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Movie Review: the Equalizer

Let me be honest. I’m a sucker for movies in which one person is smarter than everyone else. The first time I recognized my weakness was in a movie called Hopscotch with Walter Matthau. Let’s just say not only was that not even close to Walter Matthau’s best role, nobody else watched the movie but me. In spite of this, I loved it.

If you’re looking for romantic comedy or a movie that’s going to change your life, The Equalizer is not it. The Equalizer is an action movie like any of the Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone movies. These movies are clichéd. The bad guys are really, really bad. There are the good guys and then there are those innocent bystanders who stand around somewhat befuddled in the middle.

The two things that make this movie different from other action movies are Denzel Washington and Antonie Fuqua. Antonie Fuqua was also the director of Training Day. In my opinion, the direction of this movie was masterful. The movie was dark when it needed to be. It was fast-paced when it needed to be. It was also very stylized when it needed to be.

Denzel Washington is simply an actor at the top of his craft. We’ve seen this in Anthony Hopkins, Harrison Ford, Samuel L Jackson, Clint Eastwood and a few others. A real actor can suck you into the character even when the rest of the story is only so-so. Denzel Washington makes this guy believable. By the end of the movie, you wouldn’t be surprised if you walked into a Lowe’s or a Home Depot and found a mild-mannered stock boy who is really a highly trained CIA assassin.

In order to enjoy this movie, you have to sit back and relax. It takes a little while to unfold. Once the movie begins to unfold, you’re going to have to excuse the overused clichés. The good news is that this movie did not fall for the ridiculously stupid one-liners that we see in all of the Schwarzenegger movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger is somehow able to pull off these one-liners almost nobody else can. Denzel Washington has one of those lines and it works fabulously.

Then there is the cliché in which the bad guys are moving in to capture or kill our hero. They’re coming closer and closer. The suspense is growing bigger and bigger. Suddenly, we find out that our hero is not exactly where we thought he was. I gave the director a pass in spite of using this plot element not once but twice in the movie.

Finally, in all of these movies, you have a problem with the bad guys. How real do you want the bad guys to be? Maybe they should be so bad that they’re over the top and bigger than life? Or they could be just a little bit bad and become more realistic. I don’t know what the right answer is. The bad guys in this movie are basically Russian mobsters. This breaks from the recent trend in which everybody has to be an Islamic terrorist. So, I don’t have a problem these Russian mobsters. They are bad. They have no redeeming qualities.

This is a nice movie that came out in the fall because I don’t think it could’ve stood up to the summer blockbusters. All that being said, I think this movie is worth sitting down and enjoying. It’s clearly worth the price of admission. Sit back and enjoy.

Safe House – A Movie Review

There are very few actors who have been able to do what Denzel Washington has been able to do over the last two decades. For those of you who don’t know, Denzel Washington really got his first big break in the hit television series St. Elsewhere. His first movie role was in a very forgettable movie called Carbon Copy with George Segal. He got a huge role in the movie Glory in 1989. He then starred in several Spike Lee movies including Mo’ Better Blues and Malcolm X. His performance in Malcolm X was simply phenomenal. Then came a string of hits that was nearly unprecedented. There was The Pelican Brief, Philadelphia (with Tom Hanks), Crimson Tide, Courage Under Fire (one of my personal favorites), The Siege, Remember the Titans and Training Day (won an Oscar). Although he may have been in some bad movies (Heart Condition, The Mighty Quinn, Ricochet) I don’t think he’s given a bad performance.

Safe House is basically your CIA, superspy movie in which the hero has gone bad. You never really find out what caused our hero to turn from good to evil. Anyway, he is selling secrets or at least accused of selling secrets to the highest bidder. Ryan Reynolds plays a young CIA rookie named Matt Weston. He is deeply in love with a beautiful French girl. He is bored to tears and doing nothing at the CIA safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. Basically, the plot is somewhat formulaic. Denzel Washington is our aging superspy who has bought some secrets from an old MI6 spy. He ends up captured and placed in the safe house. He gets waterboarded. I’m guessing that the CIA still believes that waterboarding works or it is good for the plot. The safe house is breached. Plenty of shooting and mayhem. The rest of the movie leads us on an odyssey to try to find out who will go to “any means necessary” to kill Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington).

The movie is entertaining and fast-paced. It is filmed in the style much like the Bourne movies (plenty of jump cuts, somewhat grainy). The movie, in a way, is one big chase scene. The bad guys are chasing Frost on foot. The safe house is breached and Frost, along with Weston, are chased through the streets of Cape Town in an automobile they have commandeered. By the way, why doesn’t anyone ever steal a beat-up Honda Civic or a Ford Pinto from the early ’70s? I’m just askin’. (It is one of the best car chase scenes I have seen in recent memory. The best of all-time was in the 7 Ups or Bullitt.)

Now, not to give away everything, our superheroes at one time or another get shot and they look like they’re on the verge of death. Somehow, through the magic of Hollywood, with a little “rest,” they are good to go. A single gunshot wound to the abdomen or shoulder will not slow down the superspy. There are some significant problems with the plot, but the movie is fast-paced enough that you may not notice. Or, if you’re like me, you noticed but you find that you didn’t mind them that much. (BTW, how did Weston find Frost in that small township? Because Frost glanced at a road sign? Really? Why didn’t the CIA shut down his secure computer access since they thought that Weston was now working with Frost?)

Overall, Safe House is a very entertaining movie. Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington deliver excellent performances. Nora Arnezeder is a beautiful French actress who costars in the movie (she really doesn’t do much besides look sexy and French). Sam Sheppard does a fabulous job as the grizzled CIA director. I thought Daniel Espinosa did a great job directing. The editing was fabulous. Overall I give this movie a B+.

Crimson Tide is the Best Analogy

I found this on one of the Talking Point Memo sites. I hope that you find it as thoughtful as I did.

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From TPM Cafe:

In paying very close attention to the Senate hearings yesterday a life-imitating-art moment occured to me. It was brought home in the difference between the questions posed to Crocker and Petraeus by John McCain and the questions posed by Barack Obama. The recent identification of the Clinton campaign to Rocky Balboa had me thinking of pop-culture characters where our candidates were concerned, but after yesterday I realized we were thinking about the wrong characters and the wrong movie.

While it was swell for Hillary to think of herself as the fighter who never gives up, and we were all busy reminding each other that HIllary/Syllvester loses in the end, the real problem is that Hillary not only missed the more applicable story line – she isn’t even in the movie. The screenplay we will have playing out before us is not “Rocky”, it is “Crimson Tide”.

The characters are so clear. John McCain is the grizzly, staunch, experienced commander (Gene Hackman) who in light of his cold-war mentality takes having his finger on the button very seriously. Unfortunately he is more inclined to take that serious mission to its logical conclusion – at some point you have to push the button. Barack Obama, however, is the Harvard educated, bright, clear thinking, philosophical younger officer of conscience (Denzel Washington) who refuses to react out of fear. His education informs the kind of decisions he makes, and the seriousness with which he dispatches his responsibilities is always tempered with a global perspective. It is the idea that unintended consequences are not situations that you fall victim to, if you are willing to think it through. If you are willing to apply what you have learned. Continue reading Crimson Tide is the Best Analogy