Tag Archives: david ayer

‘The Tax Collector’ Review

And so, David Ayer continues to have a baffling filmography…

“The Tax Collector” is the latest film from writer-director David Ayer, and marks a return to his gritty roots after big-budget studio blockbusters like “Bright” and “Suicide Squad.” The film follows two enforcers for a drug lord (Bobby Soto and Shia LaBeouf) as they find themselves on the wrong end of a rivalry; Cinthya Carmona and George Lopez also star.

I have a hot and cold relationship with David Ayer as a filmmaker. I really enjoy “Street Kings,” “Fury,” and “End of Watch” (and even “Sabotage” has some fun action), however “Suicide Squad” and “Bright” are both pretty ugly-looking messes. He seems to be at this best when his stories focus more police and gangs in South Central Los Angeles (he also wrote “Training Day” and the first “The Fast and the Furious” film), which makes it all-the-more baffling that “The Tax Collector” is his most bland film to-date.

I really like Shia LaBeouf as an actor, always have dating back to growing up with him on “Even Stevens” and “Holes,” and have enjoyed his more adult work in Ayer’s “Fury” and last year’s semi-biopic “Honey Boy.” Here LaBeouf (who, for the uninitiated, is white) is playing a (seemingly) Hispanic gang member and his performance is… I really don’t even know how to describe it. Like much of the film he kind of just exists, sometimes awkwardly doing a Mexican accent (and sometimes speaking normal), and plays the no-nonsense tough guy enforcer card. He and George Lopez are the only recognizable names on the poster (although Ayer staples like Cle Sloan and Noel Gugliemi pop up), so much of the lifting is done by relative newcomers like Bobby Soto (who, to his credit, is fine enough).

Ayer has been vocal about wanting to give Hispanics more presence in Hollywood with this film, and in the past has been accused of portraying minorities in a bad light. I’m not sure this film about gangs will help change that perception of him around town, but he deserves the credit for giving no-names a chance to star.

Ayer’s films, even the bad ones like “Bright” or “Sabotage,” at least have decent action sequences, which makes me shocked that this film is seemingly devoid of much action. For the first 45 minutes of this 90 minute film, it is just LaBeouf and Soto driving around Los Angeles intimidating people into paying their dues. The film has some very poor and confusing editing choices as well, and I’m not sure if it was Ayer trying to be artsy or editor Geoffrey O’Brien (who cut together “Bright” and assisted on several other Ayer films) was just feeling frisky and random when he sat down at his laptop.

“The Tax Collector” is set to be a VOD release, and even if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic it still never feels like it is anything more than your typical Bruce Willis/Nic Cage Walmart bargain bin thriller. There are so many more films out right now, new and old, that depict gang life in Los Angeles (just scroll Ayer’s filmography or open Netflix), and this one should be so far down the list that even the IRS wouldn’t bother to check it.

Critics Rating: 3/10

‘Fury’ Is Powerful, Gritty and One of Year’s Best

Fury_2014_posterBrad Pitt and World War II. So far, it has proven to be a potent combonation. First Pitt was hunting Nazis in “Inglorious Basterds”, now he is commanding a tank in Germany.

“Fury”, written and directed by “End of Watch’s” David Ayer, tells the tale of five American soldiers who get stuck in their tank behind enemy lines. Outnumbered and outgunned, they must fight their way through and defeat the surrounding Nazi forces. Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal portray the members of the tank.

There’s really no point of sugar coating it or beating around the bush: “Fury” is one of the year’s best movies and one of the better, and most realistic, war films of all-time. From the haunting depictions of battle, to the heart-wrenching performances, to the high production value everything about this film is as beautiful as it is chilling.

The performances across the board are nothing short of fantastic, with the standouts being Pitt and Lerman. Pitt plays a man who has clearly let the evils of war shatter any morals and sensitivity he ever had, and this is demonstrated when on the first day of the job for the tank’s new recruit (Lerman), Pitt orders him to execute an unarmed German solider.

I have never been a Logan Lerman fan, I believe he plays a pretentious, spoiled boy in every role he takes (“Noah” and “3:10 to Yuma”, just to name two), but the man shut me up with his performance here. He is a soldier who was pulled away from his desk and put on the front lines, and it seems like he will never get used to the idea of taking a human life. But throughout the film we see him begin to change and become more desensitized to the notion of war, but he never loses the innocence that we empathize with.

