Denzel Washington

REVIEW: The Great Debaters (2007)

At the Wiley College Texas in 1935 Professor Melvin Tolson (Denzel Washington) who inspired his students and with the school’s debate team, went on to challenge Harvard in the national championship.

The Great Debaters is one of those inspiring films that though the characters go through their trials ultimately there’s hope for a better tomorrow. It’s the brilliant yet politically radical Tolson that helps his students finds their voices and put together their arguments. He’s the leading force for this team but, through his guidance, each member of the debate team finds their own way.

Set against the backdrop of racial segregation, Jim Crow laws and prejudice, The Great Debaters show how a small group of young people were given confidence in their abilities and fight to make themselves heard. The fact this debate team not only beat every team from African American colleges, but also went on to go toe to toe with white-only colleges is commendable and how the characters grapple with that pressure is clear to see.

The debate team consists of Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams) Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Henry Lowe (Nate Parker) and James Farmer Jr. (Denzel Whitaker). All the young actors give great performances, but a special mention goes to Denzel Whitaker who plays a young man who at fourteen is at least five years younger than his fellow debaters and it’s through his eyes we see a lot of the film.

Forest Whitaker plays James’ father, a minister and teacher, and their relationship is sometimes fraught but it’s also one of respect. Farmer Sr. and Tolson have conflicting ideas about things like unionising and what they should teach their students, and it’s interesting to see how two educated and progressive men can have conflicting ideologies but still be open to a healthy debate on them.

The Great Debaters is the second film Denzel Washington directed and it proves him to be talented behind the camera as he allows emotional moments to linger and trusts his actor’s performances in the close ups of their faces. The scenes of the different debates leave you enthralled as you watch these young people argue their side with passion. There are a lot of great lines that come from the debates but one that sticks on is: “No, the time for justice, the time for freedom, and the time for equality is always, is always right now!”

The Great Debaters is based on a true story and it does follow a lot of the typical story beats one might have, but that makes it no less enjoyable or uplifting. It is full of great, rousing speeches from Denzel Washington and it never shies away from the harsh realities so many people faced in the 1930s. 4/5.

Thoughts on… My Most Watched Actors (2019 Edition)

Back in October 2017 I posted about which actors I’ve watched the most films from. Two years later, I thought it’d be fun to revisit that and see what might have changed. I get these stats from Letterboxd where I have a pro account. I love the stats Letterboxd can give you as it’s not just your yearly film-watching stats, but also there’s stats that take into account every film you’ve ever watched.

First thing I noticed that’s changed over the past two years is the amount of films I must’ve watched in general and it’s made getting a spot on my top 20 list quite competitive. In 2017 my most watched actor (Samuel L. Jackson) had 35 film to his name and the least watched actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rachel Weisz) each had 19 films to their name. That’s changed a lot in just over two years and now my most watched actor (still Samuel L. Jackson) has 43 films to his name, while my least watched actors (Rachel Weisz, Jim Broadbent and Maggie Smith) each have 24 to their name. I think this is partly down to how last year I watched 365 different films – don’t ask me how I did it, I’m not sure but I’m definitely not putting that kind of pressure on myself again – plus, you know two years going by means there’s a lot of time to watch films from a variety of actors.

I’m happy to see over the past couple of years that there’s more female actors making into my top twenty most watched actors list. Keira Knightley (whose films I’ve watched a lot of this year) and Maggie Smith have joined Rachel Weisz and Scarlett Johansson. Also got two more black actors here with Idris Elba (who has actually made my most watched actors list two out of the past three years I’ve had Letterboxd and he’s comfortably going to be on it again this year) and Denzel Washington.

It would obviously be nice if more women and people of couple made my top twenty most watched actors of all time but baby steps. I know for a fact there’s some actors like Anna Kendrick, Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson and Emma Thompson that are just missing out on a spot. Still, based on a quick scan of Letterboxd, at the moment it’s more likely that a white woman will get a spot on my most watched actors list than any other person. This is obviously down to my taste in films, and what films are available to me in the cinema or via Netflix of similar, but it reinforces the fact I still want to broaden my film watching horizons.

Though saying that, I do watch more films not in the English language and more independent films and more films made by women each year. I think the problem is that historically I didn’t have the statistics to look at (I got Letterboxd in 2016) so there was over 20 years of film watching where I watched what I wanted without any real thought about who was in it bar whether or not I liked the actors. And that’s fine because for most of those 20 years I was a child/teenager where I just watched what I liked and what was available without a care in the world.

I know making my film viewing more diverse will take time and that’s OK. I still watch what I want to watch, whether that’s because it’s got a certain actor in it I like, or the trailer looks good, or it’s a genre I like, without feeling pressured that I should be watching highbrow films that are from a certain niche area.

In short – watching diverse films with diverse talent is a good thing that I want to continue doing, but this revisit to these stats two years on shows me that making a big dent in this will take time. But I have my whole life to watch as many films as I like with many different people starring in them, so while I will probably continue to check in on these stats every couple of years to see how things stand, I won’t stress about it too much.

My final thought about looking at my top twenty most watched actors list today is; it does make me smile that in two years I’ve only watched one more Bruce Willis film since 2017 (I told you I wasn’t a fan of his) but he’s still got quite a comfortable spot there.

W is for Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington is a babe. He’s funny, charming, talented and good-looking. He’s another one of those actors I’ll watch films just because I know he’s in it – that’s how I watched Courage Under Fire (1996), a film that wouldn’t normally be high on my to-watch list.

