"A Haunting in Venice" stars Kenneth Branagh, Kyle Allen, Camille Cottin, Jamie Dornan, Tina Fey, Jude Hill, Ali Khan, Emma Laird, Kelly Reilly, Riccardo Scamarcio, and Michelle Yeoh. Released on September 15, 2023, the film has Hercule Poirot solving a murder mystery at a seance.
The film was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also directed films such as "Henry V", "As You Like It", "Thor", "Murder on the Orient Express", and "Belfast". It is based on the 1969 book Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie. Even in retirement, you can't escape a case that needs solving, especially when you're a detective like Hercule Poirot. However, this particular murder mystery is unlike anything he's ever faced before. Kenneth Branagh has once again returned to the murderous world of Hercule Poirot to adapt what is seemingly the creepiest installment of Agatha Christie's mystery franchise. We've seen the detective solve these mysteries on a train and a boat. Next thing you'll know, he'll be solving one on an airplane sooner or later. Now, we'll see him discover the killer while confronting the supernatural. It's an interesting change of pace for Branagh's series of Poirot films, but is it welcoming enough to continue the misadventures of the iconic detective? Let's find out.
The story centers on Hercule Poirot (Branagh), a detective who recently retired in post-World War II Venice. He is eventually invited by his old friend, mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Fey), to attend a Halloween party at the palazzo of former opera singer Rowena Drake (Reilly), which holds a dark secret. This was followed by a seance led by medium and former war nurse Joyce Reynolds (Yeoh), resulting in unexplained occurrences haunting the group. To top it all off, one of the guests was murdered because why not? Hercule Poirot is now called back into action to find the killer and confront his belief in the supernatural.
I hadn't been immersed in the world of Hercule Poirot as much as I've been with Sherlock Holmes and even Basil of Baker Street from "The Great Mouse Detective". That is until I watched Branagh's 2017 adaptation of "Murder on the Orient Express". It's far from the best murder mystery movie I've seen in theaters, but I can admit that it was the most stylish that Branagh has directed. Plus, he looks remarkably good with a mustache. Not even Holmes can solve this case of how Branagh keeps that mustache well-trimmed. I also enjoyed last year's "Death on the Nile" for similar reasons despite its pacing. They're the types of movies that don't offer anything new to the genre but are serviceable in their blends of old-fashioned elements and modern filmmaking techniques to please mystery fans old and new. So, of course, I was interested in seeing the detective's latest outing, which offers a creepy twist to the murder mystery narrative. Considering that we're celebrating Halloween early, it's fitting that this franchise is going down this terrifying route. However, what matters is whether this new direction is appropriately executed to revitalize the timeless whodunit tale.
Like the previous two films, "A Haunting in Venice" follows the usual murder mystery plot seen in other movies, in which Poirot searches for the killer in an international location. However, it stands out from its predecessors because it doesn't take place on a form of transportation. Instead, the film takes place in a building seemingly haunted by the spirits of dead children. So, if you're hoping for Poirot to use his detective skills on an airplane, you might want to wait for the next movie. With its location change and horror elements, "A Haunting in Venice" provides the challenge of delivering something different to Agatha Christie's universe while maintaining the elements that worked in Branagh's previous adaptations. It's a balance that could go overboard if done improperly, especially with its genre cliches flying around like a bunch of ghosts. Fortunately, Kenneth Branagh used these cliches to portray the best of both worlds effectively.
The film offers what one would expect from a mystery movie starring a detective: a compelling, old-fashioned whodunit that's as stylish as it is visually lively. Of course, it's not without a few creepy moments that make this the darker of the three films, including the spirits. However, those frightening scenarios aren't made just for show like most supernatural horror movies we have nowadays. Instead, they're used to drive its story involving grief, death, and faith. For the latter, we see Poirot losing his faith in humanity, forcing him to retire from his detective work. Amid the haunted mystery he's thrown in, Poirot sees himself attempting to regain that faith to find the murderer, even if it means believing in the paranormal. Is it an award-worthy portrayal of these themes like the arthouse horror movies before it? Unsurprisingly, no. Was I mildly entertained by how it is told? Indeed, I was.
