Tag Archives: Melissa Leo

The Equalizer 2 (2018) Blu-Ray Review By D.M. Anderson

Equalizer 2

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writers: Richard Wenk, Michael Sloan (based on the television series created by)
Stars: Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Ashton Sanders, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Sakina Jaffrey, Jonathan Scarfe, Orson Bean

Denzel The Elevator

I’m trying to recall the last Denzel Washington movie that actually sucked, a film so devoid of any entertainment value that not even his performance could save it*. Hell, he even made The Taking of Pelham 123 at least watchable. 

You’d be hard-pressed to name another current actor who almost always makes movies better just because he’s in them. Case-in-point, Washington’s understated, complex performance as Robert McCall is what elevated 2014’s The Equalizer from an action movie to a great action movie (with considerable help from director Antoine Fuqua). He so effectively made the character his own that we tended to forget it was originally played by Edward Woodward.

Considering its TV origins, it’s only fitting that The Equalizer is the one film Denzel has chosen to make a sequel to. Though the law of diminishing returns certainly applies here, The Equalizer 2 continues McCall’s ongoing mission of righting wrongs with violent retribution. The stakes, however, are more personal this time. One of the few friends who knows he’s still alive, former co-DIA operative Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), is murdered while investigating the alleged murder-suicide by another agent’s family. After further investigation – and revealing himself to another ex-colleague, Dave York (Pedro Pascal) – McCall learns everyone on his old team are targets, himself now included. 

That plot line is actually pretty pedestrian, with an antagonist who isn’t nearly as interesting – or malevolent – as Nicolai Itchenko from the first film. Much more engaging are the numerous subplots where McCall – when not side-gigging as a Lyft driver – provides justice for other people he happens to know. In fact, his relationship with wayward teen Miles (Ashton Sanders) becomes the emotional crux of the entire film (not-to-mention a convenient plot device during the final act). I suspect everyone involved with the film knew these vignettes were superior to the main plot because they comprise a significant portion of the running time. 

The Equalizer 2 is not as good as the first one, but Denzel Washington’s performance manages to yet-again elevate a film what would have otherwise been a routine shoot-’em-up. Director Antoine Fuqua keeps the action exciting and bloody, while never forgetting who makes these films worth seeing. 

*In this writer’s humble opinion, that movie would be 1990’s Heart Condition.

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All the Way (2016) Movie Review by Kevan McLaughlin

ALL THE WAY.png

Director: Jay Roach
Writers: Robert Schenkkan (teleplay),  Robert Schenkkan (play)
Stars: Bryan Cranston,  Anthony Mackie,  Melissa Leo

Playing lead roles in biopics of Robert Mazur and Dalton Trumbo in The Infiltrator and Trumbo, respectively, hasn’t stopped Bryan Cranston pursuing parts and crafting his considerable talents which require him to transform himself, in spirit, into real-life characters. In All the Way, Cranston encapsulates the 36th President of the United in the harshest and most honest way possible.

Lyndon B Johnson has been portrayed on-screen before, ranging from movies like Forrest Gump to Batman: The Movie, as well as the prestigious Animaniacs. Numerous actors have also played the part including Michael Gambon, Liev Schreiber and, in an upcoming movie, Woody Harrelson. But enough was thought of the Tony-award winning play of the same name, written by the same author (Robert Schenkkan) and enough was thought of Cranston’s portrayal to warrant recreating the effort in HBO’s TV movie.

In the immediate aftermath of JFK’s assassination, hastily sworn in Vice President LBJ takes control of the White House at a particularly tumultuous time. The United States is in the middle of a Cold War with the USSR, the country is still reeling from the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviets are winning in the space race, the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam is raging and the Civil Rights movement is gathering momentum, to which a sizable part of the country are deeply and violently opposed.
The film centres around LBJ’s attempt to push through meaningful civil rights legislation passed a barrage of stubbornness, ignorance and intolerance in Washington. The most notable barrier to a bill being passed is Senator Richard Russell (Langella) of Georgia who, among other Dixiecrats and Good Ol’ Boys, may abandon the party if it succeeds. Their citing of ‘Southern traditions’ are a thinly-veiled smokescreen of contempt for any significant change to the way Black voters are registered in the South.

It seems as though for the bill to come to fruition, LBJ may have to sacrifice the purity of its original intent to secure the votes needed, much to the chagrin of a certain Martin Luther King Jr (Anthony Mackie). MLK, desperately trying to appease a disenfranchised and oppressed people, is vehemently opposed to diluting the original content of the bill with several amendments.

Caught in the middle is LBJ. Trying to do what is right and losing out completely are what’s at stake. Heightened racial tensions and escalating violence towards African Americans for standing up for their beliefs are causing panic in the corridors of power. Further mayhem ensues when three civil rights activists are murdered in Mississippi, prompting the President to trick the Director of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, into investigating the crime.

