Film Review: THE EQUALIZER 2 (USA 2018) ***

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The Equalizer 2 Poster
Robert McCall serves an unflinching justice for the exploited and oppressed, but how far will he go when that is someone he loves?

Director:

Antoine Fuqua

Writers:

Richard WenkMichael Sloan (television series) |1 more credit »

 

Watch the TV series, the first film adaptation and then the sequel!  Denzel Washington returns as what has been touted as his first sequel, reprising the role as vigilant fighter for the people.

The lean and lazy plot involves EQUALIZER 2, Robert McCall (Washington) learning that one of his longtime friends, Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo, the best thing about the movie – watch her fight), has been murdered.  McCall decides to return to his old ways and seek out, find and punish the perpetrators.  In the mean time, he helps several Bostonians including a young black man who has the gift of painting, Miles (Ashton Sanders, from MOONLIGHT) and Fatimah (Sakina Jaffrey).  In the midst of all this, he pines over the loss of his wife.  He is still friends with his ex-partner, Dave York (Pedro Pascal), his pal and former partner in the CIA who turns out to be a and guy, quite early in the film.  Dave has a family and children, which the story totally neglects towards the end of the film.

Washington puts in his 2-cents worth as McCall even going over emotional in trying to lead Miles to turn over a brew leaf.  Veteran actor Bill Pullman is largely underused as Susan’s husband, targeted to be killed being a ‘loose end’.

The film has a few interesting points like the first appearance of Washington at the start of the film on a train in Turkey.   When the camera first offers the audience a glimpse of him, he is wearing an orange beard with a white cap and glasses looking like devout Muslim.  The scene is obviously milked for laughs. It is very funny, though I found self the only one in the theatre breaking into laughter.  Director Fuqua also inserts a few suspenseful scenes that deserves mention, like the one in which Miles is hiding in a panic room where there is a two-way glass separating the killer and Miles.

Impressive too, is the storm cinematography.  The film’s climax coinciding with a hurricane arriving in Boston by the sea where the fighters engage in the fight out in the open amidst strong winds and gushing sea water makes a welcome change.  This climax does remind one of the blowing tumbleweeds in the ending shoot out in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, Fuqua’s last action movie.  Cinematography is by Oliver Wood ( who normally does work of this kind in action movies like the BOURNE series and DIE HARD, who first gained attention with his work using natural light to light up the 1969 cult movie THE HONEYMOON KILLERS).  One could argue that a hurricane in the climax might be distracting to the action, but one must give director Fuqua credit for trying something different.

There was a clash of times for the promo screening for EQUALIZER 2 and MAMMA MIA2.  I had picked EQUALIZER 2 as I hated MAMMA MIA one, especially having to watch Meryl Street jumping up and down the bed like an annoying teenager, not to mention hearing Pierce Brosnan sing.  The latter film has so far gotten positive reviews compared to EQUALIZER 2, likely for the reason of expectations.  One expect better and different from EQUALIZER 2 director of turning point films like TRAINING DAY.  EQUALIZER 2 is not that bad.  It is what one would expect from the action director – a generally slower moving actioner, with over quick fight edit sequences and lots of blood and gore.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyNJ3UrGk_I

 

 

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ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ. (USA 2017) ***

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Trailer

Denzel Washington stars as Roman Israel, a driven, idealistic defense attorney who, through a tumultuous series of events, finds himself in a crisis that leads to extreme action.

Director:

Dan Gilroy

Writer:

Dan Gilroy

 

Writer/director Dan Gilroy’s ROMAN J. ISRAEL is a film that tries very hard to be perfect, just as its subject, ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ (Denzel Washington) tries to be.  But perfection is a state that is almost impossible to achieve with regards to the film and its subject, and this point comes clear at the end of the film.  Which is a shame considering writer/director Gilroy’s noble intentions.

The film begins with a document in the making, with a plaintiff and defendant named the same person Roman J. Israel, Esq.  The film flashbacks three years earlier to explain how this state of affairs comes to be.

Gilroy introduces his man, Israel as a noble man, but one that is not respected by many as this is a man not of the world, but of humbler means but with proud aspirations.  He works in a small law firm with his partner taking on small cases that matter in terms of human rights and fairness.  The partner does all the court appearances while Israel all the ground work.  When his partner, the firm’s front man, has a heart attack, Israel suddenly takes on that role.  He finds out some unsettling things about what the crusading law firm has done that run afoul of his values of helping the poor and dispossessed, and he finds himself in an existential crisis that leads to extreme action.  

