresistible.
5. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT (Paramount) - This is the only current franchise that seems to improve with each entry. There's never a moment where we suspect Tom Cruise is going through the motions. I don't know how long he can keep this up, but here's hoping he'll crank out at least one or two more without killing himself. The best action film of the year.
4. DEEP RED (Arrow Video) - Revisiting Deep Red for the first time in 30 years, I've come to the realization that Suspiria may not be Dario Argento's best film after all, and this new Blu-ray from Arrow presents this giallo classic the way it should be seen, in glorious widescreen with a 4K restoration and the original Italian audio track. The masterful murder sequences achieve a level of artistry - and savage beauty - Argento only hinted at in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
3. BOUND (Olive Films) - Bound is an exceptional directorial debut and arguably the Wachowskis' second-best film. Bereft of the bells and whistles they'd later depend on, it tells a compelling story with little more than a smart screenplay, a bit of dazzling camerawork and a perfect cast. This disc, however, has a lot of bells and whistles, making it another great Olive Signature release.
2. THE DAY OF THE JACKAL (Arrow Video) - A "perfect" film is one that is technically, conceptually & creatively flawless. No throwaway scenes, redundant characters or questionable casting decisions. The direction, performances, pacing, editing, writing, cinematography and score are all spot-on. The i's are all dotted; the t's are all crossed. By that reckoning, I can't think of a single aspect of The Day of the Jackal that doesn't meet the criteria. How come it took this long for a proper Blu-ray release?

1. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (Olive Films) - One of the coolest things about the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is that it's conceptually timeless. Social commentary and themes notwithstanding, the original still holds up as a smart slice of provocative sci-fi horror, certainly belying its minuscule budget and drive-in fodder title. It's been released on Blu-ray before, but this time Olive Films has thrown-in a plethora of new and vintage bonus features, all of which are entertaining and informative. Along with a great video & audio transfer, this is the best Blu-ray of the year. A must own for any cinephile, even if they own a previous version.

Honorable Mention: A Taxi Driver, Avengers - Infinity War, King Cohen, Abomidable (MVD Rewind Collection), A Trip to the Moon, The Man Who Haunted Himself, The Swarm (really!), Birdman of Alcatraz, Village of the Damned (1960), La Belle Noiseuse, Snowflake, Chasing the Dragon.

BLEH...THE WORST: As much as we love movies, there are times when reviewing them feels like an actual job. The following titles deserve to be buried in the litter box:

10. CRACKDOWN BIG CITY BLUES (The Film Detective) - While the late Paul DeSilva's message and sincerity are admirable, this previously unreleased relic from the 90s is a heavy-handed mess. Home-movie production values and amateurish performances are the least of its problems. Much of the time, Crackdown Big City Blues wavers uncomfortably back and forth between social commentary and gratuitous action, often with little or no transition. Worst of all, it's plodding, preachy, poorly executed and not nearly as relevant as it would have been three decades ago.
9. CALL OF THE UNDEAD (Wild Eye Releasing) - A slapdash mishmash of poor acting, dumb writing, hyperactive editing, a deafening metal soundtrack, gratuitous nudity and unimpressive zombie mayhem. It manages to be unintentionally humorous, compounded by the overly serious tone. But the piéce de résistance for bad movie lovers is the atrocious dubbing.
8. SUBURBICON (Paramount) - Considering the talent involved on both sides of the camera, Suburbicon was easily the most massively disappointing movie of the year. What should have been a creative home-run (or at-least an RBI double) is disjointed and dull, not helped by clumsy satire and failed attempts at black comedy.
7. TREMORS: A COLD DAY IN HELL (Universal) - They should've stuck a fork in this franchise after two movies. Instead, this sixth installment continues milking a once-amusing premise to death. Dreadful and embarrassing, even by direct-to-DVD standards. Is this the only work Michael Gross can get?
6. AFRAID (Well Go USA) - Excruciatingly slow "thriller" in which we're forced to watch two dull characters almost exclusively through surveillance cameras. Much of what transpires is seen from a distance, from the point-of-view of their stalker, which negates a lot of the suspense and makes it more of an endurance test than your typical found footage film.
5. SUPERCON (Sony) - Considering the premise, this is a sadly-squandered opportunity that might amuse undemanding middle school boys, but anyone looking for wit, clever satire or even well-staged physical gags will likely feel short-changed. An interminable parade of obnoxious characters, cheap gags, idiotic slapstick and overall mean-spiritedness.
4. STREETS OF VENGEANCE (Slasher Video) - From an aesthetic standpoint, the film looks and sounds exactly like the titillating, low budget erotic thrillers that cash-strapped Brian DePalma wannabes used to crank out in the 80s. Unfortunately, it unfolds exactly like one, too, just as dull, dumb and exploitative as those old films.
3. CRAZY SIX (MVD Marquee Collection) - With a cast like this, Crazy Six should have been 90 minutes of mindless fun. While there's mindlessness in abundance, the fun is conspicuously missing, even for fans of any of these actors. Dull and forgettable, the film has earned its anonymity.
2. GIRLS VS. GANGSTERS (Well Go USA) - Girls vs. Gangsters is not-only laugh free, it's narratively vapid and offensively stupid. Every attempt at humor is labored and desperate, with an abundance of scatological humor, leering shots of cleavage and even a rape joke for those who think that shit is funny. The three lead characters are shrill, obnoxious and irritating caricatures who generate zero empathy and even less likability.
1. DIAMONDS OF KILIMANDJARO (MVD Classics) - While there's plenty of unintentional humor, Diamonds of Kilimandjaro is kind-of monotonous and almost perversely voyeuristic. Star Katja Bienert (who's nearly naked throughout the entire film) was only 16 years old when she made this...and looks more like she's 14. Maybe some Jess Franco fans out there are willing to defend such a questionable casting choice, though I'm not sure I'd want to hear their argument.