The number of expeditions in the film does risk becoming a snooze fest for people who aren't into dialogue-heavy mystery movies. But, it was hardly an issue, unlike its predecessors, thanks to its pacing, cast, and Branagh's direction, which is still the franchise's highlight. I would consider "A Haunting in Venice" to be unique regarding Branagh's vision. Instead of a vibrant and immersive old-fashioned presentation seen in "Murder on the Orient Express" and "Death on the Nile", "A Haunting in Venice" goes for a Guillermo del Toro-esque presentation that's darkly lit and hauntingly atmospheric. Instead of relying on jump scares and CGI ghouls to frighten his audience, Branagh used the fear of the unknown and the movie's practical effects to provide discomfort and chills. Admittedly, it might not work for everyone, especially those wanting a fast-paced fright-fest involving ghosts and demons. However, the people willing to stick around, including me, would find the tactic a refreshing addition to the usual detective story, even though some of its elements could've been explored more, including Poirot's lack of faith.
Two additional aspects benefitted Branagh's filmmaking techniques: the cinematography and production design. "A Haunting in Venice" marks the latest collaboration between Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos and the third Hercule Poirot movie they worked on together. Based on what I've seen from their previous collaborations, I can still see why they worked so well together. The cinematography maintains its immersion but also delivers some well-crafted Dutch angles that look almost different from the other Hercule Poirot films. It almost resembles an arthouse movie made for modern audiences. As for its settings, the sequences involving Venice are just as gorgeous and serene as the film's predecessors. However, the palazzo allowed the production design to truly shine. From its bleak lighting to the old-school aesthetics, the palazzo reflects a haunted house attraction from an amusement park that's fun and creepy.
Finally, we have the film's decent cast. As usual, Kenneth Branagh proves to be a solid filmmaker and a talented actor in front of the camera. As far as I'm aware, his portrayal of Hercule Poirot remains one of the most effective roles in his career, and his performance further validates that theory. Branagh's take on the detective displays the intelligence and commitment he has in solving a case, but he also provides a sense of vulnerability that affects his journey, with "A Haunting in Venice" being no different. It's far from emotionally engaging, but it's interesting enough to make Poirot a fitting cinematic version of Christie's well-known detective. Tina Fey was also suitable as Ariadne Oliver, who serves as Poirot's partner in the case, with her chemistry with Branagh being one of the things keeping the narrative from being too dull. There's also young Jude Hill, best known for his lead role in Branagh's "Belfast", who plays Leopold Ferrier, the son of Jamie Dornan's Dr. Leslie Ferrier. While he didn't capitalize on that success with his performance as Leopold, Hill does show signs that he's capable of doing more roles like this.
Overall, "A Haunting in Venice" is another stylish and compelling chapter in the Hercule Poirot Cinematic Universe that benefitted from Kenneth Branagh's vision and portrayal of the Belgian detective. Regarding the narrative, it's no mystery that it delivers exactly what you expect from a movie involving a murder case, let alone a Poirot film. With its familiar narrative elements and hit-and-miss execution of specific character moments, there's nothing in "A Haunting in Venice" that will trounce every mystery movie before it. Luckily, it easily compensates for it by being engaging and creepily unsettling, thanks to the addition of its horror elements. From its all-star cast to Branagh's impressive direction, the film is a refreshing and spooky take on the franchise that's also the best of the three. If you enjoyed the previous two Poirot movies and can tolerate specific horror-themed sequences, this is another case worth taking.
"The Nun II" stars Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Storm Reid, Anna Popplewell, Katelyn Rose Downey, and Bonnie Aarons. Released on September 8, 2023, the film has Sister Irene encountering the return of Valak.
The film is directed by Michael Chaves, who also directed "The Curse of La Llorona" and "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It". It is the sequel to the 2018 film "The Nun" and the ninth installment in the Conjuring Universe. I hope you're not planning on attending church on Sunday because that creepy nun has returned, and based on my experience watching her, she isn't full of holiness. "The Conjuring", one of the most effective supernatural films of the 2010s, has birthed a cinematic universe akin to the ones from Marvel and DC, along with its slew of monstrous beings. The Warrens have encountered plenty of ghoulish and murderous specters during their careers as paranormal investigators, including the infamous Annabelle doll and the "Crooked Man". However, there's one particular demon they confronted that's so terrifying you'll be praying for mercy for hours, maybe even days. That's right, I'm referring to Valak, a demonic nun who haunts unsuspecting victims, including those who believe in the Holy Spirit.