Into the his world arrives two people that make a difference.  One is Maya (Carmen Ejogo) who looks up to him and who he eventually falls in love with.  The other is the head of a well established and successful law firm, Arthur (Colin Farrell) whom his partner taught and inspired in law school.  Arthur takes Israel in, hoping to find his conscience that he has almost lost in the world of business and law.

What stands out in this incredible story is Roman’s downfall.   Like any other man, he is tempted by the good life.  Roman takes a bite of the apple in the garden of Eden.  The apple arrives in the reward money Roman quietly takes from one of his cases.  And he is found out.

A lot of the film rests on Oscar Winner Denzel Washington’s performance.  Roman is the main subject who is in almost every scene.  Roman not only undergoes a character change once but twice from good to bad and to good again.  The character also undergoes a rites-of-passage where he learns about life itself.  But the surprise and prized performance comes from Colin Farrell.  Farrell douses his unkempt and portly appearance he donned in THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER and THE LOBSTER to reveal a sexy business executive, a Mr. Perfect looking sharp and sexy in his  perfectly tailored suits and groomed hair.   He finally shows his transition from action actor to star commanding the screen presence in this film so magnificently.

One wishes ROMAN the film would have come out more powerful.  The main problem is the film aiming too high.  A classic movie arrives with minor flaws, some dull parts and surprises just as what life dishes out.  Gilroy’s ROMAN J. ISRAEL, entertaining though it may be, is just too meticulously planned.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CItEtnp3nPY

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Film Review: FENCES (USA 2016) ****

fences_movie_poster.jpgDirected by Denzel Washington

Writers: August Wilson (screenplay), August Wilson (play)

Stars: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson

Review by Gilbert Seah

FENCES is the film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize source material by August Wilson, who passed on in 2005. His only demand for consent of his play being filmed was that it be directed by an African American. So, when Denzel Washington came on board, Wilson could not be too pleased in his grave.

FENCES has been produced twice on Broadway with James Earl Jones in the title role in the first production and Washington in the title role in the second. Both won Tonys for their performances. Washington does justice in his directorial debut, with Viola Davis, playing his long-suffering wife of 18 years. Davis also won a Tony for her performance in the second production on Broadway, and she just shines in her role in the film. The 2016 Best Supporting Actress Oscar is practically hers.

As the film opens, Troy (Washington) is working his garbage collection job with his buddy Bono (Stephen Henderson). The camera is proud to span the streets of the city filled with the vintage cars of the 50’s period when the story is set. There is not only two or three cars but a dozen or more – to show that director Washington spares no expense to take his film out into the open. There are as many sets as there are story set-ups. But the film still feels stagey – not for any fault of Washington but for the well written dialogue that come out of the actors’ mouths as written by August Wilson.

The film looks stagey. This is expected as the film is based on a play. The same can be said for all Neil Simon film adapted plays (THE ODD COUPLE, MURDER BY DEATH, THE CHEAP DETECTIVE) or for Norman Jewison’s adapted play films like A SOLDIER’S STORY and AGNES OF GOD. At least film audiences get a chance to see a good play – when adapted to the screen. And FENCES is more than a proficiently adapted play on film with the play’s two stars reprising their roles – and performing their best as well.

As an African American film, FENCES is more positive compared to the other recent ones like MOONLIGHT, THE BIRTH OF A NATION and LOVING. The main character, Troy a black worker believes in the working class system. In fact when he complains that he should be given the position of driver of a trash truck as only whites have been given that opportunity, the complaint gives him the promotion. But Troy is his own worst enemy. He enforces the system he believes in but not for his two sons, For them, hard work achieves results and nothing else. When his younger son is offered the chance of a football scholarship, he resents and prevents his son the opportunity. But it is when he cheats on his wife Rose (Viola Davis) that all hell breaks loose. Sample of confrontation scene as shown in the trailer: Troy: It’s not easy for me to admit that I’ve been standing in the same place for eighteen years! Rose: Well, I’ve been standing with you! I gave eighteen years of my life to stand in the same spot as you! This marks the film’s best segment – well worth the price of the admission ticket.

The film, a bit dated, shows the tragedy of the black working class, but it can be apply to white working class folk as well. FENCES has many good reasons to be seen – Viola and Washington’s Oscar winning performances, the convincing period setting, but most of all August Wilson’s brilliant written words performed on screen. It is seldom that a hardworking American hero with good heart is laid bare faults and all – due to the fact that no human being can be perfect. The film opens Christmas Day.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2m6Jvp0bUw

 

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