I’ve not yet watched two of his biggest films American Gangster (2007) and Malcolm X (1992) but I do have the DVDs sitting on my shelves. They’re films I really want to watch but feel like I have to be in the mood to really concentrate and give them my full attention when I’m watching them, recently I just like easy-watch kind of films.

Still, I’ve seen a lot of Denzel Washington’s filmography. He’s brilliant in Training Day (2001), his performance won him an Oscar, making him the second black actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, I love the dramas he makes and stars in but I also love it when he stars in action films like The Equalizer (2014) and Safe House (2012). The films he made with Tony Scott directing were some of my favourite, especially Unstoppable (2010) which I talked about a few days ago in the A-Z Challenge.

Denzel Washington’s won two acting Oscars and been nominated for six other Oscars, he’s been nominated nine times at the Golden Globes and won three times, and he’s been nominated for and won so many different awards in different categories at different institutions it’s hard to count. I really do think Denzel Washington is one of the best actors in the business right now.

U is for Unstoppable (2010)

Unstoppable is one of my favourite films. It is a perfect example of a simple plot, done very well – and it’s based on a true story. The premise is, there’s a runaway train, it’s cargo is full of chemicals and people have to figure out how to stop it before it travels into and derails in a built up, residential area.

The two guys who are on the tracks and closest to the train are experienced driver Frank (Denzel Washington) and the rookie Will (Chris Pine) and they decide to go after the runaway train. They have brilliant chemistry and feel like two normal guys, who might have their problems but they’re still good guys.

The thing I love most about this film is Connie (Rosario Dawson). She works for the train company and she’s the only “suit” that talks sense, doesn’t care about profit margins and just cares about keeping people safe. She’s smart, capable and keeps her head in a crisis. She’s the one to trust Frank and Will and to keep them in the loop with what the police and everyone else are doing to try and stop the train. She’s one of my favourite characters in recent films – I hope to keep that cool if I’m ever presented with a crisis even half as huge as the one she has to deal with.

Unstoppable is one of those films where I get really excited and am almost bouncing in my seat as I watch even though I know what’s going to happen. It’s a great story about ordinary people trying to do the right thing, to help protect others even if it might not turn out so well for them. If you haven’t seen it, I definitely recommend it.

REIVEW: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

magnificent-seven-2016-posterWhen the tycoon Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) takes over a town and terrorises its people, seven men lead by bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) come together to take on his army and save the townspeople.

The Magnificent Seven is a lot of fun and a lot of that is thanks to the cast. The seven men have a lot of chemistry and each bring something different to the group. Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) is the joker and gambler of the group who enjoys annoying Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) a Mexican outlaw a lot. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and ex-soldier and Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) a knife fighter come as a pair, while Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) is a tracker and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) is a Comanche warrior. They are all very different people and it’s the moments where they are all sitting around a campfire or are in a saloon talking that are real highlights of the film. And while she is the only prominent female character in the film, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) is a force to be reckoned with as it’s she who goes out to find men to fight for her town and she has the respect of the men she employs.

The cinematography in The Magnificent Seven is gorgeous, there are often extreme wide shots of the town and the battles and they all look wonderful. The fights themselves are also well-shot and the action is very clear to follow and you have a good idea of where everyone is in relation to each other. There’s only a few shootouts in the movie but when they happen there is a good pay off and the one at the start of the second act has a good standoff between the good guys and the bad.

There are some clichés and tropes in The Magnificent Seven, but the characters and action are so well put together that it doesn’t really matter that much. Some characters do things that you can see coming a mile off but that’s mostly because the formula for The Magnificent Seven is a classic and even if you haven’t seen the 1960 original, you’ll know what will probably happen as the basics of the story has been seen in many different genres of films over the years.

The Magnificent Seven is a lot of fun. It has everything you want from a Western and the final battle even offers some surprises. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Equalizer

equalizer-bigThe Equalizer is loosely based on the 1980’s TV show of the same name, where Robert McCall (played by Denzel Washington in the film and Edward Woodward in the TV series) tries to live an ordinary life but when he sees an injustice he finds himself acting with often violent results.

In the film McCall works at a home supplies deport in Boston, he’s reserved but friendly and helpful towards his colleagues but he is also an insomniac who ends up in an all-night café every night reading fine literature and talking to Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz). McCall finds that Teri has been mistreated and goes out of his way to help her, and that’s when things get violent.

The Equalizer is very slow to start which is both a good thing and a bad thing. How slow it is to start is very noticeable, making things seem dragged out and boring but at the same time, seeing McCall have a normal life helps build the tension and making the violent action and fight scenes more surprising and affective. So the pacing of the film is a bit of a double-edged sword really.

Denzel Washington is amazing in the role of a sort of vengeful angel – he deftly shows how McCall is feeling with the slightest expression. Washington has done the vengeful-man-bent-on-destruction thing before in Man on Fire and his intensity is very watchable. Maton Csokas is the bad guy standing in Washington’s way and he makes a worthy adversary.

The Equalizer also looks great and the fight scenes are well filmed and edited so you can see what’s happening and there isn’t too many jump-cuts and shaky-cam. The finale is set to some amazing music which fitted the action and the tension perfectly – the music in question is Vengeance by Zack Hemsey and it really stuck with me after seeing the film.

The Equalizer is a tense, good-looking film that has great fight and action sequences and a fantastic lead 4/5.