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

FINAL DAY: COUNTDOWN TO THE OSCARS ~ “BEST PICTURE”

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WE ARE HERE!!! The final day of my Oscar Countdown and I’ve saved the biggest and best for last. While this is a very good slate of films, and most of them deserve to be here, for the first time ever, I don’t have a picture that I truly ‘LOVED’ this year in this category as Nocturnal Animals wasn’t nominated. I liked them all, again, some more than others, and while I still have a pick – there is no one clear choice for me. That and my pick has no chance of winning whatsoever. So with that being said…I always hope for a few fun upsets!

BEST PICTURE

Arrival
While I really enjoyed this film, one of the best Sci-Fi movies I’ve seen, but can I roll with it for best picture? nah, but it is worth a watch, especially if you like this genre. It also has a very relevent message for this day and age of politics that we now live in. It shows that hate for something or someone different, really doesn’t need to be. Truthfully right now, I would trust an alien more than the circus clown act we have in charge at the moment.

Fences
While I liked this film at points, on other points it just lagged or went to fast as they literally took every single word from the play and put it into the film. I get it, you don’t want to mess with the original sometimes, but in this case, trimming it down some would have been beneficial and the movie suffered as a result of not doing so.

Hacksaw Ridge
Let’s face it, the first 45 minutes of this was an absolute cheese-fest. The remainder – sort of a gore-fest. And while it did good at the points of making you flip-flop on what you wanted that main character to do, it also gave us some Brits & Aussies doing terrible attempts at southern accents.

Hell or High Water
While it’s good to see a film be remembered from earlier in the year, and I liked the film, it just really never struck a chord with me as award material when watching.

Hidden Figures
I enjoyed this film a lot and it was about time something was done and made about these three fantastic women and what they contributed to our NASA space program in the 60’s. It had some big ups and a few downs with the tone of it all.

La La LandWINNER
With an opening scene that I just loved and so well done, you would think the rest of the film was going to be just as good. It’s not. Mind you it’s a good watch, but far from a great one and just a little to far-fetched, cutsey perfect for me. But hey, WHIPLASH was so damn good and was what a jazz story could be, that well, I guess I’ll give a groan when this wins, but I can’t hate on it completely.

LionMY PICK
While far far from a perfect film, the first half delivers big and is terrific, but it’s second half drags a lot until you get to the last 10 minutes or so. Again, I’m not in love with it. Having a great post Q & A with Dev Patel and first time director Garth Davis probably helped me some, but it did move me as a wonderful story of hope. And with that, I picked it even though I know it has absolutely no chance of winning.

Manchester by the Sea
For me, the film isn’t terrible – but honestly, I had no idea what as happening in the first 20-30 minutes. You just knew the guy was angry, but no clue as to why. It took 2 hrs. to get to the point and those 2 hrs. seemed like many more at times.

Moonlight
While watching this film, I couldn’t help thinking I’ve seen this story before..and I have – noting the fact it was done much better on the ‘The Wire’ and I think I would have liked to see three episodes of that again vs. this film. It was more than a tad inconsistent, with the first two thirds much better than the last third, and I was distracted by having characters played by multiple actors who looked nothing alike. That being said, it’s a good film considering the shoe-string budget it was made on.

@pegsatthemovies
Thanks all for taking the time to give this a read. Let me know your thoughts on if you agree or disagree with my picks. Don’t forget to give this page a follow or a follow on twitter as well @pegsatthemovies. Cheers!

DAY 4: COUNTDOWN TO THE OSCARS ~ “BEST ACTRESS”

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It’s the 4th day of the Countdown and we are at none other than Best Actress..

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Isabelle Huppert, ElleMY PICK
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performance as bold as this one. Huppert simply blew me away in one of the probably the oddest roles I think I’ve ever seen portrayed. I’ve never seen anything like it and probably never will again. Sadly, she won’t win for this piece of brillance.

Ruth Negga, Loving
While she was fairly one-note, but engaging enough here, I really only started to like this performance so much once she started speaking and really putting forth as the first 30+ min she just really never said anything. I just can’t put forth an award pick for that.