The rest of the cast are all cookie-cutter roles (minority member, jerky sociopath and Bible-thumper), but the actors all have their moments to shine.

Ayer has proven that he is more than capable of shooting an engaging action scene, but never while sacrificing drama or content. Even when the bullets are flying and shells are being rocketed off, we see the characters’ weaknesses and at times hesitation in their actions. Even at the end of the film, in the midst of an extended battle, the action never feels derivative or redundant, because we are getting heavy doses of human drama, accompanied by a fantastic score from composer Steven Price.

What holds “Fury” back from the greatness it so clearly was striving for is a scene in the middle of the film. After taking a town, Pitt and Lerman come across two German women, who proceed to make lunch. The scene drags on for 22 minutes (I remember looking at my phone twice), and in the end the entire interaction took place simply for a plot point down the road.

If that one scene had been shorter, which it should have been, then “Fury” may have been able to be mentioned in the same breath as “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Hurt Locker” for greatest war movie of all-time. That being said, “Fury” is still a fantastically shot, grittily depicted and powerfully acted war story, which features a climax that had my theater silent when the credits began to roll.

Critics Rating: 9/10

‘Sabotage’ is Messy, but Very Fun

sabotageWhat do you get when you combine Arnold Schwarzenegger, “End of Watch” and “A Good Day to Die Hard”? The answer is “Sabotage”, the new Arnie movie from the director of “Watch” David Ayer, and the writer of “Good Day”, Skip Woods. Schwarzenegger stars as the leader of an elite DEA task force who must find out who is killing the members of his team after they bust a cartel safe house. Ayer directs.

The commercials for “Sabotage” have been a little misleading in that it brags it is “from the writer of Training Day”. While this is true, Ayer did write “Training Day”, he merely did touchups on “Sabotage”. The true screenwriter is Skip Woods, who wrote such gems as “Die Hard 5”, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and “Hitman” (in case you are unfamiliar with those films they’re all awful, and I was being sarcastic). If you want your films to feature a organized plot, characters with depth, or sentences that make sense, then Woods probably isn’t high on your radar.

Besides being a poor screenwriter, no one knows anything about Woods. I kid you not, Google him. There are no pictures or any biographical information on him. There is even a conspiracy on whether the guy actually exists. The one thing that is known is he has not written a good movie.

So at face value “Sabotage” shouldn’t work. It was written by the genius of awful Woods, and stars Schwarzenegger, who has never been a fantastic actor, as well as a bunch of other actors who you probably recognize but could not name. But thanks to steady direction from Ayer, I found myself enjoying the majority of the film.

When characters have guns in their hands, “Sabotage” is immensely entertaining and very well shot. Much like the other films he has directed like “Street Kings” and “End of Watch”, Ayer knows where to creatively put a camera in order to place the audience in the action, and you get your money’s worth.

Schwarzenegger doesn’t do a bad job, either. He plays a man who is out for revenge after the Mexican cartel kidnapped his wife and kid, as well as trying to evade whoever is taking out the members of his team. He has his share of chuckle inducing one-liners, as well as his signature cigar smoking (in practically every scene).

The largest issues with “Sabotage” lay mostly with its script. Aside from Arnold, none of the characters are likable. They all are angry, selfish and ignorant individuals, as well as underdeveloped, so when they begin to get killed by the cartel you simply don’t care. Like at all. The movie also tries to have a big plot twist ending but then makes no effort whatsoever in explaining how or why what just happened in fact happened.

There are also two scenes that are very awkwardly edited. In one, you see Arnold and his partner approaching a house, guns drawn, and then see the man they’re looking for gunned down by assailants. Then suddenly it cuts back to Arnold finding the dead man, and apparently the man had been killed several days prior. It took me out of the movie and came off as somewhat lazy.

With a film like “Sabotage” you have to take the good with the bad. When guns are going off, the film is fun, exciting and very well made. The problem is the other half of the movie is a wannabe political thriller involving the DEA and internal affairs and who knows what else (Skip Woods certainly didn’t know, and he wrote it).

Usually I criticize action films for being nothing more than shoot-em-ups, but there was something about “Sabotage” that made me enjoy the film, much more than I’m sure it had any right to be liked.

Critics Rating: 6/10