‘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.

And Now For Something Completely Funky: ‘Long Shot’ Movie Review

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CREDIT: Philippe Bossé

I’m not sure what Long Shot‘s sense of the political landscape is. It seems to believe that the difference between Democrats and Republicans can actually be quite nebulous, which is interesting to think about, and maybe true in some cases, but certainly not in the majority of my experience. It also has some valuable things to say about the importance of compromise, although it’s kind of shouty and generic about it. But anyway, this is mostly a love story.

At first blush, it might look like the same old tale between a beautiful blonde (Charlize Theron as a presidential candidate) and a lovable schlub (Seth Rogen as a journalist-cum-speechwriter), but it downplays any eyeroll-worthy aspect of that setup by clearly illustrating the mutual attraction here. So Long Shot works best when it investigates what ambitious people are willing to sacrifice or not sacrifice, and why, in the name of the people they care about, though it would have benefited from more specific political window-dressing.

I give Long Shot My Satisfied Endorsement.

Movie Review: ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ Delivers What it Promises, But It’s a Huge Mess

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CREDIT: Warner Bros./YouTube

Starring: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Ken Watanabe, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Straitharn, Ziyi Zhang

Director: Michael Dougherty

Running Time: 132 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Monster-on-Monster Smashing and Even Some Human-on-Human Violence

Release Date: May 31, 2019

As promised, there are plenty of massive beasts in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but there are also a lot of human beings, and they’ve got plenty on their to-do list. They debate which monsters are friends and which are foe, and they retrieve some objects that may or may not be MacGuffins, and honestly I could not make heads or tails of what they’re trying to do. This is a murderer’s row of heavy hitters wading through incomprehensibility. That’s not necessarily a dealbreaker, though, because when you come to see a Godzilla movie, you’re there for the monsters.

But here’s the thing: the fight scenes are just as incoherent! They’re distressingly dark, and edited way too quickly to make sense of what is going on. Every once in a while, there’s a really satisfying chomp or smackdown, but for the most part the splendor of the kaiju is obscured by too much visual clutter. King of the Monsters put me most in mind of the third Transformers flick, Dark of the Moon, a good chunk of which was an interminable clash of metal on metal. King of the Monsters is marred by sound design that is just as off-putting. In theory, I can understand why people would enjoy Godzilla getting into a battle royale with Mothra, Rodan, and the like a lot more than I can understand the appeal of robots clanging against each other. But this numbing onslaught is far from the best that this genre can offer.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is Recommended If You Like: Non-stop giant monster battles

Grade: 2 out of 5 Roars

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Den of Thieves’ is a Warmed-Over, Mush-Mouthed Michael Mann Impersonation

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CREDIT: STX

This review was originally published on News Cult in January 2018.

Starring: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Evan Jones, Cooper Andrews, Dawn Olivieri

Director: Christian Gudegast

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rating: R for Cacophonous Continuous Gunfire, a Strip Club Detour, and Way Too Many F-Bombs

Release Date: January 19, 2018

According to the opening titles of Den of Thieves, Los Angeles is the “bank robbery capital of the world.” I do not know if that title is actually true, partly because this movie does not make me care enough to confirm or debunk the claim. Besides, it is essentially immaterial to the plot. This is not about an epidemic of robberies, but one specific crew, who could be pulling off their big heist anywhere so long as the cash is present and an escape route is available. As for Gerard Butler’s performance as the cop doggedly tracking them, it does not scream “L.A.” so much as “nutso actor sheds any semblance of sanity.”

Den of Thieves is the directorial debut of Christian Gudegast, who previously scripted the likes of London Has Fallen (which I have not seen, but I have heard it is just as dreadful as its predecessor Olympus Has Fallen). Michael Mann’s influence on him is obvious, but not fruitful. Gudegast clearly wants this to be a sprawling crime saga on the same level as Heat or Miami Vice, but that would require characters who deliver personality instead of an endless string of groan-inducing f-bombs.

As Merriman, the leader of the den, Pablo Schreiber mostly relies on bulging out his facial muscles. As his right-hand man, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson basically stands off to the side and looks vaguely threatening. O’Shea Jackson Jr., as the team’s driver and newest recruit, is able to infuse the proceedings with a few amusing moments. (There is a running gag with a couple of randy female customers when he moonlights delivering Chinese food.) Meanwhile, the rest of the guys in the den are either too beefy or too masked to convey any tangible emotion.

But for better and for worse, this is the Gerard Butler show. His “Big Nick” is not so much corrupt or “flying off the handle” so much as he is filled with constant, fidgety, bizarre tics that do not resemble any sort of recognizable human behavior I am familiar with. I cannot say that any of his performance adds up to anything “good,” but I must admit that I could not look away.

Ultimately, the scheme wraps up with a series of twists that mostly serve to frustrate, not because they cheat with any internal logic, but because they require a great deal of patience to sit around before anything meaningful happens. At nearly two and a half hours, there is precious little to make that journey bearable. To be fair, the crowd I saw it was hooting and hollering throughout, so there clearly is an audience for this sort of muscled-up, unsubtle affair. But from my perspective, this is a dithering cacophony that drives me batty.

Den of Thieves is Recommended If You Like: Michael Mann’s crime sagas but without the visual and formal experimentalism, Training Day but with an unfathomable amount of scenery-chewing

Grade: 2 out of 5 Automatic Rounds

 

This Is a Movie Review: Aubrey Plaza Stops You Cold in the Instagram Tragicomedy ‘Ingrid Goes West’

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in August 2017.

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen, Pom Klementieff

Director: Matt Spicer

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: R for Cosplay Hanky-Panky, Surprise Cocaine, and an Amateur Kidnapping

Release Date: August 11, 2017 (Limited)

An early montage of Instagram posts in Ingrid Goes West features Elizabeth Olsen reading out loud the entirety of the captions. This is jarring for a couple of reasons, partly because captions are not designed to be spoken aloud and mainly because the emoji are given concrete descriptions. I would argue that such straightforwardness is antithetical to the spirit of emoji, whose meanings are often implicitly understood but generally maintain a level of fluidity. Similarly, social media posts purport to present a certain specific message, but there are layers of further meaning lurking underneath.

People like Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) interpret public personae with too much unwavering conviction, overly certain that an interaction with a virtual fan is an invitation to become a flesh-and-blood friend. But what Ingrid Goes West suggests is, maybe that is not exactly what she believes. Maybe that rigidity is just a coping mechanism because the alternative is too complicated to handle. Ingrid becomes obsessed with Taylor Sloane (Olsen) not just because her Instagrams of avocado toast represent the height of L.A. cool, but mainly because of the illusion that her life is perfectly put-together. To someone who is obviously mentally ill (and thus whose brain does not allow any stability), that is intoxicating.

Ingrid Goes West is not a condemnation of Instagram, not really. It is just the medium through which some unhealthy behavior that would still exist otherwise happens to be taking place. Still, if you are wrapped up in it, it is an overwhelming medium. What is fascinating about Plaza’s performance is that her excessive social media use does not drive her to make Ingrid excessively fake, but rather unnervingly real. True, she makes “friends” under false pretenses, but her capacity for genuine relationships and deep cavern of pain are what stick with you.

Ingrid Goes West is Recommended If You Like: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The King of Comedy

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Avocado Toasts