After scaring the pants off of Lorraine Warren and the Hodgson family in "The Conjuring 2", Valak received her first spin-off film in 2018 titled "The Nun". Despite gaining negative reviews, that movie became the highest-grossing installment of the "Conjuring" cinematic universe…to everyone's misfortune. Of course, it's enough to convince the studio behind "The Nun" to expand upon Valak's path of destruction via its sequel. Like its predecessor, the follow-up seeks to start this year's horror movie season on the right foot and maybe avoid the pitfalls that plagued the nun's first solo adventure. Was it able to answer our prayers for a tolerable "Conjuring" outing, or was it another pointless horror sequel that makes us want to kill it with holy water? Let's find out.
The story occurs four years after the first film. It again follows Sister Irene (Farmiga), a nun who survived her previous encounter with Valak (Aarons), a demonic presence posing as a nun. Her latest venture finds herself traveling across France, where she's tasked to investigate the murder of several priests. She later discovers that the mysterious murder spree was caused by Valak, who returns to haunt and harm the students at a boarding school, including Sophie (Downey). Irene, along with Sister Debra (Reid), must muster up the courage to confront the demon that's been haunting her for years.
As much as I enjoyed the main "Conjuring" movies, its spin-offs involving its monstrous demons are pretty mediocre, in my eyes. Except for "Annabelle: Creation", the side-adventures in the "Conjuring" universe failed to match the similar impact James Wan created for the first two "Conjuring" installments. From the subpar narratives to the constant jump scares, these one-offs are pointless cash grabs that are less terrifying than the actual Warren cases. That includes 2018's "The Nun", a bland and less-than-scary depiction of Valak bringing its unholiness across Romania. Aside from its cast and disturbing atmosphere handled by director Corin Hardy, "The Nun" is like any other cheap horror film: all jump scares and no substance.
So, you might be wondering why I'm seeing its sequel if I don't like its predecessor that much. The answer is simple: I like Valak for its frightening presence, and its director change gave me a little hope that it'll take the "Ouija" route, in which its follow-up was a massive improvement over its trashy predecessor. Michael Chaves takes over the directorial duty from Hardy for "The Nun II". His directorial debut, "The Curse of La Llorona", left a horrible curse on me, but not in a good way. However, he improved himself with the recent "Conjuring" sequel, "The Devil Made Me Do It" two years later, but not by much. It wasn't as bad as its spin-offs, but I still found it the weakest film in the main outings. So now we have Chaves's third "Conjuring" film in his career, which tasked him with honoring Valak's unnerving nature seen in "The Conjuring 2" and "The Nun". After witnessing the return of the demonic nun, I'm surprised to say that he accomplished that goal.
Now, I wouldn't be quick to call it the next "Ouija 2" or the next "Annabelle: Creation". It's still plagued by the Hollywood sins that prevented it from reaching similar heights as the main "Conjuring" movies. However, I would say that it answered my prayer of being the most tolerable "Conjuring" spin-off installment since "Creation". One reason is Michael Chaves himself. After directing two "Conjuring" installments, it's safe to say that Chaves may have found his groove in providing the franchise's dark tone. Like "The Nun", the sequel benefits from its atmosphere that manifests the nightmarish and unholy sense of dread that'll keep you awake at night. Regarding the production design, lighting, and cinematography, Chaves is another horror director who knows how to make audiences feel uncomfortable through its settings and terrifying imagery. I mean, just looking at the images of Valak is enough to send shivers down people's spines.
Along with the atmosphere, Chaves did pretty well in providing a sense of terror in its scares. Some jump scares weren't as effective as others, but when they do work, they're more creepy than silly, unlike its predecessor. Sure, there were a couple of scenes that may look dumb, but they don't feel too out of place regarding the film's tone. It's dark and gruesome in its frights and kills, but it's also entertaining. The best example is during the third act, where Irene and Debra confront Valak at the boarding school. I can't say much else about it without spoilers, but I can say it's one of my favorite sequences in the "Conjuring" franchise.
Another thing that made it a suitable improvement was the characters. Its predecessor introduced us to two characters who are as interesting as a plank of wood, including Sister Irene and Frenchie (Bloquet), also known as Maurice. Those two characters unsurprisingly return for the sequel because why not? However, "The Nun II" did the impossible by making them more caring than in the first film. We have Sister Irene serving as a teacher for Debra, as she teaches her about their belief in God. Then, there's Frenchie, who works at the boarding school and befriends Sophie. With these two relationships present, they help the movie provide characters who are more than just one-dimensional victims of the supernatural's reign of terror. The cast followed suit in delivering some respectable performances, including Taissa Farmiga, who offered another satisfying portrayal of Sister Irene. Storm Reid also serves as a solid addition to the "Conjuring" lineup as Debra, further proving herself as another young, talented actress to root for. Jonas Bloquet was decent in his role as Frenchie, and Bonnie Aarons continues to deliver the chills and frights regarding her performance as Valak.
