REVIEW: “TRIAL BY FIRE” (2019) Roadside Attractions

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If like me, you are someone who is completely conflicted on something like the death penalty, “TRIAL BY FIRE” might just be the movie for us all to see.  My conflict mostly arises from the fact that for me, anyone who hurts a child just shouldn’t get a second chance ever.  Yet, as we know from such wonderful trials as OJ Simpson or Brock Turner’s, the justice system is flawed and while some cases are cut and dry guilty, some aren’t.  Hence the story of imprisoned death row inmate Cameron Todd Willingham (Jack O’Connell).  Willingham is a poor, uneducated heavy metal devotee with a violent streak and a criminal record to boot.  He is convicted in the arson related death of his own three children in 1992, deaths so awful a swift accounting for is demanded and given and Willingham is sentenced to death with the ‘justice’ system moving with particular swiftness and speed in this case.

What follows is the overwhelming story of this mans life.  Showing him to be the angry and flawed human that he is.  Chronically unemployed or employable to say the least, he is a brawler, womanizer, and yet the caregiver to his three children because he won’t or can’t work, shows another side to him.  Even wife Stacy (Emily Meade), while being the breadwinner of the family, notes that this is a man who loves his kids.  Being that she is away the morning of the fire that engulfs their home and the three children, while Willingham makes it out alive, gives her character the sympathy that is deserved.  But is all really as it seems or does the law just adjust their crime scene to fit the narrative they want to convict.

This is where the story truly picks up what happens when they do decide this and because justice is wanted so badly, that no other scenarios are even discussed.  Except for the small fact that Willingham has never given up on the fact that he is innocent.  Investigators claim to find evidence of a fire accelerant. A jailhouse snitch reports that Willingham confessed to the crime, and during the trial, a disinterested public defender repeatedly advises Willingham to avoid the death penalty by pleading guilty. When Willingham refuses, the lawyer loses interest. No serious defense is mounted, and Willingham finds himself on death row, awaiting lethal injection in Texas, a state that likes to keep the line moving.

Alone and isolated in prison, when through a random encounter with someone who knows about the case, a woman named Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern),  volunteers to correspond with him, hears his claims of innocence, and trying to do the right thing, she re-investigates his case, even though the obsession with it all leads to the detriment of duty to her own family home life.  She uncovers what looks increasingly like a shoddy investigation (the arson “evidence” is refuted) and slippery prosecution, even showing the jailhouse snitch recanting.

Even though I might have an issue with performances of many Brits/Aussie’s trying to play the southern accent, the performance here by O’Connell goes beyond that.  He plays Willingham as wronged, but you find heart in him as the story unfolds.  Emily Meade is secondary only in the fact that she plays his wife who shows throughout that she too, is conflicted by what might or might not be the truth.  Dern, though the ‘victorious’ character you could say, still comes off as a bit bland and even though its true, you wonder why she took this interest and it’s never really told to you.  That could be the fault of director Edward Zwick though, as the movie evolves without really showing us the messiness of real life in-between the lines.

The movie allows that Willingham can be innocent and still be manipulative and angry and flawed, and concludes with a wallop of emotion as Willingham is executed all while waiting for a Governors stay of execution.  A significant point made in the end titles is that for all means and purposes, Willingham is notably innocent, hence my referral back to being so conflicted by something like the death penalty, because it’s just not 100% fool-proof.

Grade: C+                                                                                                                                        @pegsatthemovies

 

Review Screening: Wednesday, May 15, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Film Independent

“TRIAL BY FIRE” IS NOW PLAYING IN SELECT CITIES

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INSTA-REVIEW: “UGLY DOLLS” (2019) STX Entertainment

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“Ugly Dolls” brings a wonderful adaptation of the kids books to the big screen. It’s sweet story with a wonderful message behind it all, that is actually for kids!! No double entendre here nor is it filled with references like a few other kids movies, that go right over their heads..nope..this one is truly for the kids and its lovely.

