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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MOVIE REVIEW ~ Snowden

snowdenSnowden, rated R
**

This film is directed by three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone and is his twentieth feature film. It depicts events that took place between 2004 and 2013 in the life of whistleblower Edward Snowden, played by one of our better young actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The film is written by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald and is based on the books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus  by Anatoly Kucherena.

Earlier this summer in the same theater before a packed house that came to see Captain America: Civil War, jovial cries of “Team Captain” and “Team Iron Man” broke out. Before this film, I asked the only other person in the theater at the time what he thought – was Snowden a patriot or a traitor? He identified himself as a Libertarian and immediately and enthusiastically responded that Snowden was definitely a patriot. And that’s exactly the way Stone portrays Snowden in this film. If that is not your view of Snowden you might want to pass on this film.

It mixes dramatization with some historical footage and opens in a Hong Kong hotel with Snowden meeting Laura Poitras, (played by Oscar winner Melissa Leo), director of what would become the Oscar winning documentary Citizenfour, and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, (played by Zachary Quinto – Spock in the latest Star Trek films). Snowden proceeds to share classified information about how the United States government is conducting illegal surveillance activities on their own citizens based on his knowledge of this from his time working in top-secret jobs in the United States government. This information is then published by the Guardian.

Among other things we find out that the government has the capability to turn on your laptop computer camera without you knowing it. Where I work, a number of people have for some time now placed a piece of tape over the camera because of just this fear.

In addition to Leo and Quinto, the film also features a number of other well-known actors such as Oscar winner Nicholas Cage, in his best performance role I’ve seen him in for some time, and the always good Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson. The real Edward Snowden, still living in Moscow, also appears near the end of the film.

Though the film is clear about its intentions of seeing Snowden as a patriot, it should lead to some good conversations after seeing the film. For example, we ran into some friends afterwards who felt that the truth was probably somewhere in the middle between patriot and traitor.

Gordon-Levitt, who was solid but not spectacular in his role as Snowden, makes us feel that something is wrong with what he is seeing, especially as the real President Obama is shown campaigning against exactly what Snowden now knows is going on under his leadership. But the question about Snowden comes down to the decision he made to share the confidential National Security Agency documents publicly. Should he have first attempted to go through legitimate channels to enact change?  The film portrays his good intentions in being concerned about what he sees going on, and ultimately in exposing it, but it doesn’t address the harm (real or potential) he did to national security or government personnel working undercover. I see that as a weakness in the film.

The film was also slow, and even boring at times, too long at 134 minutes. Snowden’s relationship with live-in girlfriend Lindsay Mills, played by Shailene Woodley (from the Divergent films), which comprised big chunks of the film, added nothing to the overall Snowden story that people care about, and is another weakness of the film. The film does show one sex scene between the two. Mills, was a photographer and she was also the subject of many photographs shown in the film, including one of her nude. The film also included some adult language, a scene of Woodley teaching a pole-dancing class and a scene (no nudity) in a strip club. So Christian men, be prepared to divert your eyes into your popcorn box for a few scenes. The film is appropriately rated “R”.

Note:  let me know if Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s fake voice drove you crazy too.


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My Movie Reviews ~ ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Joy’

The Big ShortThe Big Short, rated R
****

This superb film is based on Michael Lewis’ (Moneyball) 2010 book and it is directed by Adam McKay, who usually directs comedies starring Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Anchorman 2, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys, etc.). The story is adapted for the screen by McKay and his co-screenwriter Charles Randolph. They could get an Oscar nomination for the script, which includes a good amount of humor in this otherwise serious, stressful and angry film.

The strong cast includes four Oscar winners: Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei and Brad Pitt, and two Oscar nominees Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling.

The film looks at the 2008 financial crisis which had a $5 trillion impact in the U.S. alone, through the lens of four unorthodox moneymen or Wall Street outsiders – or weirdos as they are referred to – who predicted the consequences of the fraudulent mortgage-lending practices of large banks on Wall Street and made millions as a result. It uses three storylines, starting with Christian Bale, who stars as the socially uncomfortable Michael Burry M.D. (who listens to rock and roll music and goes barefoot in his office) who was one of the first to forecast the collapse of the credit bubble due to excessive subprime lending.