As for its flaws, "The Nun II" fell short of godliness due to its screenplay. While the characters' relationships and themes are some of the film's highlights, the execution of its cliches is mildly bare-boned to the point where it doesn't stand out from other supernatural horror movies. But if a simplistic plot is what you want, you'll likely be satisfied with the result. If not, you're not getting much out of it besides Valak terrorizing people and its engaging finale. The biggest sin in the screenplay was the ending. Without spoilers, it makes the whole experience seem pointless in the franchise's timeline, considering how the first film's conclusion connects to the first two "Conjuring" films. It's not as terrible as the one from "The Turning", but it is something the filmmakers should reconsider before adding it to the film. There are also a couple of sequences involving the shaky-cam technique that were very distracting to me. Combined with the film's dim lighting, the shaky cam makes specific scenes extremely difficult to see what's happening. They didn't deter my experience with everything else, but they are as painful as getting splashed by holy water.
Overall, "The Nun II" answered most of our prayers of being a tolerable and creepily enjoyable follow-up, even if it struggles to confess its familiar sins. Since I wasn't a massive fan of "The Nun", my expectations for the sequel were unsurprisingly low, as I thought of it as another way to cash in on the franchise without any effort put into it. However, I was mildly surprised to see that it wasn't the case. Even though it's not a great horror sequel due to its familiar troupes and ending, the movie did what its predecessor should've done: become a force of terror that takes advantage of its characters and Catholic-related themes. From its decent cast to Michael Chaves's bone-chilling vision, "The Nun II" is another horror follow-up worthy enough for me to say "Hallelujah". If you enjoy its predecessor and the other "Conjuring" installments, you might also enjoy this one.
"Bottoms" stars Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edebiri, Ruby Cruz, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Nicholas Galitzine, Miles Fowler, Dagmara Domińczyk, and Marshawn Lynch. Released on August 25, 2023, the film has two high school senior girls organizing a fight club to hook up with cheerleaders.
The film was directed by Emma Seligman, who also directed "Shiva Baby". In every teenager's life, they hope to score with the hottest people in school before moving to the next chapter of their lives. They even attempt to do something crazy to accomplish this goal. In the case of these two high school senior girls, that includes following Edward Norton's blueprint of forming a fight club. This week has people already sending their kids back to school, so it makes sense for me to talk about the latest high school comedy that's already receiving strong word of mouth. This teen comedy reunites up-and-coming filmmaker Emma Seligman with her "Shiva Baby" collaborator Rachel Sennott to revive the teen sex narrative for the next generation of teenagers. However, instead of a scenario involving boys getting laid with the girls, we have one featuring lesbians attempting to get some girl-on-girl action. Does it pack enough punches in its concept to become the next teen movie classic? Let's find out.
The story follows PJ (Sennott) and Josie (Edebiri), two lesbian friends at Rockbridge Falls High School who've never had sex. Their opportunities arise when they plan to hook up with popular cheerleaders Isabel (Liu) and Brittany (Gerber). Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse when the friends' attempt to impress them leads to them injuring Jeff (Galitzine), Isabel's quarterback boyfriend. As a result, rumors begin to spread that PJ and Josie wind themselves in the juvenile hall over the summer. Along with a group of girls, including Hazel Callahan (Cruz), PJ and Josie decide to start a fight club to enforce female self-empowerment. But, of course, the real reason is that they want to have sex with Isabel and Brittany. This then follows a series of crazy events that threaten to expose PJ and Josie's secrets, put the high school football team in jeopardy, and jeopardize their friendship.
I've heard nothing but great things about this film, which I discovered while surfing the web. It has a concept that's been done in other teen comedies but with a lesbian twist and a comical approach to the "fight club" scenario. More importantly, one of the film's producers happens to be Elizabeth Banks, who continues to impress audiences as an actress and even a filmmaker. That includes her recent directorial effort, "Cocaine Bear", a bizarre depiction of the real-life Cocaine Bear that's mildly entertaining despite falling short of its insane concept. So now, she's taking a crack at another weirdly intriguing film that puts its focus on female empowerment, with Seligman taking charge of the high school version of David Fincher's 1999 classic. The result is another near-perfect blend of high school nostalgia and modern-day commentary that's also one of the best teen comedies I've seen.