Dishonorable Mention: Daddy's Home 2, Blast, The Exorcist Limited Edition Soundtrack (CD), Golden Temple Amazons, Flora, Rodin, Fanchon the Cricket, Blockers, The Hallelujah Trail

Thanks to the various studios, PR groups and distributors who've provided Free Kittens Movie Guide with the opportunity to feature their products and share our fickle opinions, including: Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Mill Creek Entertainment, Sony Pictures, Olive Films, Warner Archive, Well Go USA, Lionsgate, Blue Underground, VCI Entertainment, Arrow Films, MPI, MVD Entertainment, Eagle Vision, Cohen Media Group, Oscilloscope Labs, Wild Eye Releasing, Dark Sky Films, Flicker Alley, HBO, MPRM, Cohn & Wolfe, Click Communications, Justin Cook Public Relations, Vicki Greenleaf & Associates, Thinkjam, Rowan & Littlefield, Schiffer Publishing.

December 28, 2018

Starring Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, Dewey Martin, Paul Frees (yay!), Robert Nichols and, of course, James Arness. Directed by Christian Nyby. (1951/87 min).


Review by Mr. Paws🙀

John Carpenter's 1982 remake of The Thing has become so iconic over the years that's it's widely considered the definitive version. And I would concur. In addition to the groundbreaking special effects, it is conceptually more faithful to Joseph W. Campbell's original story, Who Goes There?, than the comparatively quaint 1951 film.

Maybe some of you reading this didn't even know there was a 1951 version. If so, shame on you.

"Looks good. When can we smoke 'em?"
Though historically overshadowed, The Thing from Another World remains one of the better, more intelligent examples of post-war sci-fi/horror. The film takes significant liberties with the source material, most notably its depiction of the titular creature (pre-Gunsmoke James Arness). Maybe due to budgetary restraints, it more-resembles Frankenstein's monster than a shapeshifting lifeform and is described by Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) as being genetically similar to a vegetable.

Beating the audience to the punch, one character makes an off-handed comment about the ridiculousness of "an intellectual carrot." But we aren't talking Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, here. The smart story and believable characters keep us from laughing our asses off, even after the underwhelming monster finally appears. Like Carpenter's film, The Thing from Another World  makes the most of its intimate, claustrophobic setting (a scientific outpost in the Arctic), and masterfully creates tension by offering only sparing glances of the creature.

