Genre: Action/ War Drama
Starring: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LeBeouf
Directed and written by: David Ayer (End of Watch)
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
As Good As, or Better Than, Saving Private Ryan.
To get a feel for the movie Fury, think of it as Saving Private Ryan in a tank. The similarities include: grisly war violence, a few Bible quoting exchanges, a band of brothers, and a mission. These fellows, however, are a lot more war weary than the SPR crowd. They’ve been together in Africa, Italy, France, Belgium and now Germany and, despite their very different backgrounds and personalities; they fight together as a well-oiled war machine. The tank leader, Sergeant Don Collier (Brad Pitt), or “Wardaddy” as his men call him, is a grim-faced, no-nonsense kind of guy. He tells Norman (Logan Lerman from the Percy Jackson movies) a raw recruit to his unit who has not seen any action, “Idealism is peaceful: History is violent.” He then feels he must orient this young man quickly to war’s realities by assigning him to clean up the remains of the man he’s replacing splattered in their tank, and then force him to shoot a captured German soldier in the back.
Although the allies are on the fast track to Berlin and certain victory, Wardaddy knows many people will still die and he takes no pity on the boys in Nazi uniforms who ambush their convoy, nor the German officer responsible for hanging children along their path for not joining the resistance for the motherland.
But, Wardaddy does show some vestiges of compassion, even though his morals are somewhat selective, when he finds two women in an upstairs apartment in a German village. He takes Norman with him and again tries to mentor him, but this time in a non-combatant area when he commands him to take the young woman into the other room (only kissing shown) while he shaves and instructs the girl’s Aunt to rustle up some grub (he speaks German fluently). He justifies his actions to the older woman by saying, “They’re young and alive.”
The sergeant reveals his boundaries, however, when the rest of the unit arrives and a lustful member wants to follow suit with the young girl. After his strong stand against such action, it is an awkward (and somewhat humorous) moment around the table when he declares he will eat his breakfast in peace without any disruptions.
One of the more exciting battle scenes is when four U.S. Sherman tanks face a German Panzer, a vastly superior war machine. The blasts from these rolling metal monsters reveal the enormous power these lethal weapons employed by blowing off turrets like plastic lids and obliterating trees like they were matchsticks.
The climax is a classic war story ending. Moving along past a country farmhouse, they hit a landmine that renders their tank unmovable. Before they can fix it, however, their scout informs them of a brigade of two hundred German SS soldiers coming their way. The men want to leave but Wardaddy says, “Well, I’ve never run before and I don’t intend to run now. If you want to go, you can. I’m staying.”
It’s definitely a movie that shows you the horrors of war, the grit and toughness of the men who fought it, and the ethical questions that inevitably arise in the thick of it.
If you like war movies, don't miss it!
*Some possible objections to the film would be some graphic war violence, salty language, and a few crude jokes.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matt. 24:6).
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016) R (True Story)
Starring: John Krasinski, James Dale, David Denman, Pablo Schreiber
Director: Michael Bay
Writers: Chuck Hogan (Screenplay) Mitchell Zuckoff (book)
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Heroic Courage in the face of governmental ineptitude
This is an action-packed and fast-paced movie (despite its 144 minutes), about what really happened in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012, based on the accounts of the unsung heroes who survived it. The film begins with the former Navy Seal, Jack Silva (fictitious name) played by John Krasinski, arriving at the city to work as a private military contractor (or hired ex-military bodyguard) to protect CIA agents at a compound--just minutes away from where the U.S. Ambassador, Christopher Stevens, is staying. Silva is picked up at the airport by his friend, Tyrone (Rone) Woods, the leader of their team, and they barely get through an armed blockade alive on their way back to the base.
Despite warnings of possible attacks at the American locations on the anniversary of 9/11, Stevens has little protection against the organized offensive of militants who come storming into his enclave, especially as his Libyan guards flee at the first sign of conflict. His personal security man, therefore, is left with only one alternative which is to quickly get him to the "safe room" in the house which has strong metal gates encasing it. This does not stop the insurgents, however, from flushing them out by starting a fire, which forces them out into the billowing smoke to make a run for it. Shockingly, no precautions were put in place by the government in the event this would happen. No war planes to fly overhead to ensure safety by cutting off well-armed advancing jihadists. No detailed logistics worked out to send in special units at a moment's notice.