"Bottoms" is basically like any other high school teen sex comedy we've seen in the 80s and 90s regarding its formula. We got the usual misfits attempting to fit in with the high school crowd or score some chicks, and even several mishaps leading to a wild, hilarious, or heartfelt moment. By "mishaps", I mean stuff that could've gotten them expelled or worse. I'm not joking. Some of these characters in the movie did some crazy stuff that seemed downright illegal, yet they got away with them scott-free, including the third act. It's no wonder people still enjoy these types of comedies. It's because they depict these scenarios as inconsequential to their teenage audiences. But who cares? They're highly entertaining to witness, like the rest of the film.
While it offers nothing too different from its cliches, "Bottoms" reinvigorates the classic narrative through its sublime direction, themes, and a talented cast of young actors. Without watching "Shiva Baby", I thought Emma Seligman made a huge first impression on me regarding her handling of its representation, tone, and commentary. With the main characters being queer, "Bottoms" stands out because it makes this demographic more welcoming. They have the similar traits we usually expect from other high school misfits, like PJ being self-centered and mean-spirited and Josie being socially awkward yet generous. However, Seligman filled these traits with charisma, heart, and even laughs to make the characters as entertaining as a high school mascot at a sports event.
As for its commentary, "Bottoms" is best described as a satirical perspective of female empowerment, queerness, adolescence, victimization, and toxic masculinity. It's like "Barbie", but without the overly pink fantasy world filled with Barbies and Kens. It's a tough act to accomplish since these themes can be offensive on both sides if misused, but lo and behold, Seligman was able to pull that off, too. Through her screenplay, which she co-wrote with Rachel Sennott, Seligman explores these topics in an insane yet heartfelt manner but also comes packed with well-written dialogue and subtle yet fun ideas that don't overstay their welcome. The film is around 90 minutes long, which is a perfect runtime for the film to display the absurdity of its fight club.
Based on the concept alone, "Bottoms" would've come across as another R-rated raunchy teen comedy where most of its plot consists of pervasive language, lots of steamy sex, drugs, and plenty of shock values from the violence. In short, it's not something you want to bring your parents to see. However, that isn't the case. "Bottoms" does feature mature content, but it's used sparingly to avoid alienating the audiences with its constant crudity to generate forced laughs. When used on a specific occasion, including its over-the-top finale, it works just as well as I hoped. The tone has a mixture that's more grounded than absurd, but it's effective in telling a highly entertaining story that saves the insanity for last.
In addition to Emma Seligman's superb take on the tried-and-true formula, "Bottoms" offers an excellent showcase of its cast, who all did a fantastic job with their performances. Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri were absolutely delightful regarding their captivating presence and amusing chemistry. Sennott delivers a performance that highlights PJ's self-absorbed personality. Instead of being painfully irritating, PJ became respectfully tolerable, thanks to Sennott's acting talents. As for Edebiri, what else can I say about her that hasn't been said? She's just that good of an actress. It's not just because of her acting talent and remarkable presence onscreen but also because her recent roles like "The Bear" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" allowed her to express herself. Based on what I've seen from her performance as Josie, I can undoubtedly add "Bottoms" to that list. Ruby Cruz was also great as Hazel, and former NFL player Marshawn Lynch had a solid film debut as Mr. G. Well, technically, his actual big-screen debut was "80 for Brady", in which he played himself, but that doesn't count since it's a cameo.
Overall, "Bottoms" packs a massive punch in its nostalgic high school narrative and current teenage trends. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't have a lot of surprises in the script's genre formula, especially its finale. Regardless, it's still an invigoratingly entertaining and effectively satiric depiction of its teen comedy tropes showcasing the remarkable talents of the up-and-coming filmmaker and stars. Thanks to its excellent cast, refreshing direction, strong screenplay, and well-balanced tone, the film succeeds in winning me over. No sex is required. It's one of the best teen comedies I've seen, but it's also one of the best surprises of the year that shouldn't go unnoticed, especially if you're a fan of the genre.
“The Equalizer 3” stars Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Eugenio Mastrandrea, David Denman, Sonia Ben Ammar, and Remo Girone. Released on September 1, 2023, the film has Robert McCall battling the mafia in Southern Italy.
