‘Just Mercy’ One Month After It Came Out Review

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

There is a moment late in Just Mercy when death row inmate Walter McMillan’s (Jamie Foxx) conviction is suddenly overturned because the prosecuting representatives of Alabama suddenly decide to agree with the defense. It sounds pretty unbelievable, considering how the state has hitherto stubbornly refused to acknowledge the total lack of evidence against him, but apparently that’s how it actually went down. And that’s Just Mercy in a nutshell: agonizingly frustrating miscarriage of justice that keeps persisting, and then from out of nowhere sudden satisfaction in the form of a full exoneration. In simple terms, that makes this true life story successful, but in deeper terms, I would’ve liked it to explore what motivated that reversal a little more. That element is a big deal and quite unique compared to other stories of the wrongfully convicted. But while Just Mercy could have been a little more risk-taking, it’s still a net good to see the work of the Equal Justice Initiative on screen.

I give Just Mercy 3 Testimonies out of 5 Phony Deals.

Entertainment To-Do-List: Week of 4/5/19

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CREDIT: Alcatraz Films/Wild Bunch/Arte France Cinema/Pandora Produktion

Every week, I list all the upcoming (or recently released) movies, TV shows, albums, podcasts, etc. that I believe are worth checking out.

Movies
High Life (Limited Theatrically)
Shazam! (Theatrically Nationwide)
Unicorn Store (Streaming on Netflix) – Brie Larson’s directorial debut!

TV
Killing Eve Season 2 Premiere (April 7 on BBC America)
Fosse/Verdon Series Premiere (April 9 on FX) – I love to dance.

Movie Review: ‘Captain Marvel’ is a Blast of Low-Key Wonder

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CREDIT: Marvel Studios

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Annette Bening, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Clark Gregg

Directors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence That Tends to Cause Nosebleeds

Release Date: March 8, 2019

It’s been a while since I have felt consistently sustained excitement for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m a fan of superheroes, and Marvel in particular, but I’m a bigger film buff, and I often find myself in a weird liminal space where I want to have more unbridled emotions for these movies, but it is hard to feel that way about a series sticking to a formula that is so much about ticking off obligatory long-term checkpoints. Captain Marvel does not burst free of that formula, but it has enough of its own magic to make it the first MCU movie in quite some time in which I left the theater wanting to re-watch it. It could have just been the way it happened to hit me on one particular day, but I think it has also something to do with its vibe of ignoring all the noise and getting on with it mission.

The plot is a little too complicated to easily synopsize, which Disney and Marvel are surely happy about, as they do not want us spoiling any of their MCU flicks, particularly this one, as it is uniquely dependent on backstory reveals and memory retrieval. Suffice it to say then that Vers (Brie Larson) is an intergalactic warrior fighting for the race known as the Kree, but she is also plagued by visions of a past life as U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Carol Danvers. The Kree are stuck in a long-term struggle against the shapeshifting Skrulls, which leads Vers to Earth in 1995 in a race for a powerful energy source. This is a typical McGuffin-focused Marvel film, but this particular McGuffin is unusually resonant, touching on themes of refugees and the perils of deep psychological deception.

Captain Marvel is also your standard MCU movie insofar as it builds to a climax with an unengaging, undistinguished action set piece. But luckily, that is not the main attraction. Vers teams up with a pre-eye patch Nick Fury, resulting in a buddy flick that serves as Samuel L. Jackson’s biggest showcase thus far in this franchise. His and Larson’s dynamic is one of instant respect that still leaves plenty of room for clowning around as they save the universe. That feeling is matched by a strong sense overall of the film being aesthetically tuned in. I cannot think of any other superhero movie that features a steady stream of crickets chirping amidst characters talking outside.

Captain Marvel is not massively revolutionary. While it may be the first MCU movie fronted by a female hero, it is not about femininity the way that Black Panther is about blackness. But while it does not respond hard to the big questions, it gets so many of the little things right.

Captain Marvel is Recommended If You Like: Top Gun, Nineties Rock, Friendly and Intelligent Aliens Who Speak English or At Least Have Universal Translators

Grade: 4 out of 5 Supreme Intelligences

This Is a Movie Review: Free Fire

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This review was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor

Director: Ben Wheatley

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for Living Up to the Promise of Its Title

Release Date: April 21, 2017

Free Fire dresses up an illicit arms deal in fancy ’70s formalwear and then bloodies up the pretensions with unrelenting chaos. The trick to making all this pleasant – or at least attempting to do so – is an equally endless stream of witty rejoinders. This technique is strongest between the odd couple pairing of Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer. The former is all high-wire, unpredictable energy. The latter is all suave unflappability. Both are thoroughly confident in their own skins. I would be happy to watch these two volley back-and-forth all day. But I gotta ask, is it necessary that their team-up occur amidst such a destructive hail of bullets?