Rone and his men hear the gunshots and see the fire from their compound and gear up for action. The CIA director, however, tells them to "stand down." Finally, realizing the gravity of the situation and the imminent danger to Stevens and his men, Rone finally leaves with his team without official permission. What they find at the ambassador's lodging is utter chaos with scores of Muslim radicals shooting their weapons and fire and smoke prohibiting their entrance into many parts of the house. They find the security guard but he unfortunately lost track of Stevens in the confusion. What makes their job more difficult is discerning who is a "friendly" and who is an enemy. A Libyan interpreter, however, shows great courage and loyalty and is ashamed at the barbaric conduct of his countrymen.
The rest of the movie focuses on the six military contractors defending the CIA compound from the relentless waves of jihadists who are seeking to annihilate them. Personally, I was so drawn into the story I did not notice all the foul language (one Christian website cited 75 offensive words). In terms of spiritual content, there was not much. One global response staff member, though, declared: "It's amazing that I am not scared at all. I just feel if I am doing the right thing God will protect me." Another man prays for a dead comrad and for the man's family. Another military contractor quotes Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth: "All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you."
*Be aware that there is a lot of strong language and graphic violence. No nudity or sex scenes, but one spot where a man shows his tablet to his team members that has a video of rabbits copulating.
**This film reminds me how we, as a nation, need to see evil clearly, not pretend it does not exist, and prepare carefully should it erupt. Case in point, giving billions of dollars to Iran when their religious leaders are chanting "Death to America." I see this folly more akin to the story in the Bible where Samson is blind to the fact Delilah does not really care about him, but instead, just wants the money to entrap him.
"Rescue me, Lord, from evildoers; protect me from the violent, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day" (Psalm 140:1 & 2).
16 Blocks (2006) PG-13
Starring: Bruce Willis, Yaslin Bey, David Morse
Director: Richard Donner
Writer: Richard Wenk
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Availability: Amazon streaming
This is not your typical Bruce Willis "Die Hard" kind of movie. Here the action hero plays Jack Mosely, an alcoholic, senior detective with a limp who has seen better days. His superior at the police station gives him an assignment, which he is reluctant to perform--pick up a witness at the jail and bring him to the court house 16 blocks away. Piece of cake, right? Wrong. This witness, Eddie Bunker (Yaslin Bey), is going to testify against some of New York's finest, and some of Jack's co-workers might get arrested, so they decide to intercept Eddie and make sure he never testifies. Mosely sees his charge as your average, petty, black criminal who is not likely to change. Eddie, though, has a dream to start a bakery some day and make birthday cakes for children. He says, "Chuck Berry changed. He stole 300 tires once." Jack is skeptical, but cannot bring himself to let his old partner kill him. Instead, he shoots a fellow detective in the leg and escapes with Eddy on foot.
Now, however, the odds are infinitely higher that they will ever make it to the court on time because the entire police force is after them for shooting "one of their own." Fortunately, despite his physical limitations, Mosley still has a brain that functions well and they are able to evade capture on several occasions due to his quick thinking. Throughout the chase Eddie is constantly interpreting different things that happen as "signs" of either good or evil. At first he believes it is a bad sign that Mosley is his escort because he stops to buy liquor but later changes his opinion when Jack stops some assassins from killing him.
Although there is no overt references to God and Christianity, the themes of the film--taking responsibility for what we do, repenting of our wrongdoing and changing our behavior--is Bible 101, but it leaves out the most important part of the equation for change--faith in God through Jesus Christ. Yes, people without God can change. Most, however, need the indwelling presence of God first to have the power to do it.
I enjoyed this movie because of the interaction between Mosley and Bunker, both comic and profound, and how they both changed for the better at its conclusion.
*Be aware of several incidences of strong language.
"Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Jason Bourne (2016) PG-13
Starring: Matt Damon, Alicia Vikander, Tommy Lee Jones
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Mindless Mayhem with Grim-faced Matt Subduing the Usual Suspects
If the things that appeal to you about the Bourne series are: careening and crashing cars/trucks/motorcycles; long chase scenes; aerial shots of the world's cities; evil CIA directors; unsuspecting Bourne pursuers getting popped in the face; and a finale with our exhausted pal limping away from another car wreck and one-on-one martial arts victory...well this is for you.
If, however, you are someone longing for something new and a return to the original Bourne Identity formula that perfectly balanced A) witty dialogue (Bourne to Marie in Paris: "How can I forget you: You're the only person I know." B) real human interaction and C) action...you will be sorely disappointed.