Sometimes ya gotta dance like nobody's watching.
Like the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing from Another World may have been aesthetically one-upped by a more ambitious - and apocalyptic - remake, but its lasting influence on the genre is inarguable. Viewed in the context of when it was made, the film remains a gripping good time. And if nothing else, it's always amusing when the smartest character in the room turns out to be dead wrong. 

On Blu-ray for the first time, classic horror fans can scratch another one off their wish list. Though unfortunately light on bonus features - surely its status warrants a retrospective doc - the film has been given an impressive restoration.


Rest in Peace, Frank Adonis

December 27, 2018

THE SEA HAWK (1940): A Real Night at the Movies
Starring Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Claude Rains, Donald Crisp, Flora Robson, Alan Hale. Directed by Michael Curtiz. (1940/127 min).


Review by Mr. Paws😼

Going out to the movies used to be a different experience.

Today, your $12 ticket gets you more trailers than you have patience for, a Coca-Cola ad and animated M&Ms reminding you to turn off your cell phone. And I get it. Theaters need to pay the bills. But back in my day, as I  often tell my kids, movies were only three bucks and we usually got a double feature. My daughters weren't impressed, both stating that's way too long to sit in a theater. Makes me wonder whose kids I'm really raising.

But even before my day, moviegoers got a cartoon, short subject, newsreel and a trailer or two before the feature. A night at the movies was truly a night at the movies, and in 1940, you got it all for a quarter...without a single asshat whipping out his cellphone. M&Ms were strictly for eatin'. 

As a lifelong cinephile, sometimes I think I was born a few decades too late.

Warner Bros. remembers those days, though. In the past, they've released some of their classics as part of their Warner Night at the Movies series (even back in the VHS days), where the feature was preceded by all the aforementioned goodies. One of those movies was the 1940 Errol Flynn adventure, The Sea Hawk. Now on Blu-ray for the first time, the original Warner Night at the Movies presentation is included as a viewing option. For anyone with a fondness for Hollywood history - or are simply curious - it's the only way to experience a film like this.

"Did you steal these from the neighbor's yard?"
The movie itself is one of Errol Flynn's best. Released at the height of his popularity, The Sea Hawk is an epic adventure with Flynn as sea captain Geoffrey Thorpe, England's most infamous privateer, defending his country against enemies through piracy. While running afoul of Spain - who are secretly building an armada for an invasion - he falls in love with Dona Maria (Brenda Marshall), the daughter of Spain's unscrupulous ambassador, Don de Cordoba (Claude Rains). At the unofficial behest of Queen Elizabeth (Flora Robson, in a wonderfully playful performance), Flynn plans to raid a Spanish outpost in the New World, stealing their gold to bring back to England. Unfortunately, Sir Burleson (Donald Crisp) betrays the Queen, scheming with de Cordoba to catch Thorpe in the act.

Flynn may not have ever been what anyone considered a great actor, but he had loads of charisma and was always a great physical performer. No one exploited his gifts as effectively as director Michael Curtiz. While the two collaborated on a dozen films together, The Sea Hawk is arguably one of their most ambitious. Capitalizing on the success of Captain Blood, the film ups the ante in terms of scope, spectacle and swordplay. The final showdown between Thorpe and Burleson remains one of the greatest sword fights ever filmed.

Best of all, nearly 80 years later The Sea Hawk is still loads of fun, belying its age with this terrific Blu-ray transfer. And by carrying-over one of the greatest bonus features ever concocted, we can once again experience it just as filmgoers did in 1940, when "a night at the movies" was just that. As classics go, this one is irresistible.

"WARNER NIGHT AT THE MOVIES" - The option to watch The Sea Hawk as presented in theaters, with a cartoon ("Porky's Poor Fish"), newsreel, short subject ("Alice in Movieland") and trailers preceding the feature. Includes an introduction by Leonard Maltin.
FEATURETTE - "The Sea Hawk: Flynn in Action"


December 26, 2018

The Creative Deviance of SNOWFLAKE
Reza Brojerdi, Erkan Acar, Xenia Assenza, David Masterson, Alexander Schubert, Gedeon Borkhard, Katja Wagner, David Gant, Judith Hoersch, Mathis Landwehr. Directed by Adolfo J. Kolmerer & William James. (2017/121 min). 


Review by Fluffy the Fearless😺

About ten minutes in, Snowflake threw me for a loop...which doesn't happen often.