Steve Carell plays Mark Baum (based on Steve Eisman), a money manager who rose to fame after successfully betting against subprime mortgages. He wants to teach the banks and government a lesson. Marisa Tomei plays his wife Cynthia. Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) and Charlie Geller (John Magaro) are two young investors who are mentored by Ben Rickert, played by Brad Pitt.

The soundtrack includes rocks songs by (Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Guns N’ Roses). The score is by Nicholas Britell. The characters have hairstyles and clothes that attempt to match the period.

The film aims to show viewers that major banks (aided by the media and government), engaged in fraudulent activity and were bailed out by the U.S. government at the expense of the average citizen – and that it could happen again. You won’t find likeable characters in the film or anyone to cheer for as you will in most films. I can’t attest to the accuracy of the film, or how close it was to Lewis’ book, but the acting was superb and this is an overall excellent film, one of my favorites of the year.

The film earns it’s “R” rating for a significant amount of adult language, including several unfortunate abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names along with lots of f bombs, as well as nudity in a scene in a strip club.

The movie uses a lot of financial terminology that I wasn’t familiar with. To help us understand them, the film uses a few cameos (Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain), to address the audience with explanations of the terms. The article “5 Things You Should Know Before You See The Big Short by Ethan Wolff-Mann may also be helpful in explaining the terms.

JoyJoy, rated PG-13
***

This film, loosely based on the life of Long Island mother Joy Mangano (who is listed as an Executive Producer), stars 25 year-old actress, three time Oscar nominee and winner of Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence as Joy. It is directed by five-time Academy Award nominee David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle), who co-wrote the story with Annie Mumolo. Lawrence joins two-time Oscar winner Robert DeNiro and four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper, who worked with Russell in Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. The film begins with a dedication, a claim that it has been inspired “by stories of daring women everywhere”.

When Joy was a child she was very creative, and loved to make things. Her beloved grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd) told her that she was going to have a great future. Indeed, as a teenager she created a fluorescent flea collar to keep pets safe. Joy would go on to become the valedictorian at her high school and was headed to college. That’s when life took a turn for the worse for Joy.

Her parents – Rudy (Robert DeNiro) and Terry (Virginia Madsen) – divorce, and Joy doesn’t go to college, instead staying home to care for her mother and do bookkeeping for her dad’s business. Joy gets married to Tony, who wants to be “the next Tom Jones”, played by Edgar Ramirez. They have two children but then divorce. They are better as friends than they were married, and Tom lives in Joy’s basement, while Terry pretty much stays in her room watching soap operas all day.

Joy works for an airline as a counter agent, and can’t quite make ends meet, as we see their phone service being turned off due to lack of payment. On top of that, Rudy is kicked out by his second wife and takes up residence in the basement, sharing the confined space with Tony, who he has despised since before he and Joy married. Joy also has a troubled relationships with half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm, who also appeared in American Hustle). Talk about a depressing dysfunction junction!

After Rudy meets Trudy (Isabella Rosselini) on a dating site for widows and widowers (he is neither), she takes him and the rest of the family on her husband’s sailboat. When red wine is spilled on the wood deck due to the high waves, Joy tries to clean up the spill amid the broken glass, cutting her hands. This gives her an idea, and leads her back to being the creative little girl, eventually creating a self-wringing mop (Miracle Mop).

Tony uses a past relationship to put her in connection with Neil (Bradley Cooper), an executive producer at QVC, a home shopping TV channel, which is Joy’s big break. But financial trouble and family and business relationships get even more difficult from here on. We see Joy’s perseverance, despite Rudy and Trudy telling her to just pack it in and give up on her dreams.  So did going from rags to riches give her joy? No, we won’t spoil it for you!

The film is rated PG-13 for one word uttered by Rudy. It also includes several unfortunate misuses of God’s name.

My wife Tammy really disliked this film, calling it long, plodding and boring. She said it had about enough material for a 30-minute Lifetime movie. She thought good acting and a good real-life story couldn’t ‘clean up’ how poorly this story was portrayed on film. I disagree. The film (as well as Lawrence), has been nominated for Best Film by the Golden Globes in the “Musical or Comedy” category (it is neither). The film isn’t great (as attested to the current Rotten Tomatoes ratings – 58% critics, 61% viewers), but I thought Lawrence’s performance and the incredible true story of Joy Mangano was worth the price of admission. If you see the film, please let us know what you think.