The latest offering is a frantic rehashing of element C (on steroids) without the redeeming virtues of A and B.
*Some language and constant violence throughout.
Blood Father (2016) R
Starring: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, William H. Macy, Diego Luna
Director: Jean-Francois Richet
Writers: Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff
Distributor: Lionsgate Premiere
Since the success of Luc Besson's Taken series with Liam Neeson about a father utilizing his lethal skills to rescue his young daughter from the bad guys, there have been several attempts to repeat the winning formula. Unfortunately, for this crew, the movie did not have a wide release. In fact, I could not find it playing in any theaters in Central New York: I found it on the Amazon streaming service (though a little pricey at $6.99). Is this because the big boys are blocking Gibson's movie from theaters in the USA for his anti-semitic epithets while in a drunken stupor years ago? Not sure, but it looks suspicious.
Personally, I would like to see the actor/director get back on track again in both his personal life and his film career. To me, it is not a surprise that he would have a backlash of attacks, both spiritual and worldly, because of his huge success and global impact with The Passion.
Gibson may well identify with this film's hero, John Link, who has hit bottom but is moving up slowly. Link has been marginalized by society by the fact he is a Nam Vet and ex-con (Gibson was given the cold shoulder by Hollywood for his indiscetions). Link lives in a trailer park and squeaks out a living as a tatoo artist from his beat-up mobile home in the desert. He is divorced and has not seen his daughter, Lydia, in years (Gibson's wife divorced him and his younger lover left him as well). To make it worse, Lydia has been reported as missing. The missing poster hangs on his wall. One day, however, Lydia calls because she's being chased by some armed druggies and needs his help.
Like any good father, Link jumps into his vehicle, which barely runs, and drives a long distance to pick her up. Quickly, he learns that she is into drugs and could have riled some powerful, Mexican, drug lords (the infamous Sicario), which he is not thrilled about, given his probation status. Things get interesting as a scraggly group of them arrive at his doorstep demanding that he give them "tatoos." Link, of course, declines their bogus requests, which leads to violent assaults. Link and Lydia manage to escape unscathed this time but now they must run and hide. Link goes to an old Army boss to get his motorcycle back and it's on the road again, but this time with weapons and a "hog."
Unfortunately, this movie is filled with f-bombs, profanities, and several crude homosexual jokes. The positive elements of the movie include: Link takes his AA meetings and his sponsor, Kirby, seriously and has been sober from alcohol and drugs for two years. Link also risks his life to save his daughter and apologizes to her for not being there for her. At one point in a bar he feels tempted to drink but resists and calls his sponsor. There are also some witty exchanges between Lydia and Link and she finally owns up to her problems at the end.
Overall, it is a well-executed action film with a darker Mel, but his quest to save his daughter at any cost is admirable and some clever lines remind you of the actor in better times (and better films). I cannot really recommend it, however, because of the multitude of obscenities.
By his choice of upcoming films to direct (Hacksaw Ridge and a sequel to The Passion), it looks like Gibson is moving away from these darker films and focusing more on edifying stories, which I think is a step in the right direction.
"'Come now, let us settle the matter,' says the Lord, 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool'" (Isaiah 1:18).
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger
Director: Edward Zwick
Writers: Lee Child (book), Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
This action film follows the standard lines with a few different twists. In the initial scenes Reacher shows his disdain for the sex-slave industry by beating up some low level grunts and exposing a corrupt government official. He quips: "If it was me I'd kill you."
He then seeks to exonerate, Turner, his romantic interest, who replaced him as major of his former command and has been arrested for espionage.
Things get interesting along the way when, at first, Turner refuses to see Reacher because, according to a recent claim, Reacher is a deadbeat dad who has a 15-year-old daughter named Samantha and has never paid child support. This perplexes Reacher because he doesn't recall engendering a child. But, we quickly learn, he is not ruling out the possibility. Naturally, the baddest of bad guys (played convincingly by Patrick Heusinger) wants to find the kid to use as bait to catch Reacher.
Samantha, we discover, is a typical rebellious teenager who makes obvious blunders when it comes to staying hidden like using a stolen credit card to buy food, calling someone on her "compromised" cell phone, and slipping out at night without Turner's or Reacher's knowledge. There is a funny scene where the two adults argue about who is going to stay with her and who is going to go out to search for more evidence or witnesses to clear Turner's name.
