Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of THE EQUALIZER 2

The Equalizer 2, rated R
***  

The Equalizer 2, stars Denzel Washington in his first ever sequel. He returns as Robert McCall, a retired CIA assassin. The film finds Washington working with director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) for the fourth time. The film is written by Richard Wenk (The Equalizer, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back), and is based on the television series that ran from 1985 – 1989.
In the 2014 film The Equalizer we met McCall.  A retired CIA agent, he lived simply among regular people.  He had lost his wife and was reading through one hundred essential novels in her memory. The only two people he trusted were former CIA associate Susan Plummer, played by Oscar winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter) and her husband Brian, played by Bill Pullman (The Sinner). He was roused to action only when there were serious wrongs to be righted on behalf of those unable to help themselves.
The opening scene takes place near the Turkish border.  It has McCall, disguised as a devout Muslim, on a rescue mission of a young girl from his neighborhood. Back in Boston, McCall works as a Lyft driver during the day. He also works secretly as a vigilante setting to right the wrongs in society by unleashing swift justice (he sets his stop watch to time his work, completing his work in less than thirty seconds) and protecting the victims.  He helps his neighbors, including Holocaust survivor Sam, played by Orson Bean (Being John Malkovich), and coaches Miles, played by Ashton Sanders (Moonlight), an at-risk teenager from his apartment building on making good life decisions.

***SPOILER ALERT***
He remains close to Susan Plummer, who starts investigating the apparent brutal murder-suicide of a spy (and his wife) from Belgium with whom she worked.
Susan seems to be on the verge of solving the crime when she is viciously beaten and killed in her hotel room in Belgium. Robert then starts his own investigation into Susan’s death, and runs into his former partner, Dave York, played by Pedro Pascal, who thought McCall was dead but was working with Susan on the case. They team up together again to solve the crime, but all is not as it appears.
*******************

Throughout the film we have the constant warnings that a storm is coming. That culminates in the thrilling and action-packed final scene in which the characters have to deal with the hurricane conditions.
Content concerns include a significant amount of violence and adult language.
Themes include vengeance, kindness, deception and betrayal.  In the film we are led to believe his vengeance and violence is justified, as compared to the neighborhood gang violence.  But is it?
The Equalizer 2 is a thrilling, intense and extremely violent film that contains a significant amount of adult language. Washington is excellent as Robert McCall, and Ashton Sanders plays a significant role as Miles.


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My Review of ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.

Roman J. Israel, Esq., rated PG-13
**

Denzel Washington’s latest film is a flawed film that focuses on the main character’s values and moral failure.
The film, featuring a strong cast, is written and directed by Oscar nominee Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler). Cinematography is by Oscar winner Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood). After the film’s premiere at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival, 13 minutes were cut from the film and a key scene was moved up earlier in the film.
The film is set in downtown Los Angeles, which is where Roman J. Israel lives and works; he is played by Washington, seven-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner (Training Day, Glory). His appearance is stunning; he wears outdated clothes, outdated glasses and an outdated hairstyle. He has a gap between his two front teeth, carries a heavy briefcase and always has a pair of headphones on to listen to his iPod. The ringtone on his flip-phone is Eddie Hendricks’ 1973 hit “Keep on Truckin’”. The man is definitely stuck in the 70’s.
Roman is a lawyer in a two-man criminal defense law firm that handles cases for the downtrodden and underprivileged. The firm has never made much money and is in debt. Roman lives in a modest apartment and often eats peanut butter. The owner of the firm, William Jackson, is the public face of the firm. He argues the cases in court and meets with clients, while Roman does the behind the scenes work (research, etc.). Roman may be a savant or has Asperger’s Syndrome. He has remarkable legal knowledge, but is very uncomfortable socially.

***SPOILER ALERT ***
When Jackson has a heart attack, the Jackson family decides to let Roman go. They hire George Pierce, a rich corporate defense attorney played by Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell (In Bruges) to close the firm down. Eventually Pierce in turn hires Roman at his firm. Roman, who believes in fighting for the underprivileged and has a strong sense of justice, tells George that he is all about the money and not justice.
A key point in the film is a bad decision that Roman makes. The decision was out of character for the principled Roman, and it is not really explained as to why he did what he did, though we know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Carmen Ejogo (Selma), plays Maya Alston, a young legal activist, who develops a romantic relationship with Roman. Again, why she is so enamored with the not very likeable Roman is never explained.
********************

Washington delivers his usual strong performance as Roman.  Farrell does a good job portraying the arrogant owner of a high-priced law firm. We see him changing, adopting Roman’s values as the film progresses. This is not really explained either, as Roman is seen moving away from those very values.
The film is rated PG-13 for some adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names. Themes in the film include justice, sin, judgement.
Although there are things to like in this film, particularly Washington’s acting performance, there were just too many holes in the script by Gilroy for me to give this film a good recommendation.


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My Review of Fences

fencesFences, rated PG-13
****

It took 360 days into 2016, but I finally saw my hands-down top movie of the year!

