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The Equalizer

Happy 75th, GWTW!

October 2, 2014

The Equalizer (**) R

Let’s be clear, the short-lived television series from the late 1980s The Equalizer was not the kind of thing that was clamoring for a big-screen adaptation. The fact that the show has now served as the basis for a film may be further proof of Hollywood’s apparent bankruptcy of ideas. Or, should I say, a bankruptcy of ideas that will translate into potential film franchises and milk untold amounts of cash for the studio involved because we all know that’s what it’s all about these days in Hollywood; but, that’s another story. Still, The Equalizer is one of those films that seems like it’s practically begging for a sequel. Whether or not the Movie Gods will decree it, only time will tell.

The Equalizer is a great looking film and no one could ever accuse it of being anything but that. Its production values are top of the line for this type of thing and the direction by veteran Antoine Fuqua is competent.

Denzel Washington in The Equalizer

The film also sports a great performance by Denzel Washington. For the first half of its unspooling it even manages to pass itself off as a somewhat classy affair. And then the seams begin to show, leading to a final, protracted, thirty minute climax that left me just waiting and hoping the interminable thing would end. It’s funny how, both in film and in life, things can start out so well and turn out so badly. 

Robert McCall (Washington) is a man with a shady past alluded to later in the film. In its opening section however, McCall is a widower living in a practically vacant apartment, working at a mega hardware store and eating alone at the same diner every single night. The audience is first alerted that McCall may not be the simpleton we’re led to believe he is when he goes after Russian mobsters who brutally attacked a girl he knows from the diner .

Of course, you can’t kill a Russian mobster without facing some sort of retribution. McCall may not know this but those of us, like myself, who have had to sit through too many films like The Equalizer know what’s coming next. When the dead Russian’s comrades show up you know it won’t be long before McCall is tracked down and he’s forced to dole out even more of the ole ultraviolence, leading to a contrived climax of the worst order.

The last half hour of The Equalizer finally degenerates into the sort of B and C grade film that premium cable channels used to run in the wee hours of the morning, decades ago, which comes as a surprise since the filmmakers put forth such a valiant effort during the film’s early section. It’s sad when something starts out so well but decides to take the last train to Stupidsville. The Equalizer is that kind of film and as such is truly a mixed bag.
     
75th Anniversary of Gone With The Wind

By MIKE CIDONI LENNOX

AP Entertainment Writer

Los Angeles (AP) As its 75th anniversary approaches, ``Gone With the Wind’’ is again being celebrated as a timeless movie classic. But now, even the film’s distributor acknowledges the Civil War epic’s portrayal of slavery is dated and inaccurate.

``Gone With the Wind’’ will be screened this weekend in 650 theaters nationwide, broadcast Monday by Turner Classic Movies and reissued Tuesday in a lavish home-video box set, including a music box, an embroidered handkerchief and more than 8 hours of bonus features.

To produce something new for yet another ``GWTW’’ box set, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment brought in filmmaker and historian Gary Leva. ```There’s been a ton of stuff about the making of the film,’’’ Leva recalls the studio telling him. ```Can you give us a deeper look at how the movie portrays the Civil War?’’`

Leva responded with the 30-minute documentary ``Old South/New South,’’ which drew a surprisingly frank conclusion for a studio-commissioned commemorative project: One of the world’s all-time great films also has great shortcomings.

In the documentary, which is included in the box sets out Tuesday, historians discuss how the film has perpetuated mythology dubbed ``The Lost Cause,’’ which proposes Southern involvement in the Civil War was solely for noble reasons, including defense of states’ rights.

Gable & Leigh in GWTW

``But when you get right down to it, what state right are you talking about?’’ asks University of North Carolina history professor David Goldfield in the Leva film. ``You’re talking about the right of individuals to own slaves.’’

Based on Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 best-seller, ``Gone With the Wind’’ is fiction, about a spoiled Old South socialite, Scarlett O’Hara. But the real-life war that serves as her story’s backdrop looms too large in the film for many to overlook.
``(Slavery) is such a component of the movie, and the characters who you are rooting for are oblivious,’’ noted film critic and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

Actress Hattie McDaniel, who played Scarlett’s devoted nanny Mammy, a slave, became the first African-American actor to be nominated for and win an Academy Award.

Nevertheless, the film’s portrayal of black characters has been criticized ever since the world premiere in Atlanta on Dec. 13, 1939.

``In `Gone With the Wind,’ slavery is portrayed in the most benevolent terms,’’ Leva said. ``Characters like Mammy are looked at like family members. And there’s no hint at any sort of wrongdoing, the slave masters do nothing in the film that seems inappropriate.’’

At least the movie got one thing right: Tomorrow is, indeed, another day; Hollywood is finally offering a grittier, more honest view of slavery in films such as ``12 Years a Slave’’ and ``Django Unchained.’’

``Compare `Gone With the Wind’ and `Django’ — very different films about the same period of time, with a lot of the same imagery, dealt with in very different ways,’’ observed actress Kerry Washington.

The ``Scandal’’ star is one of the leads in 2012’s ``Django,’’ Quentin Tarantino’s violent pre-Civil War saga, which includes such scenes as an owner forcing his slaves into gruesome death matches.

Washington said the final scene in ``Django,’’ a plantation in flames, is a direct reference to ``Gone With the Wind.’’ But she added ``GWTW’’ ``has a really important place in the history of filmmaking, and in the history of African-Americans at the Oscars, in the history of messaging and how we portray history. And all of that is worth talking about.’’

Leva, a Texan who said he considers himself a Southerner, acknowledged he’s conflicted over ``Gone With the Wind.’’

``For me, as a film, just looking at it cinematically, it is a masterpiece,’’ said Leva. ``But politically? ... If you were to do the film today, you wouldn’t make the film nearly as romantic. You’d make the film much grittier. And you could show, I think, in a balanced way, that some Southern slave owners were, perhaps, kind human beings, and some of them were brutal.’’

And that’s precisely what director Steve McQueen did with this year’s best picture Oscar-winner, ``12 Years a Slave.’’

``The fact that the 75th anniversary of `Gone With the Wind’ comes in the same year that `12 Years a Slave’ wins, it makes it, for a change, a little bit simple,’’ Mankiewicz said. ``Like, `Look what kind of progress we’ve made?’ And if somebody has, what, 61/2 hours to view both? That’s a pretty good way to get a little cross-section of studying America and studying Hollywood simultaneously.’’

So what is McQueen’s take on ``Gone With the Wind’’?

``I haven’t seen it,’’ he said.     

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

 

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