Natalie Portman, Jackie
While I think I enjoyed this film more than some did as it just got to me a little emotionally than I thought it would, she did go ‘caricature’ at times with it. While she was a front-runner for some time, I don’t think she even comes close to Huppert.

Emma Stone, La La LandWINNER
Yeah – I like Emma but this is really just another cutsey performance to me. Let’s face it, her singing/dancing parts aren’t all that good, but the ‘auditions’ parts were really good. That’s really all there is to it.

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins
Am I’m surprised Meryl Streep even got a nomination, no even though it’s almost annoying at this point, because even though the whole movie was a huge let-down, we all really do love her. And yes, I think she solidified her nomination when she gave that speech at the Golden Globes which was quite epic, but this award isn’t about best speeches.

@pegsatthemovies
Thanks all for taking the time to give this a read. Let me know your thoughts on if you agree or disagree with my picks. Don’t forget to give this page a follow or a follow on twitter as well @pegsatthemovies. Cheers!

DAY 3 ~ COUNTDOWN TO THE OSCARS ~ “BEST DIRECTOR”

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DAY 3 of my Countdown to the Oscars and it’s BEST DIRECTOR time. A tough one for me as Tom Ford/Nocturnal Animals would have been my pick here – but sadly, not nominated. So here we are with my thoughts of who the winner will be, and usually I would have my pick for whom I might like it to be, but I just don’t really have a personal frontrunner here.

DIRECTING

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve
While I thought this movie was one of the best Sci-Fi films I’d seen in sometime, there were points where it lagged so slowly and could easily have been cut by a good 20 minutes if not more.

Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson
I decided not to go with Hacksaw Ridge, and not because of anything to do with Mel Gibson’s personal problems — though while never forgiven or forgotten, I do think he’s a different person now and a very talented director and I wish him well. For me it was more the cheesy-ness of the first 45-minutes of this picture and the bad accents.

La La Land, Damien ChazelleWINNER
While again, this wasn’t my favourite movie – to much sappy for me, but I so loved what he did with Whiplash and how he should have won for that, that it was forgivable. Plus he’s probably going to win.

Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan
While I found this film in and of itself to be rather plodding, Lonergan did make everything click together finally at the end, though slowly..veerry slowly.

Moonlight, Barry Jenkins
It wasn’t my favourite film of the year as I just felt like I’d seen this story before and done better on The Wire. While Jenkins did a really good job on a shoestring budget, the movie’s three parts aren’t as connected as they could have been.

@pegsatthemovies
Thanks all for taking the time to give this a read. Let me know your thoughts on if you agree or disagree with my picks. Don’t forget to give this page a follow or a follow on twitter as well @pegsatthemovies. Cheers!

DAY 2 ~ COUNTDOWN TO THE OSCARS ~ “BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR”

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Day 2 of the countdown ~ Probably for me at least, the hardest category to judge as it’s just filled to the brim of fantastic performances and I wish they could all win. And remember, this is a category known for going to the most random of choices.
Reminder: I’m giving who I think the winner will be and what would be my pick.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Mahershala Ali, MoonlightWINNER
While I wasn’t the films biggest fan, if I had to pick a part that I liked, it was the first segment with this guy in it. But I don’t think his character was that developed — I mean, he’s this great guy, and then all of a sudden he just disappears. I missed the grit of his character throughout the rest of the film.

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
While I might not have seen awards coming for this movie, Bridges came through on this performance in a big way. Jeff makes it look easy but, boy, what he does is not easy.

Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
If I was going to pick a performance from this film that I truly liked, it was Hedges. Although he was good here played his characters strengths and weaknesses well, it just misses being at the level of great…barely though. Keep an eye on this kid, he will be back in award categories to come.

Dev Patel, Lion
Again, we have a strong contender here. While playing an almost separate character from his child-self, it was quite seamless how he brought it all together at the end.

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal AnimalsMY PICK
Another truly mind-blowing performance by Shannon. Why this man doesn’t already have an Oscar on his shelf is just not comprehendable.

Thanks all for taking the time to give this a read. Let me know your thoughts on if you agree or disagree with my picks. Don’t forget to give this blog a follow or a follow on twitter as well @pegsatthemovies. Cheers!