The more movies you see, the harder it is to be really surprised by anything, especially if you spend an appreciable amount of time reviewing them. Rarely do you come across one that doesn't remind you - even remotely - of something that came before.

Snowflake begins like a German variation of a Tarantino movie, with two brothers bickering over the quality of the food at a diner. This deceptively mundane scene ends with the reveal that these two guys had just killed everyone else in the restaurant. I was immediately reminded of Pulp Fiction, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. So far, I'd seen far worse self-conscious Tarantino rip-offs than this one.

Then the film takes a sharp left turn into the surreal and never looks back. These two brothers, Javid & Tan (Reza Vrojerdi & Erkan Acar), while sitting in a stolen car, discover pages of an unfinished screenplay, the first scene being their violent encounter at the diner...word for word.

I suddenly perked up: There just might be some creative deviance at-work here.

Horrified, the brothers find the car's owner, a dentist who writes screenplays in his spare time and has no idea who they are. They force him at gunpoint to print the rest of what's he's written, but the problem is even he doesn't yet know how it will end. This is where Javid & Tan learn the story's protagonist, Eliana, is looking to avenge the death of her parents, who they murdered at the diner.

Porky Pig goes dark & gritty.
Meanwhile, with the help of her parents' former bodyguard, Eliana (Xenia Assenza) is indeed trying to hire people to find and kill Javid & Tan, including two cannibalistic brothers, a blind killer-for-hire and a sharp-dressed man in charge of a militarized underground cult. All these guys come highly recommended by the bodyguard's father, who thinks he is God. Oh, and did I mention that the entire story takes place in a totalitarian, lawless future, and the two brothers are out to avenge the death of their own family at the hands the country's former dictator. And by the way, there's also a vigilante stalking the streets who fancies himself a superhero: Hyper Electric Man. All this time, the dentist is struggling with writer's block while trying to come up with the perfect ending, one which Javid & Tan insist doesn't include the two of them getting killed.

Snowflake is as bizarre as it sounds, with a pitch-black sense of humor and frequent bursts of jarring violence. The scenes where Javid & Tan read about their actions as they are happening are clever and often amusing (reading about themselves reading the screenplay...the mind boggles). In a movie filled with fascinating characters, it's sort-of ironic that the titular character, a sultry lounge singer in angel wings (Judith Hoersch) is actually the least interesting. The premise doesn't fully sustain itself to the very end and ultimately doesn't have a hell of a lot to do with the basic plot, but Snowflake's metafictional elements are also what renders it unique.

Well directed by Adolfo J. Kolmerer & William James, Snowflake belies its low budget with a lot of creative ambition. The characters are interesting and their story is a lot of twisted fun. It goes on a bit longer than necessary, but remains a surreal little gem of a film. A must for adventurous viewers looking for something different.


December 25, 2018

KRULL & Company: Retro VHS Packaging

Review by Mr. Paws😸

In an era when vinyl records can make a comeback, I suppose it was inevitable that nostalgia for the days of VHS tapes would rear its ugly head.

Unlike the physical charm and warmer sound offered by an LP, however, I don't think anyone actually misses the VHS format itself. Comparatively speaking, the picture quality was never that great and they wore out pretty fast, especially rental copies. And on occasion, your RV-sized VCR would decide that the Chuck Norris chopfest you planned your weekend around was good enough to eat.

But the ritual is what we miss...venturing to the nearest mom & pop video store and perusing shelf after shelf of battered boxes covered in stickers reminding us not to leave the tapes in the sun. Speaking of which, it was usually only a matter of weeks before a new release looked more like an artifact from an archaeological dig. was in this ancient time that movies like Krull, Silent Rage and Last Action Hero were king. Ignored in theaters but given new leases on life on the burgeoning home video market, they are three of many titles from Mill Creek Entertainment repackaged with slipcovers harkening back to the video store days, right down to the image of a beat-up old VHS sliding from the box. Of the three aforementioned titles, Krull is the real keeper. Not because it's a better movie or anything, but Columbia Pictures' VHS boxes were kind-of iconic. With bright red borders and the same bold white font of the spine of every title, their boxes were as instantly recognizable to frequent renters as Warner and Disney's old clamshell cases.