There are a number of very interesting aspects investigated throughout All the Way which has never really been explored before on film. Firstly, this is not a fond (or even comfortable) look back at the President. We aren’t emotionally invested in the character. He’s brash, bullying and mostly unpleasant. But that’s kinda the point. Cinema is littered with affectionate portrayals of history’s greatest men and women. Here, we aren’t emotionally in the character’s character, but in his beliefs. And that’s only right. LBJ is not remembered with the affection history has for JFK, the admiration for Lincoln or the stoicism of FDR. Johnson, in his own words, is America’s “accidental President”.

Bryan Cranston is becoming something of a master of playing real-life characters. He excelled in both the Infiltrator and Trumbo, the latter of which saw him embodying the persona. And that’s what we’re getting here. Much like Michael Sheen’s turns as Kenneth Williams, Tony Blair, Brian Clough and David Frost, this isn’t a performance or an impression of a man. He becomes LBJ, not by imitating the accent or wearing the glasses, but by affecting his mannerisms and being as dismissive and blunt as the real man through his body language, not the memorised words from the script.
Martin Luther King Jr is often portrayed as a confident, statesmen-like character (and quite rightly), seldom wavering from his beliefs and always knowing the right path. Anthony Mackie’s performance here is something quite different. He shows us a vulnerable MLK. Here he’s unsure, conflicted and more than a little lost. It would be a tragic understatement to say that it was a brave choice, by both the actor and director, to pursue this path. Mackie brings us a realism that’s so often overlooked in real-life portrayals.

The film also does something rather unique. It connects the dots cinematically, if not historically. Mississippi Burning, Selma, JFK and Jackie are just a few of the films where we know the story of everything else about such a tumultuous time is US history. This is the story that isn’t often told. Maybe it was deemed less poignant than the senseless and hate-filled motives of the murder of three people who protested for a better world. And it might be fair that LBJ’s story be overshadowed by that of the events in Selma. However, this is the story that needed to be told. The bigotry at that time wasn’t confined to Mississippi or Alabama. It was also in Washington. It was in the beliefs held by Senators, Governors and Judges.
Why this film was made at this time may be of note to some who might see comparisons between then and now. That’s not for this reviewer to say.

Snowden (2016) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

 

SNOWDEN.pngDirector: Oliver Stone
Writers: Kieran Fitzgerald (screenplay), Oliver Stone (screenplay)
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo

“This isn’t about terrorism, terrorism is the excuse. This is about economic and social control” – Edward Snowden (2013)

Although this movie was released back in September 2016 I have only just got round to watching acclaimed Director Oliver Stone’s Snowden.

The basis of the movie is a special forces dropout and now CIA computer analyst Edward Snowden (Gordon-Levitt) leaking thousands of illegal and classified surveillance technique documents distributed to the press of the real life events that went down between 2004 and 2013.

Most of the story flits back and forth as Snowden relates his story to documentary filmmaker Laura Poitros (Melissa Leo) a journalist Glenn Greenwald played by Zachary Quinto and Guardian journalist Ewan MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson) in a hotel in Hong Kong in 2013. Snowden makes it clear to the 3 journalists that the CIA will come after him and accepts the consequences of espionage and warns Poitros,Greenwald and MacAskill they will be coming for them too.

It’s Flashback time – Snowden works on various assignments across the U.S, and learns that the Government is using means to intrude on the privacy of the American people and further afield. Snowden works his way up into the highest circles of the U.S. intelligence community with the force of electronics and surveillance under Corbin O’Brian played by the brilliant Rhys Ifans.

When his revelations are published in the British newspaper The Guardian, which Greenwald and MacAskill worked for. Snowden goes on the run and ends up at Moscow International Airport just a few days after his story hits the Internet and in exile, a fugitive from what passes for American justice in the 21st century.

From what I’ve read online, Oliver Stone was initially reluctant to Direct the Edward Snowden story in any way, shape, or form. But Kucherena (Snowden’s real-life attorney in Russia) and GlennGreenwald themselves convinced  Stone and he agreed to do it, with Fitzgerald assisting him in the writing of the screenplay, and the result is one of the great films of 2016.

I’ll be the first to admit I knew OF the Edward Snowden story but having looked further into his real life you can see the striking resemblance with Gordon-Levitt. We get to see the real Snowden at the end of the film explaining why he did what he did and why coming back to America would  result in him not getting a fair trial.

The movie is a drama and I’m glad they kept this throughout and weren’t tempted to add action (which I was concerned about when Snowden went into hiding) I also have to commend the filmmakers for what looks like sticking to the facts and not “Hollywoodising” the story based on real events.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt did as good a job as any actor could and I was pleased with his performance and he is supported by a strong cast.