Man On Fire (2004)

Rated R Our content rating V-7; L-5; S/N-3

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:21

Denzel Washington is John Creasy, an ex-government operative (a.k.a. assassin) whose ap parent feelings of guilt send him to the bottle too often. He visits his best friend and former colleague Rayburn (Christopher Walken) in Mexico City and asks, “Do you think God will forgive us for what we’ve done?” Rayburn replies, “No,” “Me neither,” says Creasy. But he apparently has not given up all hope, for he possesses a Bible which is more than a room decoration.

Worried about his friend, Rayburn recommends him for a job protecting the young daughter of wealthy Samuel and Lisa Ramos (Marc Anthony and Radha Mitchell). Creasy reveals to the father that he drinks, but the man merely tells him not to tell anyone, and when Lisa meets him, she accepts him immediately, partly because he is a fellow American.

Pita (Dakota Fanning) also takes to Creasy, trying to make him a friend, but he rebuffs her at first. He soon warms to her, sensing that she too is lonely. Before we know it almost, he is coaching her at swimming and smiling once again. This part of the film is warm and beautifully filmed, though the ominous music at times leads us to expect the worst. (We have already been told that every hour in Mexico someone is kidnapped, and that 70% of the victims do not come out alive.) I

t’s too bad that the filmmakers couldn’t have just expanded upon this first half; Washington and Dakota are so good in their roles, their characters and their relationship seeming so real. The last half finds our hero reverting to his Rambo mode, his large canvass zip bag packed not only with automatic pistols and rifles, but also with grenades and a shoulder rocket launcher. After Pita is kidnapped and the police botch the ransom pick-up, Creasy, who has spent time in the hospital and at Rayburn’s recuperating from his wounds inflicted on him when he tried to prevent the kidnapping, sets forth on a brutal, vicious vendetta that makes Charles Bronson look like Gandhi. This revenge film is not for everyone, it unfortunately reflecting, and maybe feeding, our society’s obsession for vengeance.

For reflection/discussion

1) Twice Creasy asks if God will forgive him (and his friend): how is he like the ex-gunfighter in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven? How would you answer this?

2) How does his reply to Sister Anna, when she tells him “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” show that he knows his Bible? Knows it, and yet, how is he caught up in what the apostle Paul describes in Romans 7:15?

3) How does the effect Pita has on him show the power of goodness?

4) Despite what he does to those involved in Pita’s kidnapping, do you think there is a measure of redemption in the last major scene?

T

Barbershop 2: Back in Business

Rated PG-13 Our content rating V-1; L-3; S/N-3.

The rich rules over the poor,

and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

He who sows injustice will reap calamity,

and the rod of his fury will fail.

He who has a bountiful eye will be blessed,

for he shares his bread with the poor.

Proverbs 22:7-9

Although sequels seldom are as fresh as the original film, this one comes close, thanks to a delightful insult-filled argument between Cedric the Entertainer’s Eddie and Queen Latifah’s Gina. Like the original film, this one has plenty of humor laced with a couple of serious issues that lift it far beyond the usual Hollywood urban comedy.

The old crowd that hangs out at Chicago’s Southside barbershop are back— Ice Cube as Calvin, owner of the shop founded by his father 45 years earlier; Cedric the Entertainer as Eddie, the “holy fool” whose tongue is sharper than his shearers; Eve as the independent-minded Terri; Leonard Earl Howze as the Nigerian immigrant Dinka; Sean Patrick Thomas as Jimmy, college-educated, and now ex-barber as he interns on the staff of Alderman Brown; Troy Garity as Isaac, the white barber now fully accepted by the community; Michael Ealy as Ricky, the ex-con championed by Calvin when the local cops accused him of stealing an ATM machine. Newcomers are Kenan Thompson as Kenard, Calvin’s cousin, who has to earn the trust of clients because he is the newest barber, and the already mentioned Queen Latifah as Gina, the hair stylist working at the beauty shop right next door to the Barbershop.

The stakes for Calvin are higher this time around. In the first film Calvin almost lost his father’s barbershop because he did not realize what a treasure it is. This time he might lose not only his shop, but also the whole neighborhood. Urban redevelopment is coming to 79 th Street, heralded by large signs announcing the opening of Nappy Cutz, an upscale, state of the art barbershop right across the street. Part of a national chain, it will be the vanguard of a series of coffee bars, video stores and specialty shops that will drive out the “mom and pop” stores like Calvin’s.

The rich corporation behind the redevelopment still must win the support of City Council, but with generous payoffs, this seems a foregone conclusionunless Calvin can do something about matters. Jimmy’s work with the Alderman will prove important to the neighborhood, leading him to wrestle with a difficult decision.

Along with Calvin, Eddie remains at the center of the heart and soul of the community that makes Calvin’s Barbershop so rich and supportive of its members. This time we see through his eyes the terrible day in 1968 when the community went berserk in reaction to the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., and how it alone escaped the destruction that devastated the community. Eddie’s whole future could have gone in a different direction had it not been for Calvin’s father. Thus he and the gang are anxious when Calvin decides that he should attend the City Council meeting and speak his mind.

Calvin’s moment in the limelight will recall Jimmy Stewart’s in another film dealing with the little guy bucking the Establishment, Mr. Smith Goes to Washingtonand like Mr. Smith, Calvin will learn both a hard lesson of politics (and money) and the importance of perseverance. In his decision to do so we see that Calvin is the kind of person with “a bountiful eye” whom Koholeth declared will be “blessed.”

For reflection/discussion:

1) How has Calvin grown in character since the first film? More like his father now? How has he become an agent of grace?

2) What role does Eddie continue? How is that of the Holy Fool important for any society? What has shaped his conscience and consciousness in the past? How was this too a matter of grace?

3) What similar changes have you faced in your neighborhood? What are the good and the bad aspects of such changes? What does the film show, even if simplistically, about the power of money and political clout in changein other words, who usually benefits from change? What does the film show about the collective power of the people in dealing with change?

4) How has your church been involved in dealing with neighborhood or area evelopments? With the people hurt by change?