Also different and very enjoyable, is the voice cast is made up almost entirely of music superstars. Kelly Clarkson voices our plucky pink doll heroine Moxy with Janelle Monáe coming in as Mandy, Moxy’s ally.  Nick Jonas and Blake Shelton offer up their voices as rivals Lou and Ox, the leaders of their respective town’s of Perfection and Uglyville. And most surprising, is a fun debut by Pitbull as Ugly Dog who is one slick rapper!! 😁

The storyline of Moxy wanting to break out of Uglyville and find a child who will love her for all her imperfections could be any one of us charting our way thru life. Being held back at all points by people telling you only the perfect ‘dolls’ can pass thru life and find true happiness, only to learn to embrace herself and fearlessly show others how to love themselves and flaws can be special and there is truly someone out there to love us all.. it’s a sweet, strong message that all children should be taught.

The music/songs are wonderful and catchy tunes you will find yourself singing long after the movie is over. My message to you is to take your kids and yourself to see this one..you will be happy you did.

Grade: B
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Media Premiere Review Screening: Saturday, April 27, 2019 ~ Courtesy of STX Entertainment (post carnival event was absolutely amazing with giant slide, fun house, face painting and so much more for the kids!)

“UGLY DOLLS” IS IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE FRIDAY, MAY 3, 2019

Side note: Running into Kelly Clarkson & Gwen Stefani on the side street while walking up as they were having a nice chat – was a good highlight! 🙂

INSTA-REVIEW: “LONG SHOT” (2019) Lionsgate

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Charlize Theron hasn’t been the best at comedies.. that all changes with Long Shot . Paired up with Seth Rogan here is maybe the key as their characters really have nothing in common. Charlotte (Theron) is running for President and needs a speech writer.. Fred Flarsky (Rogan) is actually a kid she used to babysit whom had an undying crush on her. 20 years later he comes on board her team as said speech writer.
You would think such an odd pairing would have no chemistry..but they most definitely do. And while you won’t find any breaking out of the box – rom com formula here.. it is just a good fun ride of a comedy.
The supporting cast help make that happen in a big way, most especially June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel. Bob Odenkirk lends a hand as POTUS, Andy Serkis is thrown in for a bit Alexander Skarsgård as Canadian PM & potential romantic partner for Theron, is hysterical as playing the cad. The weakest support coming from O’Shea Jacksons character of Lance, BFF to Fred.

All in all Long Shot – while formulatic, is a fun watch!
Grade: B-

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Review Screening: Monday, April 8, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV meetup.

 

REVIEW: “THE BEST OF ENEMIES” (2019) STX – Q & A: Taraji P. Henson, Robin Bissell

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How you ask, can you possibly conceive the idea that a story born of such hatred could possible be sweet and touching.  Well the answer to that lies in not only the story itself, but the powerhouse acting chops of both Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell, whom work so well together here to effortlessly to ignite a strong chemistry between the two in “The Best of Enemies”. This on-screen connection creates a film so monumental, and unbelievable, you almost forget it’s based on a true story.

Enemies follows the tale of Ann Atwater (Taraji P Henson), a civil rights activist in Durham, North Carolina, during the 1970s as she works with charm and determination to vouch for school integration. She is met with adversity in the shape of C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), a leader of the Durham chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

When the local black elementary school is severely damaged by a fire, the students are forced to continue learning in the damaged building, rather than be bused to the local white school. Hope seems lost in a town overwhelmingly dominated by the power and fear of the KKK.  But in steps a man named Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) who organizes a ‘charette’ which is essentially a meeting for Durham citizens to voice their opinions on the issue of segregated schools and come to a decision. When Riddick chooses Atwater and Ellis as the chairpersons of the event, the film’s narrative of an unlikely friendship fully begins.

The only misstep for Enemies was the clunky writing at some parts, more so at the beginning before the narrative is fully developed. Some bits of dialogue sound rather cliche, as if they could’ve been lifted from any other period piece and inserted into the script.  But director Robin Bissell distracts from that with technical directions that make the film realistic. One of the most interesting, well-made choices was in depicting the KKK: Rather than showing overdone scenes of the group terrorizing a black family’s home or something of the sort, klansmen are often shown bullying or harassing other white citizens of Durham who sympathize with black people

While Enemies is not a perfect film, the tale is so compelling and intriguing that you wonder why this story isn’t written in history books.  It is a lovely depiction of a piece of history with a great, albiet predictable ending the film has a powerful message told in a style all will appreciate. I especially loved the video remarks by the real characters during the end credits noting the significance of Atwater and Ellis’ friendship, is timeless.