In terms of actual content, these are bare-bones Blu-rays, but I suppose you could look at it this way: None of the old VHS copies had bonus features, either. The purpose of these re-releases is purely aesthetic, meant for collectors of a certain age who didn't grow up on Netflix and its generic title descriptions. And at a dirt cheap price, they're a fun way to retro-fit your video shelves.

December 20, 2018

THE PREDATOR and the Joy of Junk Food
Starring Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Olivia Munn, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Sterling K. Brown, Yvonne Strahovski, Jake Busey, Brian A. Prince. Directed by Shane Black. (2018/107 min). 


Review by Tiger the Terrible😼

Who doesn't occasionally love a decadent snack of empty calories? That's why I'm a little perplexed right now. Having seen The Predator twice now - once in a theater and again for this Blu-ray review - I'm still left with this question: Did I watch a different movie than everyone else?

The movie may not have been a critical darling, but what surprises me is the overall negative reaction from audiences, especially longtime fans of the franchise. I'm not sure what they were expecting, but as tasty treats go, The Predator is easily the most satisfying of all the sequels. Much more than the insipid Predator 2 and the somewhat underappreciated Predators, this one has a lot of the same unhealthy ingredients that made 1987's Predator such enjoyable junk food, right down to musical cues from original composer Alan Silvestri's iconic score.

Maybe my expectations weren't that high to begin with - we ain't exactly talking the Star Wars saga here - but I found The Predator to be a lot of fast-moving, trashy fun. While the film certainly remembers - and acknowledges - the timeline and events established by its predecessors, it isn't simply more of the same. It has the audacity to tweak with the formula just a bit, adding an alien agenda, of sorts (kinda like extra nuts & fudge on a sundae). It turns out that Earth is more than just the Predators' favorite hunting ground. Without spoiling the snack, they've come to better themselves, so to speak, and need us - one character in particular - to become more efficient killers.

The world's greatest hall monitor.
Some of the new ingredients are admittedly ridiculous (alien hunting dog, anyone?), but the last thing this franchise needs is the original's basic plot rehashed yet-again. Besides, the narrative moves along at such a frenetic pace that there's no point trying to scrutinize it until later. That's like regretting that sundae while you're eating it. In the moment, The Predator is by-far the most action-filled - and bloodiest - entry in the entire franchise, unbound by anything resembling restraint.

But what really sets this one apart from the sequels is its characters. Like the original film, squaring off against the title creature is an eclectic team, this time consisting of soldiers who've been relieved of their duties for a variety of criminal or psychological reasons. Self-dubbed The Loonies and led by super-sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), they are an intensely likable and amusing bunch despite their sordid histories, making them more than just typical cannon fodder. Olivia Munn is also on-hand as Casey Brackett, the biologist who-first discovers the Predators are evolving, as well as McKenna's autistic son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay). Refreshingly, Rory isn't a token kid who merely exists to be rescued (though he eventually does need rescuing); his acute abilities make him integral to the plot (which I'll concede is also a bit silly).

"Outta the RV, Lone Star!"
Writer/director Shane Black is definitely the right guy for the job. In addition to having a supporting role in the original, he did a lot of uncredited rewrites, most-notably the more humorous touches that later became one of his trademarks. Like other action-oriented films he's since written and/or directed, The Predator is often very funny...even goofy on occasion. A healthy sense of humor has been missing from this franchise for a long time, though some viewers may feel Black tips the scales too much in that direction for their liking.

That being said, I enjoyed The Predator just as much the second time. Sure, it's ultimately cinematic junk food, but so was the original, which didn't take itself all that seriously either. In a way, the film plays a lot like a nasty variation of the Jurassic World films, more content with being big, brash popcorn entertainment than breaking new ground. Though some purists may balk at that, sometimes empty calories are just what we need.

FEATURETTES - "A Touch of Black" (Behind-the-scenes and interview with writer/director Shane Black); ""Predator Evolution" (An interesting short detailing creating the new Predator and its hardware); "The Takedown Team" (The cast discusses their characters).
"PREDATOR CATCH-UP" - This is a ten-minute recap of the previous three films, wisely skipping over the AvP abominations.


