The Equalizer

Standard

This Catch Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release: 2014
Rating: R
Currently Streaming on Netflix? No—available OnDemand and on BluRay and DVD

As you can tell from my Catch Ups, I love a good action movie but this one wasn’t my call—my husband read about it under new DVD releases and wanted to see it. Since 95 percent of the time I pick our movies, I said sure, let’s watch it. I knew nothing about the movie except what my husband told me, “Looks like an action movie and it has Denzel Washington.” Now Washington has owned a little corner of my heart ever since his performance in Glory so it is never a challenge for me to watch a movie that he’s in. I’m not sure how this happened but I believe Washington is now *60* years old. So this character—who is supposed to be semi-retired and working at a Home Depot-like store warehouse—is a good fit for the aging gracefully Washington.

I posted on Facebook that I was watching this movie and my sister Terese commented, “Didn’t this come from the old TV show?” so I went over to IMDB to check and sure enough, it is loosely based on The Equalizer TV series that ran from 1985 to 1989. I don’t believe I ever saw an episode of it—I was a senior in high school and then in college when it was on and those were busy years. But I do know my sister enjoyed it (hence the comment).

In the opening sequences of the film we see that Robert McCall (Washington) has a routine, segmented life. He enjoys the people he works with and is helping one young man lose weight and study to pass his security guard test. McCall goofs around with the younger Home Depot(like) workers, telling them when they ask about his past that he was a former Pip, forcing his younger coworkers to google Gladys Knight and the Pips to see whether he is kidding or not. McCall eats alone in his apartment each night and washes his single plate, glass, knife and fork afterward. But he cannot sleep so he takes whatever classic novel he is currently reading to a diner that is open all night, has a cup of tea and reads his book. It is here at the diner that he meets Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), a prostitute who is wholly owned by the Russian mafia. (Have you noticed that the Russian mafia is super big in the villain scene right now in television and movies?) Teri wants to be a singer, and Washington feels very paternal towards her and seems non-judgmental of her line of work–until she is beaten almost to death by her bosses.

Seeing McCall decide whether or not to get involved is one of the great pleasures of the movie and as things escalate, he goes from trying to get Teri free from her pimps to becoming so full of rage that he decides to topple the entire east coast operations of the Russian Mafia. McCall has a formidable opponent in Teddy (Marton Csokas—Celeborn from LOTR, for the LOTR nerds, me *cough cough* me) who is the trouble shooter for the mafia. Teddy is the guy they call when things in the mafia are going to shit. Teddy soon finds out McCall’s weakness—McCall has nothing to lose BUT the people he cares about at the not-Home Depot and his diner-friend Teri.

Things progress in a fairly typical action movie fashion, but since this is an Anthony Fuqua movie the acting is good, the explosions stylized and viewers actually care about the characters. My only complaint is not really a complaint about the movie but about the genre—wouldn’t we just love to see (just once) a man or woman without special ops training get the best of the bad guys? Maybe Melissa McCarthy’s The Spy will deliver?

The ending of The Equalizer definitely left room for a sequel, and with a worldwide gross of over $192 million, and a budget of a “mere” $55 million; we may well be eating popcorn to The Equalizer Returns before long.

Wild

Standard

Wild
This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene.
Year of Release: 2014.
Rating: R for sex, drug use, and a whole lotta “fucks” as the harsh wilderness teaches Reese a thing or two.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: No, but it’s in theatres!
Spoilers: Very mild. Cheryl hikes and stuff happens.

I’m pretty sure this is the first theatrical release review that I’ve written on this blog. Welcome to awards season, y’all.

If your Nerve deny you, go above your nerve. The quote featured in the beginning of the trailer is from Emily Dickenson, and even though my feelings on this poet are less than pleasant (a fellow English major I knew in college used to wear a shirt emblazoned with “Hey Emily Dickenson – the vacuum wants it suck back!”), it’s great advice for the new year. Reese Witherspoon is rightfully earning all sorts of buzz for her role as Cheryl Strayed, who wrote the memoir on which the film is based. In 1995, Strayed hiked over a thousand miles of the Pacific Coast Trail in order to come to terms with her mother’s death and a menagerie of subsequent bad choices, all of which drive the film into unsettling places.

In the first few scenes – after a flash-forward of our protagonist furiously hurling her hiking boots down a mountain – Cheryl is your typical 26-year-old novice hiker. She’s small, weak, and packed way too much shit. For a solid five minutes, she squirms around on her hotel room floor under the weight of her provisions like an overturned potato bug until finally dead-lifting to her feet. And then she is ready, or as ready as she’ll ever be.

At first, as Cheryl hikes, she is too focused on costly errors in judgment to be preoccupied with anything beyond her immediate needs. After realizing that she bought the wrong kind of fuel for her stove and quickly tiring of cold mush, she thumbs a ride back into town for a hot meal and supplies. It is this initial human contact on the trail that causes Cheryl to think about her own family, and here we start receiving more bits and pieces of her backstory.

This is when Laura Dern enters the picture as Cheryl’s mother. This is also when I decide that if Laura Dern does not receive a best supporting actress Oscar nod, there is no justice in the world. Because as accurately as Laura portrays Cheryl’s rendering of Bobbi in the book, she is somehow simultaneously everyone’s mother. Bobbi Grey is the financially strapped single woman who leaves her abusive husband in the middle of the night in order to protect her family, but her performance never feels cliché or trite. There’s a warmth and authenticity that anyone raised by a mother who tried to make the best of poverty or emotional/physical abuse in the home can identify with. “How much do I love you?” Bobbi asks her kids, smiling in the kitchen doorframe. “This much? This much?” She moves her hands farther and farther apart, but her love is always greater.

If this film doesn’t leave you wanting to hug your mother like those Sarah McLachlan commercials make you pine away for your dog or cat, there might be something wrong with you. Just saying.

There’s a scene in the first season of Orange is the New Black when Piper, during a “scared straight” stint, tells one of the delinquent teenagers that the truly scary part of prison is “coming face to face with who you really are.” “I’m scared that I’m not myself in here,” Piper says, “and I’m scared that I am.” In longer stretches than a stress-relieving run or a nice walk through the park, solitude can be a very ugly thing. My creative writing students discovered this on a wilderness trek assignment where they had to visit an outdoor place of personal significance and write a narrative chronicling their journey. Prepared for a peaceful stroll, all of them were surprised to have confronted some very dark places. Lost loves, abuse, deaths of family members and friends, and even a miscarriage surfaced. Like Cheryl, they all came back from the assignment changed. Also like Cheryl, they were finally able to let some things go.

Solitude causes time to operate in funny ways. While watching Wild, I felt as though past and present were moving parallel to one another, alternating between splices of hospital stays, heroin binges, and unraveling relationships and the very real threats that Cheryl cannot take her mind off of in the present. I’ve always loved a good survival narrative, but I appreciate the special attention Wild gives to female hikers and travelers, illuminating the very real dangers we face every day in traditionally “off limits” spaces. Through this navigation, Cheryl reaches the bridge to Washington State and finds herself with a power she never knew she had. The power to withstand the elements and the psychological strain and the potential rapists, yes, but also the power to forgive herself.