The film was directed by Antoine Fuqua, who also directed films such as “Training Day”, “Tears of the Sun”, “Olympus Has Fallen”, and “Infinite”. It is the third and final installment in the “Equalizer” film series, which is loosely based on the television series created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim. Being a vigilante is no easy task, not just because of breaking plenty of laws to bring justice. It’s also because you can’t take a relaxing vacation without someone ruining your fun. You know, since crime doesn’t sleep. So, the best way to get some peace and quiet is to fight for it, which is what Mr. Denzel Washington is setting out to do.
It’s hard to argue that Washington is a fantastic actor, mainly for his dramas. However, he’s also proving himself to be a compelling action star, with his recent example being the film adaptation of the 1980s thriller series, “The Equalizer”. The 2014 thriller was well-received and commercially successful, leading Washington to star in his first sequel in 2018, “The Equalizer 2”. Due to the success of that movie, despite its reviews being more mixed, it didn’t take us too long to reunite with Robert McCall for one last round of brutal violence and charismatic interactions. This time, he’s taking his vengeful nature to international territory, mainly Italy. Does it deliver a satisfying conclusion to the character’s bloody journey, or does it signify that he should’ve retired early? Let’s find out.
The story centers on Robert McCall (Washington), a former U.S. Marine turned vigilante who brings bad guys to justice through brutal measures. Following his recent mission in Sicily, which almost cost him his life, McCall escapes to Southern Italy to get the peace he deserves. Unfortunately, his quest for a tranquil life is interrupted when he discovers that the Camorra, led by Vincent Quaranta (Andrea Scarduzio), is taking over the country. When the mafia harms those who interfere with their power, including Robert’s new friends, the vigilante must unleash his vengeful rage once more to defend the place he calls home.
It has been a decade since I last watched “The Equalizer”, but I remember liking it during my first viewing. It had a few slow scenes that almost took me out of the movie, but Washington’s performance and Fuqua’s direction for the action scenes kept it from being a snooze fest. As for its follow-up, it’s an enjoyable yet by-the-numbers revenge thriller that favors style over substance. Don’t ask me about the recent “Equalizer” series with Queen Latifah because I still haven’t watched it. My experience with these installments got me somewhat excited about the latest chapter, which promises a fulfilling end to McCall’s violent journey…unless Hollywood continues to milk this cow like the other action franchises. So now that I finally got to watch it, does it live up to my similar expectations of the previous installments? Yes and no.
If you’re familiar with the previous two “Equalizer” movies, you’ll know what you expect from “Equalizer 3”. This is another thriller that’s more dialogue-driven than consistently action-packed as the marketing wants you to believe. While it offers the brutalities in between the serenity courtesy of Mr. Washington, the film is more about his character attempting to escape his violent past to live a peaceful life in Italy. But, of course, he would have to contend with the mafia threatening the people around him first. Since this is marketed as the final chapter of the “Equalizer” trilogy, this idea seemed like an excellent opportunity to finish McCall’s arc on an emotionally compelling note. This was due to the film’s first half, which involves Robert’s injury forcing him to retire. Not only did it make the badass character more vulnerable, but it also would’ve made him engaging based on his pursuit of justice affecting his life and the other people around him. The addition of the ruthless Camorra would’ve also helped provide the movie’s high stakes regarding McCall’s vigilante duty.
Unfortunately, despite how good the first half was, the rest of the movie fumbled its intriguing premise with another middling by-the-numbers thriller that’s more relaxing than a week-long stay at Cocoa Beach. That’s not to say it was boring, as the character interactions are as endearing as seeing the mafia members get their just desserts. However, regarding the execution and Richard Wenk’s screenplay, the movie didn’t do much with the narrative to earn that sense of fulfillment in its conclusion. From its underwhelming stakes to the antagonists, the film offers a fascinating story that’s sadly hidden underneath its mediocre genre formula that’s done better in other thrillers.
But, of course, like its previous installments, “The Equalizer 3” also delivers an equal amount of goods to match its equivalent amount of disappointments. One of them is the cast responsible for providing mildly entertaining interactions. Denzel Washington is again terrific as Robert McCall, which is unsurprising given his track record. He maintains a significant amount of charisma when interacting with the supporting characters but also continues to prove himself as a worthy action star when he’s brutally murdering heartless people. Now I need him to star in a thriller with Liam Neeson, and my life will be complete. The movie also marks the latest collaboration between Washington and Dakota Fanning, following Tony Scott’s “Man on Fire”. For fans of the 2004 action thriller, it’s a violent dream come true to see them share the screen again. As for Fanning’s performance, she did pretty well as Emma Collins, a CIA agent who shares a common enemy with Robert. Eugenio Mastrandrea and Remo Girone also delivered likable performances as Gio Bonucci and Enzo Arisio, respectively.