The stop-motion animated Holiday Special featuring THE PREDATOR as he tangles with his most formidable foe yet – Santa and his reindeer. The special first aired on Comedy Central during “BoJack Horseman.”

December 18, 2018

Rest in Peace, Penny Marshall

Starring Denis Leary, John Scurti, Daniel Sunjata, Steven Pasquale, Mike Lombardi, Andrea Roth, Callie Thorne. Various directors. (2004-2011/4022 min). 


Review by Johnnie Ballard

Rescue Me stars Dennis Leary as Tommy Gavin, a firefighter who suffers from some trauma after the tragic events of September 11. The show also deals with the lives of the other firemen that work at a station in New York City.

After watching the show, I felt there were some good moments. The dynamic of each character's backstory unfolds in each episode, allowing the audience to get to know them, as well as how the loss of lives at the World Trade Center on September 11 has impacted them. Some episodes are extremely depressing, but I found them to also be enlightening in their examination of how firemen, police and other civil servants can be affected by tragedies.

The always-bubbly Denis Leary.
Dramatically, Rescue Me adheres to a formula & tone similar to the CSI franchise and Hill Street Blues, as well as shows like New York Undercover. If you are a fan of one of those shows you might just like Rescue Me. Since all six seasons included in this hefty boxed set - 93 episodes on 16 discs - it goes without saying this is a must-own for longtime fans.

For every season there are loads of extras like commentaries, featurettes, bloopers and deleted scenes. There are also recaps of each season. Dozens of accompanying featurettes show the audience how Rescue Me was made and allows them to get closer look at their favorite characters.

(bonus features vary from disc to disc)
AUDIO COMMENTARIES for some episodes

December 17, 2018

THE EQUALIZER 2: Denzel the Elevator
Starring Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Sakina Jaffrey, Jonathan Scarfe, Orson Bean. Directed by Antoine Fuqua. (2018/121 min).


Review by Tiger the Terrible😸

I'm trying to recall the last Denzel Washington movie that actually sucked, a film so devoid of any entertainment value that not even his performance could save it*. Hell, he even made The Taking of Pelham 123 at least watchable.

You'd be hard-pressed to name another current actor who almost always makes movies better just because he's in them. Case-in-point, Washington's understated, complex performance as Robert McCall is what elevated 2014's The Equalizer from an action movie to a great action movie (with considerable help from director Antoine Fuqua). He so effectively made the character his own that we tended to forget it was originally played by Edward Woodward.

Considering its TV origins, it's only fitting that The Equalizer is the one film Denzel has chosen to make a sequel to. Though the law of diminishing returns certainly applies here, The Equalizer 2 continues McCall's ongoing mission of righting wrongs with violent retribution. The stakes, however, are more personal this time. One of the few friends who knows he's still alive, former co-DIA operative Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), is murdered while investigating the alleged murder-suicide by another agent's family. After further investigation - and revealing himself to another ex-colleague, Dave York (Pedro Pascal) - McCall learns everyone on his old team are targets, himself now included.

"This is my gun! Get your own!"
That plotline is actually pretty pedestrian, with an antagonist who isn't nearly as interesting - or malevolent - as Nicolai Itchenko from the first film. Much more engaging are the numerous subplots where McCall - when not side-gigging as a Lyft driver - provides justice for other people he happens to know. In fact, his relationship with wayward teen Miles (Ashton Sanders) becomes the emotional crux of the entire film (not-to-mention a convenient plot device during the final act). I suspect everyone involved with the film knew these vignettes were superior to the main plot because they comprise a significant portion of the running time.

The Equalizer 2 is not as good as the first one, but Denzel Washington's performance manages to yet-again elevate what would have otherwise been a routine action film. Director Antoine Fuqua keeps the action exciting and bloody, while never forgetting who makes these films worth seeing.

*In this writer's humble opinion, that movie would be 1990's Heart Condition.

FEATURETTES - "Denzel as McCall: Round Two"; "Seconds 'Till Death: Action Breakdown"; "Through Antoine's Lens: The Cast"
"RETRIBUTION MODE" - Playback option in which various making-of features and interviews with Washington & Fuqua appear while watching the film).
TRIVIA TRACK - Viewing option in which trivia and info pop-up as on-screen text. I wish more studios did this.