It's nice to see Reacher manifest some paternal instincts and bond with Samantha as he notices her gift for art and encourages her and also gives his all to protect her at any cost. I found myself unusually touched by the last scene where Samantha asks: "Do you ever get lonely?" to which he honestly replies: "Yeah sometimes" and she gives him a cell phone to keep in touch.
*Things to be aware of: There is a fair amount of foul words (though I don't remember it coming from the main characters), a lot of head banging and shootings, a strangulation scene, and a confession by Reacher that he does sleep with women to whom he is not married (in comparison, Liam Neeson portrays a much more moral character in the Taken series). There are no sex scenes, however. Only a brief moment where both Cruise and Turner are cleaning up in a hotel. He is shirtless washing up in the bathroom while she is in a bra and military pants sitting on a bed.
"Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few" (1 Samuel 14: 6).
Erased (2012) R (for violence)
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Liana Liberato, Rick Alachiotis
Writer: Arash Amel
Director: Philip Stolzl
Distributor: (USA) The Weinstein Company
This is another father-who-is-a-CIA-agent-protecting-his-daughter film. Though I had not heard of this title previously, I saw it offered on Netflix and took a chance. I was not disappointed. In fact, I liked it better than Taken 2 and 3--the dialogue between father and daughter was better, the plot was more intricate, and the denouement much more satisfying.
The story line here focuses on a former CIA operative making a living as a security expert (Aaron Eckhart) and trying to build a relationship with his teenage daughter who’s come to live with him in Europe. A cute scene involves them having a discussion in the kitchen where he tells her where the coffee filters are kept and she helps him turn on the washing machine.
All this normalcy comes unraveled, however, when he discovers one day his company office has been mysteriously vacated without his knowledge, most of his co-workers now inhabit morgue coolers, and mean-spirited people are chasing them around Brussels, Belgium to cause them serious and permanent body damage. It cracks me up in these films how these bold assassins always go into public places like a hospital and just start blowing everyone away to get at their prey like they would not care if they were caught and held accountable for multiple murders, or about attracting the attention of the police, but you have to suspend belief a bit in this genre.
Slowly, his daughter begins to see him as something more lethal than an ordinary professional man, especially when he disposes of a variety of would-be assassins with guns, fists, and any other object within reach, and this frightens her. His challenge is to instill trust in her while at the same time putting the pieces together to solve the riddle as to who wants them exterminated and why.
One thing I appreciated about this film was the absence of multiple obscenities and the usual sex scene. Instead, I found a very suspenseful movie that keeps you riveted to the screen trying to figure out how it’s all going to end.
"The righteous will never be uprooted, but the wicked will not remain in the land" (Proverbs 10:30).
Tomb Raider 2018 (PG-13)
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walter Goggins, Kristin Scott Thomas
Writers: Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Diddons
Director: Roar Uthang
Distributor: Warner Bros.
This new version of Laura Croft (from the video game with the same name as the title) is a cross between Indiana Jones and Katniss Everdean from the Hunger Games. She loves adventure, trains as an ultimate fighter, and shoots a straight arrow. Laura also has a great relationship with her dad--that is until he was reported as missing and presumed dead. She eventually gains access into his private office, however, and finds clues to where he might be. It happens to be a remote island off the coast of Hong Kong, where, supposedly, the mythical Queen Himika, who has the power over life and death, is buried. Her father warns her in a video how dangerous it would be for the world if the queen's body is disturbed.
Although the fine-featured actress Alicia Vikander might not appear to be a good choice for this role, she obviously did some physical training in preparation and is convincing and fun to watch as she goes from one impossible situation to another. You see, the indomitable Laura does not shrink back from any obstacle in her way--whether it be escaping from a sinking ship on a raging sea, retrieving her backpack from punks who've stolen it, or taking on a group of mercenaries carrying automatic weapons with just a bow and arrows. In fact, the only complaining you hear from her is when she is inside an old plane, perched precariously above some deadly water falls, and it begins to fall apart. She doesn't swear or cry out to God. She simply mutters in classic understatement: "Oh really."
As veteran actor Liam Neeson found a new genre to star in with his Taken series, don't be surprised to see the talented Vikander in similar action films in the future--she's that good. It would be a great father/ teenage daughter date. There are no sex scenes of any kind; very limited off-color language; and there are several scenes showing Laura and her dad having a very close and caring relationship. The only thing I'd like to see in the sequels is Laura developing some good friends. She's pretty much alone in this one.