Another element that was handled well was Antoine Fuqua’s direction. Despite its flawed story, it’s easy to see that Fuqua mostly compensates with his gritty presentation. It’s not without its share of brutal violence, which is undeniably satisfying regarding his vision. However, it also has a sense of beauty in its grim and immersive environments, thanks to Robert Richardson’s cinematography. By the way, Fuqua and Richardson previously collaborated on last year’s “Emancipation”. The cinematography works wonderfully in capturing the gorgeous town in Italy and even the violent side of the country, which is enough to keep me engaged in the film’s less-than-thrilling sequences. I would also credit the movie for being 12 minutes shorter than “The Equalizer 2” to avoid overstaying its welcome. Despite the amount of flaws it had, I’m more than willing to accept this change.
Overall, “The Equalizer 3” offers the usual brand of equal justice that we usually expect, but it lacks a gut-punching impact big enough to conclude the action trilogy with a bang. The film had some interesting ideas that would’ve made McCall’s retirement a rewarding sendoff for the vigilante. Unfortunately, it wasted those opportunities on a low-stakes and formulaic plot that felt more like an uneventful vacation than an exciting one. Denzel Washington is as charismatic as ever as Robert McCall, and his screen time with his “Man on Fire” co-star, Dakota Fanning, should satisfy audiences who enjoyed that movie. It is also another well-directed and beautifully shot thriller by Antoine Fuqua, which is enough for me to forgive him for his straight-to-streaming disaster, “Infinite”. However, its middling screenplay, underwhelming thrills, and unfulfilling ending heavily affected its good intentions, making it the weakest film in the action thriller trilogy, in my opinion.
If there’s one other generous thing I can say about this movie and its previous installments, it’s that I’m glad that Washington took the chance of making his first trilogy in his career. Considering the amount of one-and-done films he accomplished, it was nice to see him do something different outside his comfort zone. It’s far from a perfect trilogy, but from a personal perspective, it’s an accomplishment Washington should be proud of regardless of the quality. Suppose you love the actor in his other movies, including the two “Equalizer” films, and prefer dialogue-driven thrillers with a small amount of adult-rated violence. In that case, you’ll likely enjoy this action threequel, probably more so than I did.
"Retribution" stars Liam Neeson, Noma Dumezweni, Lilly Aspell, Jack Champion, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Modine, and Arian Moayed. Released on August 25, 2023, the film has a financier confronting a mysterious bomber.
The film is directed by Nimród Antal, who also directed films such as "Vacancy", "Armored", "Predators", and "The Whiskey Bandit". It is a remake of the 2015 Spanish film, "El desconocido" ("The Stranger"), written by Alberto Marini and directed by Dani de la Torre. With this year's summer movie season winding down, it makes sense that we deserve one last burst of thrills and suspense before we send the kids back to school. Of course, what better movie to get us in that mood than with another thriller starring Liam Neeson? Seriously, this guy is starring in more projects than me in the school plays. We've seen Neeson beat the snot out of bad guys and even fill the shoes of private detective Philip Marlowe. Now, he's tackling another big challenge of his career: confronting a bomber without leaving his vehicle. Now, where have I heard that concept before? Regardless of how I feel toward Neeson's recent films, I'm usually up to see what the actor has cooked up, and this latest action thriller is no exception. With that said, let's see if the movie packs enough late-summer thrills to keep it from exploding too early.
The film follows Matt Turner (Neeson), a bank financier and a father to two children, Emily (Aspell) and Zach (Champion). While driving the kids to school, Matt receives an anonymous call from a stranger telling him to follow his devious demands. The stranger on the phone is a bomber who threatens Matt with a bomb attached to the car seats. He reveals that if Matt and the kids attempt to leave the car or refuse to follow the caller's orders, he'll detonate the bomb with them inside. With his children's lives on the line, Matt embarks on a dangerous mission to outsmart the unknown terrorist and escape this perilous scenario.