Fences is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by the late August Wilson who is also credited with the screenplay. The play won a Tony Award in 1987 with James Earl Jones and Mary Alice in the lead roles, and had a 2010 revival on Broadway, starring two-time Oscar winner (Glory, Training Day) Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson and two-time Oscar nominee (The Help, Doubt) Viola Davis as his wife Rose. Washington directs the film version, his third overall, and first since 2007’s The Great Debaters. The film has received two Golden Globe nominations – for Best Performance by an Actor (Washington) and Actress (Davis).  Joining Washington and Davis from the 2010 Broadway revival of the play are Stephen Henderson as Troy’s longtime friend and co-worker Bono, Russell Hornsby as Lyons, Troy’s musician son from a previous marriage who Troy considers a freeloader, and Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump), as Troy’s brother Gabriel. Gabriel was badly injured in World War II. He has a metal plate in his head and walks throughout the neighborhood with his trumpet waiting to blow it for Saint Peter to open the gates of Heaven. In addition, Jovan Adepo stars as Troy’s youngest son Cory, who is a good high school football player being recruited by a university.

The film is set in Pittsburgh, and Washington does a good job showing us what a working-class Pittsburgh neighborhood in the 1950’s looked like. My wife loved the reminders of living in a tight-knit neighborhood where all the kids played outside together.  Much of the film takes place on Friday nights after work in the small backyard of the Maxson home where Troy and Bono enjoy some gin. Troy was a one-time Negro League baseball player who had once hoped for a major league career but now hauls garbage for the city.  Troy often goes off on monologues about injustices that have been done to him, often using baseball as a metaphor. He also touches on the importance of hard work, diligence and self-reliance.

The title of the film refers to the fence that Troy is building around the backyard, and that Cory and Bono occasionally help him with. Bono states that fences can both keep things out, and also keep things in.

**SPOILER ALERT**

Troy is a proud and bitter man. He is a good provider for his family (although later we find out it was Gabriel’s settlement payment for his injuries that paid for Troy’s home). He is also an ex-convict, who spent 15 years in the penitentiary for killing a man. Troy compares his father to the devil, never learned to read, has dialogues with death, and overall is very opinionated. Like all of us, his life is one of contradictions. He wants to be a good man, but makes some painfully bad decisions, reminding me of Paul, writing in Romans 7:15, when he states “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”   We see Troy reaping what he sows, and feeling the weight of the consequences of his decisions and actions.

Wife of eighteen years Rose is long-suffering. She is a person of faith and character, and we see her strength and wisdom throughout, especially the last part of the film.

Themes in the film include having and teaching a great work ethic, racism, secrets, lies, pride and guilt and the overall complex relationships Troy has with those around him.

The film features brilliant acting from Washington and Davis, the best I’ve seen this year. Both Washington and Davis should receive Oscar nominations for their roles here. They are joined by a strong supporting cast. I especially enjoyed Troy’s likeable friend and co-worker Bono played by Stephen Henderson who tries to warn him about things he is doing and tries to tell  him that the world is changing around him.

The film is rated “PG-13” for language (the “n-word” is used frequently) and adult themes.


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THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

the-magnificent-sevenThe Magnificent Seven, rated PG-13
** ½

This film is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1960 film starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, which was actually a remake of Kurosawa’s 1954 film Seven Samurai. This version is directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer), and written by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk. It features a new rendition of the familiar Elmer Bernstein theme music as the closing credits roll. This was two-time Oscar winner James Horner’s (Titanic) final score before his death in June, 2015.

The film is set in the western town of Rose Creek in 1879. This was a time when the local church was still a prominent place in town. The film contains a surprising amount of Christian content (church, preacher, dialogue).

Corrupt industrialist Bartholomew Bogue, (well-played by Peter Sarsgaard) is wanting to take over Rose Creek because of the valuable mines located in the town, and is only offering the townspeople pennies on the dollar for their land. As the film opens, we see him burn down the church and murder several people, including the husband of Emma Cullen (played by Haley Bennett). Cullen is looking to avenge her husband’s death and save Rose Creek, so with her life’s savings she seeks out Sam Chisolm (played by two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington in his first western film).  Chisolm is a man of justice, a bounty hunter, who dresses all in black and rides a black horse.

Chisolm then recruits six others to help defend Rose Creek from Bogue and his men. He first recruits Josh Faraday, (played by Chris Pratt of Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World). His repeated line in the film “So far, so good”, was also used by Steve McQueen’s character in the 1960 film.

We then meet sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheauz (played by four-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke), who suffers from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, and his right-hand man Billy Rocks (played by Byung-hun Lee), who is deadly with blades. Chisolm lets Mexican outlaw Vasquez (played by Manuel Garcia-Fulfo) live, and he becomes one of the seven. Next, Chisolm adds Comanche warrior Red Harvest (played by Martin Sensmeier) who is deadly accurate with a bow and arrow. The final member of the Magnificent Seven is the bear-like trapper Jack Horne (played by Vincent D’Onofrio), who has a bible verse for each new victim he kills.

The Seven know that the odds are against them, as Bogue will bring many more fighting men than they have. They try their best to train the townspeople how to shoot rifles and use warfare tactics which leads to some humorous results. One of my favorite parts of the film was seeing the strategic steps the Seven take to protect their undermanned town.

But there is little character development in this film, as the emphasis is on gun-fighting. Washington, one of our finest actors and long one of my favorites, is under-utilized in this role. The emphasis on action and lack of character development reminded me of this summer’s Jason Bourne starring Matt Damon. I would have liked Fuqua to give us the back-story of each of the characters and more character interaction and a little less of the gun-fighting scenes.

The film is rated PG-13 for extreme gun-fighting violence with dozens killed, and some adult language including several abuses of God’s name. It had a budget of about $95 million and took the top spot domestically with $35 million in its opening weekend. Overall, I felt that the film was entertaining, but nothing special considering the cast assembled, and also a bit long at 132 minutes.