"With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall" (Psalm 18:29).
*Be aware that there is some foul language and violence.
The Commuter PG-13 (2018)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Elizabeth McGovern, Sam Neil, Patrick Wilson
Writers: Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi, Ryan Engle
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
If you saw the film Non-Stop, this is pretty much the same movie on a train. This time, however, our hero is Michael MacCauley, a regular kind of guy who gave up his job as a policeman ten years earlier for his family and now works as an insurance agent. The film begins with what looks like a routine day--Mike gets up for work, kisses his wife good morning, rouses his teenage kids for school, and takes his commuter train. Snatches of conversation are heard everywhere as he walks to his commuter train and boards. An older man tells him: "I have a prostate gland the size of your head."
Everything seems normal until his boss calls him into his office to say he's fired. Mike pleads with him: : "I only have a few years left until retirement and a kid going to a private college." He meets his old cop buddy "Murph" at a bar and spills his guts. Murph tells him to tell his wife the truth. He boards his train home and is approached by a mysterious woman who says: "What would you do if you were asked to do a little thing without knowing the consequences of your actions?" He eventually learns that he will receive $100,000 to put a tracking device in the backpack of someone named Prynne but he has to find this person on the train before the Cold Springs stop. At first, Mike is skeptical but he finds the first $25,000 in the rest room like she said. He engages. Later, the stakes become more stressful and a frantic search ensues.
Being familiar with Neeson's Taken series, Mike definitely needs some weapons from the former CIA agent's "skill set." It's hard watching Neeson taking some hard punches when you expect him to be invincible.
At one point Mike gives the middle finger to a financial investor who he hears say on a cell phone that he worked for Goldman Sachs: "That's from the middle class people of this country." Wall street joke, I guess. The man ignores him and says to the phone: "No, mom, that was nothing."
Moderately entertaining suspense film with a few funny lines, some foul language, and a train wreck. No spiritual content.
"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Timothy 6:10).
Equalizer 2 (2018) R
Starring: Denzel Washington, Melissa Leo, Bill Pullman, Pedro Pascal
Writers: Richard Wenk (screenplay) Michael Sloan (TV series)
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Distributor: Columbia Pictures Corporation
Robert McCall is your everyman on the one hand--he works as a friendly Lyft driver in his community--and, on the other hand--he is a ruthless, invincible avenger meting out justice as he sees fit. In his spare time, for example, he visits a holocaust survivor, steers a wayward youth on the right path, and takes an AA member back home when he has second thoughts about going out for a drink.
You better look out, however, if you cross McCall's path and you kidnap children, abuse women, or kill a close friend of his. For example, to show the depth of his wrath against the murderers of his friend, he says to them: "You are all going to die. I'm just disappointed I can only kill you once."
But don't misjudge the man. He does have a witty side. For example, when leaving a rattled young man, whose hand he has just broken, he says: "And you better give me a five-star rating." The humbled man does one better--he also gives him a $16.00 tip.
In a way, McCall executes justice the way a lot of us would like God to do it--immediately before the bad guys do their dirty work or, at least, promptly afterwards.
The theological problem with McCall's system of justice, however, is it overlooks the universal guilt of us all and the compassion of God toward evildoers. The Bible tells us in Romans 3:23: "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" and Romans 6:23 says: "the wages of sin is death." In other words, we all deserve death for our sin--even those of us who don't commit what we might see as the major sins like murder, rape, or worse.
This means that if God were to execute judgment immediately like in The Equalizer He would have to kill us all right after we sinned, which means Mr. McCall would be scrubbed out as well.
The compassion of God restrains His righteous anger because He is "not willing that any should perish but that all come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Peter 3:9). In other words, God knows that if He wipes out every sinner quickly they no longer have an opportunity for redemption through Jesus Christ--that person is lost for all eternity.
In fact, some of the worst sinners throughout history became God's greatest trophies of His grace--Moses, David, Samson, Rahab, Mary Magdeline, the Apostle Paul, John Newton, and Nicky Cruz.
It is important to mention, however, to those who will not repent...judgment is coming. Suffice it to say: It is infinitely better to bow the knee now before God while you're still alive than before the King of Kings after you're dead.
"When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers" (Prov. 21:15).
*Be aware there is a lot of strong language (f-bombs fly, especially at the end and graphic violence--but less than the first movie if that helps). No nudity or sex scenes.