The best way I can describe "Retribution" is that it's "Speed" but with an ordinary car instead of a bus. Also, instead of Keanu Reeves trying to outsmart the bomber, it has Liam Neeson performing a similar task as a regular financier. For those still unaware of the situation, I wasn't impressed with the actor's recent thrillers he starred in for the sake of appeal and paychecks. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the actor's presence as an action star. It's that his recent movies were highly forgettable regarding their qualities. There are a few exceptions like "Taken" and "The Commuter", but the likes of "Blacklight" and "Memory"? I was better off watching paint dry instead. That's why I didn't bother watching "Marlowe" earlier this year to avoid facing another disappointing waste of Neeson's talents.
However, I did muster up the courage to see "Retribution" since I'm fond of thrillers involving a race-against-the-clock scenario, especially in a vehicle equipped with a bomb. I'm one of the people who identifies "Speed" as the king of these types of thrillers. So, I expected it to provide the same amount of edge-of-your-seat thrills as the Keanu Reeves action classic. The "thrills" part was present in "Retribution", but I wouldn't classify them as something that'll have you clutching your armrest. I would say they're enough to make you stay in your seat in awe as you experience another disappointing dud starring Mr. Neeson. This guy still can't catch a break with these B-movie shenanigans.
To his credit, though, Neeson still retains his compelling presence regarding his performance. Instead of being a badass who puts villains in his place, he plays a father who winds himself in hot water due to his failure to keep promises. Amid the troubling scenario, we see Matt attempting to compensate for his past mistakes by protecting his kids and fixing the problem he may have caused. Also, Matt has to accomplish that while being framed for the terrorist's bombings—a classic action thriller cliche at its finest. Like my experience with Neeson's recent movies, I appreciate the actor's attempts at making "Retribution" watchable, even though his character was periodically one-note. He was fine in the role, and I want to leave it at that. As for the rest of the cast, they were also okay, including Noma Dumezweni as Angela Brickmann. Lilly Aspell and Jack Champion from "Avatar" fame were also suitable as Matt's children, who unintentionally wind up in the same situation as Matt. They provide plenty of baggage that further intensifies the character's dilemma, even though the film periodically struggles to maintain that narrative tension.
Another element that made the film slightly tolerable is the directorial style of Nimród Antal. Regarding my experience with Antal, I've only seen 2010's "Predators", and I think I watched his Metallica concert film with Dane DeHaan, "Through the Never", a decade ago. So, this makes "Retribution" my third movie from the filmmaker. For the most part, Antal didn't do too badly regarding the framework of the action scenes. He didn't rely too much on the shaky cam maneuvers and choppy editing. Instead, Antal provides wide-angle shots that are suitably attention-grabbing, thanks to Flavio Labiano's cinematography. As for the films' tension-filled sequences, there's only a couple of them that I thought were well-handled by Antal. The problem is that the story failed to take advantage of its intense concept.
"Retribution" is another movie that uses its 90-minute runtime to provide a straightforward roller coaster filled with fear and concern. I don't mind films with simplistic stories as long as the execution of their plots is interesting enough to justify their entertainment values. Action thrillers involving a life-and-death situation are no different, especially "Retribution". Regarding the concept and themes, the film had the potential to be an improvement over Neeson's previous outings. Sadly, it only managed to make a tiny upgrade in its quality, and that's it. Chris Salmanpour's screenplay unsurprisingly offers plenty of genre cliches we've seen in other action thrillers prior, but they hardly make a massive explosion in its emotional core and fundamental characters. It also didn't offer enough enticing sequences besides its car chases to live up to its promising thrills.
However, the worst offender of the screenplay was the third act. While the movie beforehand was mostly passable for its pros, its finale was where it completely derailed itself and blew up my hopes for an enjoyable thriller through and through. It's not just because of the abrupt ending that made me go, "Really". It's also because of the bomber's reveal that left me baffled. Without spoilers, the bomber's real identity didn't work for me due to the plot holes that came with it. It makes zero sense and diminishes Matt's character arc to the point where it's unsatisfying. I had to ensure I saw it correctly before explaining it in my review. That's how puzzled I was about it.
Overall, "Retribution" doesn't get the justice it deserves. It definitely had promise in its heart-pounding concept, which would've made it a solid, if not huge, comeback for Liam Neeson. However, despite some well-shot sequences, a couple of mildly intense moments, and Neeson's presence, the idea was wasted by its fundamental and lazy approach. Due to its cliched script, underwhelming thrills, simplistic characters, and a terrible third act, the film goes out with a poof instead of a bang. Regarding the actor's recent roles, It's a bit more watchable than "Blacklight" and "Memory". Unfortunately, it's still another cinematic misfire for the action star.