The obvious antecedent, when it comes to a crime gone amok leading to ultraviolence and goons yammering on, is Quentin Tarantino’s breakout Reservoir Dogs. The difference is that QT’s characters have an inherent point of view, whereas Free Fire co-writer/director Ben Wheatley’s crew mostly just screeches hysterically (not always literally, but it feels like it). There can be humor found in the panic that sets in when a dangerous situation goes pear-shaped, but Free Fire too often confuses nastiness with lunacy. I don’t oppose on-screen graphic violence as a rule, but there ought to be a good reason for it. In this case, it feels like an excuse for a movie that hates all of its characters to just pick them off one-by-one.

Getting back to the folks populating this film, there are several more hooligans besides Copley and Hammer, among them Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, and Sing Street’s Jack Reynor (who often strikes me as Ireland’s less schlubby answer to Seth Rogen). The fun of these players is primarily geographical. Their dispersal around the warehouse after the shots start firing creates a sort of constantly shifting maze. The narrative thrust is basically sorting out this puzzle. Who makes it out alive? Who cares! What matters is the physical space and the treachery between these dots of human beings. But that’s small change. Let’s cut to the chase and get to work on the Copley-Hammer follow-up.

Free Fire is Recommended If You Like: Pulling the Heads Off Bugs

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 V Necks

SNL Recap May 7, 2016: Brie Larson/Alicia Keys

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SNL: Alicia Keys, Brie Larson, Taran Killam (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in May 2016.

“SNL” has a tendency to book recently anointed Oscar winners and nominees as hosts. Last year, it was J.K. Simmons a few weeks before the ceremony, and Michael Keaton a couple months after. This season, it is Brie Larson’s turn, with the holiday serving as a tie-in to her award-winning role. It is a sound strategy, as that Academy recognition generally guarantees that these people can act. They do not necessarily have to be funny, so long as they fulfill their roles just as the writing asks them to. Brie proves herself perfectly capable, and the writing lives up to her level.

Church Chat – As Trump Judgment Day has finally come to pass, the cold opening for this episode would of course be political. But it is not the normal cable news parody. In a fit of inspiration, and a wink to the past, Dana Carvey drops by to revive his most prolific and iconic (solo) character. Church Lady’s tsk-tsking of the Donald makes perfect sense (she’s done it before), but her hectoring of Ted Cruz feels a little like kicking an ally while he’s down. Not that Enid Strict wouldn’t do that – it is just a slightly different mode for her. Anyway, it is nice to see an old favorite, but it is tricky for her to find some really good putdowns, as Trump is too cartoonish and Cruz is too pathetic. Not all is lost, though, as Trump’s mangling of Bible facts is chuckle-worthy (though standard issue) and Cruz’s resurrection as a demon – though it may not hit as hard as it might like – is a worthwhile experiment. B-

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Community, Please Have Brie Larson Back for Future Episodes

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Like many other Community fans, I was quite pleased with the last episode, “Herstory of Dance,” regarding Abed’s storyline with potential love interest coat check girl Rachel, as played by Brie Larson.  I thought that Abed and Rachel hit it off so well that Rachel simply must return in future episodes, and judging by reactions I’ve read online in Community comment threads, I am far from the only one who thinks this.  The folks behind Community have historically been receptive to fan reaction and have accordingly developed some elements (playing up the Jeff-Annie relationship is probably the biggest example).  Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case this season, not because the writers have become any less receptive, but because the whole season was produced in a “bubble,” i.e., every episode was produced before any of them aired.  So I am writing all this in the hope that the writers will see the fan support for this new character and respond accordingly, but alas it will not matter unless there is a Season 5.  I still have hope that Community will be renewed, thus this post might not necessarily be for naught.  It could even be possible that the writers knew Rachel would be well-received and that she is set to appear in one or more of the five episodes remaining in Season 4.  Information regarding that possibility is scant; based on an AMA Brie Larson did on Reddit, it seems that she only filmed “an episode.”  But based on the way the episode ended, it doesn’t seem like we’ve seen the last of Rachel.

And that is the crux of why I hope we see more of Brie Larson on Community.  Often robotic Abed isn’t usually the most romantic character on the show, but there have actually been a fair number of ladies into him.  By my count, there has been one significant romantic possibility for Abed one per season: the girl who asked him out at the end of “Physical Education,” Secret Service Agent Robin Vohlers in “Intro to Political Science,” and Hilda in “Digital Estate Planning.”  But none of those possibilities ended as promisingly as Rachel.  We never knew too much about the girl in “Phys. Ed.” (not even her name), so it wasn’t that big a deal that we never found out what happened with her.  Agent Vohlers was practically a female version of Abed, but she made it clear that her Secret Service duties would make a relationship too difficult.  And Hilda, well Hilda’s a video game character.  Maybe Abed actually has been keeping things going with her, but that shouldn’t preclude the possibility of a flesh-and-blood girl also working out.  Rachel may not be as similar to Abed as Agent Vohlers, but with her love of TV and deep knowledge of TV tropes, she is similar in perhaps the most important way.  That she got along with Abed as much as and in much the same way that Abed gets along with Troy made it clear how complementary she is to Abed.  “Herstory of Dance” ended with Rachel and Abed both knowing how much they have enjoyed each other’s company and deciding to go on a date.  Based on how well they hit it off at the dance, my guess is that the date will also go well, so it simply will not stand if from here on out Rachel is simply forgotten or written off with a throwaway line.