Grade: C+

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Screening: March 25th, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Film Independent

POST Q & A w/Taraji P. Henson & Robin Bissell

Henson is a lively speaker and noted all about her transformation to Atwater was very deliberate, especially with her physical appearance. Henson noted that somebody involved with the film contacted Tyler Perry to inquire about the prosthetic boobs for his well-known character, Madea.

“I was like, ‘this suit needs to effect the way I walk,’” Henson said. “‘I can’t look like I’m walking like Taraji. I really have to walk differently, move differently.’”

Rockwell’s character is a tad more complex, as he goes through more of an ethical, moral transformation. However, Rockwell manages to precisely wield Ellis’ mannerisms to progressively edge closer to his final form, peeling away to find layers of compassion within Ellis that were not initially obvious as themes of hope are evident throughout the film, as  noted by Bissell.

“I have three daughters, and I hope they can be inspired by someone like Ann Atwater,” she said. “You can have an effect on the world and change the world if you really go out there and give it a shot, and I think Ann did that.”

“Forty-eight years later, not a lot has changed,” Bissell said. “We thought it did, or white people hoped it did … it’s not better. And so every once in a while, you need some water splashed on your face.”

INSTA-REVIEW: “US” (2019) Universal

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Sadly, this most over-hyped movie of 2019 so far, is also going down as the most underwhelming of 2019 so far.US” and JordanPeele were clearly trying way to hard on this one and it’s not even close to repeating “GetOut” in comedy, drama or horror.

Graphic violence isn’t scary in the slightest. Forced comedy isn’t funny. And basic acting is not a performance. Being disappointed in this film doesn’t quite sum up how I felt. And while you get what is trying to be said, there are also things that I just don’t think can be explained. I mean rabbits anyone??? Anyone got that part figured out yet?! To say the metaphors were all to blatant or that it’s just to heavy-handed is an understatement. You spend the whole film trying to unpack and decipher the story so much, that it sucks any enjoyment you might have found right out.

None of the acting by Lupita Nyong’o Elisabeth Moss Winston Duke  Tim Heidecker or anyone else in the film is noteworthy. I guess my disappointment is highlighted so much by the fact I wanted it to be so good. Again, high expectations and low delivery = unhappy movie watching .
Grade: D
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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, March 19, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Universal

 

INSTA-REVIEW: “THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT” (2019) The Orchid Pictures

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#TheHummingbirdProject let’s us all remember that bringing a film about technology i.e., programming & data analysis..is a difficult topic to make entertaining. And while they don’t dumb it down here and you are able to understand the whats and the whys, you also have to deal with loads of time spent on the parables of how taking one millisecond aka the flap of a Hummingbird’s wings, of processing time of stocks, can make or break the difference of millions of dollars in the stock market.

In between you have to deal with another one of  JesseEisenberg ‘s lackluster, one note performances about how he is contractually trying to get this whole thing done. His polar opposite brains behind the operation is AlexanderSkarsgard who goes against the grain playing a paunchy, balding computer nerd who saves the film from being downright terrible with a dance..yes a dance! Also helpful in adding some much needed humor though is MichaelMando and SalmaHayak though Hayak is given little screen time, she makes the most of it.
So not the most exciting subject matter movie out there, but at least it never makes you feel silly and explains itself well. Just not exciting enough to watch a pipeline being built to make it a great watch.
Grade: C-
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Media Review Screening: Courtesy of 42West PR.

INSTA-REVIEW: “THE KID” (2019) LIONSGATE

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Catching up on my reviews for March by doing a few Insta-Reviews. This first one is #TheKid which you would think would be another story about #BillytheKid ..and it sort of is.

It’s a story about another kid #Rio played by JakeSchur who is sorta rescued by Billy the Kid DaneDeHaan who is then captured by Pat Garrett  EthanHawke and they try to find Rio’s sister Sara LeilaGeorge who was abducted by their uncle Grant, played by a completely unrecognizable ChrisPratt . If you feel confused, you might be spot on as it’s quite a dragging storyline directed by VincentDOnofrio – the acting is terrible by everyone but DeHaan who brings a bit of life to this version of Billy. On the whole, there is a reason this one has slipped in and out of theaters before you could see it.
Grade: D+
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Media Review Screening ~ Courtesy of Lionsgate