Cake much more than a rom-com, Equalizer 3 more than standard action film

Cake a rich examination of friendship

Trish Sie's Sitting in Bars with Cake proves to be a surprisingly deceptive film. A movie that has the appearance of, and is being promoted as, a charming rom-com, it takes an abrupt turn during its second act to become a heartfelt examination of the endearing bond of friendship, one that is tested by the direst of circumstances. Adapting her own memoir, screenwriter Audrey Shulman gives us a story with tragic consequences without resorting to maudlin narrative devices or crass emotional manipulation.

On track to become a lawyer, Jane (Yara Shahidi) is far from focused on passing her upcoming LSAT. No, her real passion is baking, so much so that she sets regular study breaks so she can pop a cake in the oven. Far from manipulating Betty Crocker box mixes, these are concoctions of her own making, from-scratch masterpieces her roommate Corrine (Odessa A'zion) decides are being wasted on her and her boyfriend. In order to get her friend out of her shell, Corrine comes up with a plan. She proposes that Jane make a different cake each week, which they will take to a different bar, and offer up free pieces of her heavenly concoctions to strangers. Hopefully, the finding of a boyfriend will be the result. It's an experiment that isn't allowed to come to fruition, as Corrine is diagnosed with brain cancer before they reach the halfway point.

Sie and her cast deftly walk the narrative tightrope in front of them, humor found in the situation as Corrine goes through her treatment, Jane providing a sense of hope and perspective that keeps her sick friend focused and grounded. There's never a false note between Shahidi and A'zion, the love, frustration and honesty they share with one another rendered in such an intimate manner, there's almost a feeling of intrusion on the viewer's part.

Though Jane does eventually complete her goal of making 50 cakes and visiting 50 bars, Sie and Shulman don't belabor the cake metaphor. If you subscribe to the notion that life has a way of pushing you toward where you are supposed to be, that's the theme Sitting espouses. The path Jane ultimately follows is one she never would have taken. Despite the hand fate dealt her and Corrine, it provided her with a sense of direction and purpose that proved far more fulfilling than a life of corporate law. And while the cost of this faint silver lining was too high, the strength Jane gained from it can't help but prove as an inspiration to others. Streaming on Amazon Prime.

A character study emerges in Equalizer 3

A well-made popcorn movie as well as a prime example of a star vehicle, Antoine Fuqua's The Equalizer 3 manages to be much more than simply a by-the-numbers action movie. Robert McCall (Washington), surely one of the most vindictive of Robin Hood characters, finds himself stranded in a small Italian village after having been wounded trying to right one of the many wrongs that come his way. Wounded, he's found by a kindly police officer who takes him to a nearby village where the local physician saves his life and gets him on the mend.

During his recovery, McCall gets to know the locals and comes to love this out-of-the-way oceanside town, the villagers themselves eventually taking him in as one of their own. However, a gang of mobsters has other plans, as they are intent on running key property owners out so they might purchase their homes and eventually transform this place into a casino-based resort. Their methods are heavy-handed to say the least (pushing an elderly man out of a third-story window while in his wheelchair is far from subtle), all of which gets McCall's attention.

Screenwriter Richard Wenk, who penned the previous two installments in the franchise, seems to be more interested in doing a character study. A great many scenes are devoted to McCall recovering, exploring his new home and getting to know the people who live there. It's obvious he's taking stock of his life and the impact of his actions.

That's not to say there's no action. There is, but it all emerges organically from the situation at hand. Nothing feels extraneous, and most of these sequences are modest and believably executed. Unlike the previous McCall adventures, Fuqua adopts a more stable style in filming these moments. Rapid editing and unnecessary camera moves are gone, the focus instead on presenting our hero's special set of skills in a way the viewer can actually see and appreciate what's taking place.

Of course, the movie is not without its flaws. There are moments in which the violence is too graphic and there are certainly no surprises where the story is concerned. Still, it's good to see Washington in his element and if nothing else, Equalizer 3 pays fan service with style and a bit of grace. At 68, he's still got it, and there's some satisfaction in seeing him at play. In theaters.

About The Author

Chuck Koplinski

Writing for Illinois Times since 1998, Chuck Koplinski is a member of the Critic's Choice Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association and a contributor to Rotten Tomatoes. He appears on WCIA-TV twice a week to review current releases and, no matter what anyone says, thinks Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy...

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