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

Standard

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

Advertisements

‘Cinderella’, ‘Insurgent’, ‘Danny Collins’, ‘Jauja’, ’71’, ‘The Salvation’, ’50 Shades of Grey’

Standard

So I’ve seen a bunch of films lately that have all been pretty average or just plain bad..with one I really liked!! And as sometimes we all feel like a bad film has just sucked it out of us, I didn’t even feel like giving some of them a review..but then decided to suck it all in and just put them all in one with a few bits about each and let everyone make up their own minds to see them or not.

I’m starting with the one that actually surprised me out of the group because I actually did like it…not love it mind you, but a good ‘like’ is pretty much all I’m looking for now-a-days from a film!
So let’s begin:
cinderella
CINDERELLA (2015) Disney Studios – Every little girl knows this story by heart growing up..it’s truly a little girls fantasy that no matter how crappy things are, you have the chance of one day meeting your ‘prince’. We all bank on it somewhat that it could actually happen. And then you grow up. ha! What surprised me was how much I liked revisiting this version of the story. Richard Madden as “Prince Kit”, (whom I loved and miss as Robb Stark), really made a very believable Prince and Lily James is a quite wonderful “Cinderella”. Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother was perfect, and it’s always nice to see ‘Daisy’ from Downton Abbey (one of my fav. characters of that show) Sophie McShera “Drisella” and Holliday Grainger “Anastasia” doing a fun spin on the wicked stepsisters. Throw in Stellan Skarsgard as the “Grand Duke” and Derek Jacobi as the “King” and you have a well-rounded out cast that brings some new blood & life to this story. And that’s what I liked best of all about it. Told in a little bit more updated version, though not time-wise, but tale-wise, brought it all to life in a really nice wrapped up gift. Was it super fantastic and the best Cinderella story ever told..nah..but it certainly was a nice breath of fresh air and a decent enough way to spend an afternoon reliving the little girl inside of me.

Grade: C+

Next on the list:
Insurgent_poster
INSURGENT (2015) Lionsgate/Summit Ent.
For this one I actually looked back at my review of “Divergent” from back in March of 2014. https://peggyatthemovies.com/2014/03/26/peggyatthemovies-review-of-divergent-2/ .

Basically I could just repeat it almost word for word except for a few minor things.. Like first off how this one was worse, second of all; bad bad casting decision on Naomi Watts as “Evelyn”, Four’s mother. And yes, the lovely Theo James reprising his role here, though annoying enough he kills the best character they had of all as I noted in my Divergent review also, “Eric” (Jai Courtney) this time round. You know my motto, you’re only as good as your villain and Courtney played a good villain.
Miles Teller as “Peter” steps it up some this time, but after you’ve seen him in Whiplash, it’s hard to take this performance seriously as you now know what he’s truly capable of. Ansel Egort “Caleb” is pretty non-existent both in character and performance, and Shailene Woodley coming back as “Tris” is annoyingly bad…again. I mean in an opening scene she decides to chop off all her hair for a new look.. now we know with the hack-knife that she’s using there is no way this is coming out well.. but oh no..not with Shailene..it’s perfectly coiffed hair cut. Please. Stop it.

I didn’t hate the first one, but I liked this one even less and losing a good villain and not adding anyone of consequence..I think I might be out of town, or ya know, busy washing my hair for the next one.

Grade: D

Moving on—
danny collins
DANNY COLLINS (2015) UNIVERSAL

Sigh. I j’adore Al Pacino. I always have. I’ve met him a few times, sat next to him at a movie at Sony once and he shared his candy with me and is truly one of the nicest guys ever. He’s also Al freaking Pacino!!! I mean… enough said right.

Well here he plays “Danny Collins”, an aging rock star who’s manager & best friend “Frank Grubman” (Christopher Plummer) discovers 40 years after the fact, that John Lennon wrote him a letter telling him to basically stay true to himself at what he was doing at the time. Clearly he didn’t and now decides to change his life and sit down and write the songs that were true to him back then, thinking his now-aged audience will want to hear them. They don’t. There is a back story here that I won’t even get into because it’s so passe’ but I will say that Bobby Cannavale as his son “Tom Donnelly” is refreshingly good and I don’t think gets enough credit for his work ever. Annette Benning “Mary Sinclair” as the hotel manager whom Collins is trying to woo into having dinner and maybe more, with him, of course carries herself. Jennifer Garner “Samantha Donnelly” as Tom’s wife holds her own in this company. There are a few really nice, fun moments and as you see them coming a mile away, a few harder ones also, though you pretty much can see in sight what the ending is. In December I went to a screening with a Q & A with Mr. Pacino afterwards of “The Humbling”. This film is almost a cover version of that one except here he is an aging rock star vs. an aging actor.
But ya know what.. no matter as I will always go see an Al Pacino film.

Grade: C-

Neeexxt…
jauja
JAUJA (2014)
I will be deadly honest with you all here. I am not completely sure what this film was even really about. I went because I was invited to a screening with Viggo Mortensen doing a Q & A afterwards and as I am a big fan of his, I thought “sure I’ll go”. Huh.. I think it’s basically a journey of a father, “Gunnar Dineson” (Mortensen) and daughter “Ingebord” (Villbjork Malling Agger) thru a desert though I’m not sure where they are going exactly, and the daughter runs away with her boyfriend in the middle of it, though there is another person they are hunting, or is he hunting them?? And then he meets a witch in a cave while searching for her.. or does he really?? again, completely confused. And then BOOM! all of a sudden it’s present day and it’s the same daughter living in a nice house but without the father. The whole film switches between Danish & Spanish speaking and let’s just all agree to say that I didn’t get it and call me completely lost on this one.. like ‘we have to go back to the island’ LOST. 🙂

I will say Viggo was an absolutely wonderful guy with a lot to talk about. I think he could tell that I might be a little confused by the film and offered to have me to stay for the second screening they were having later. I told a white lie and said I had plans..which I kinda did. They involved me watching the Malaysian Grand Prix a little later. 🙂 And we ended up talking mostly about football aka soccer, as he brought it up when speaking and it turns out we like the same teams. So there ya have it.
Movie grade: D
Conversation with Viggo grade: A 🙂 Viggo

71
’71
Being a fan of Jack O’Connell‘s I saw this film a few weeks back and while for the most part, I liked it, and liked his performance as “Gary Hook” the somewhat dis-oriented British soldier who during a riot on the streets of Belfast during the height of the Irish Catholic/Protestant war i.e., 1971, gets left behind by his unit.
What follows was a bit of a convoluted story for me of him being chased down, beaten up, shot, and surviving a bomb attack all in a matter of what..48hrs. I dunno.. a lot of it just seemed a bit implausible for me. And what’s with him always constantly getting the crap beat out of him in pretty much every single film he’s ever done!! ha! Sorry..sorry.. I know I shouldn’t even be commenting that because this is a serious film..but hey. I call it as I see it.

The side story here is of course religion and how much these people hate each other over it..once again..I’m never that great with these story lines because I’m not religious and can’t imagine killing someone over it. But it’s gone on for thousands of years, and as we all know in Ireland, it was really heavy duty for about 30+ or so years until the ‘peace treaty signed about 17 yrs ago, with this time period truly being the height of it all. There is also a nice sub-plot of crooked police detectives “Sgt. Leslie Lewis” (Paul Anderson), “Capt. Sandy Browning” (Sean Harris) helping both sides in a way and the rest of a good supporting cast including Sam Reid as “Lt. Armitage” who is O’Connell’s commanding officer and seemingly the only person really looking out for him & on his side to find him. This is a rough movie, not altogether great, but it will keep you watching till the end.

Grade: C

Almost to the end..

the salvation
THE SALVATION (2014) IFC Films

Since this just came for a one week run here in L.A. a few weeks ago, I had the chance to catch it on at my favourite art-house theatre, the NuArt. But whoa.. what a film. I mean if one more thing happened to Mads Mikkelson’s character here. Well I just don’t think it would be humanly possible. To put it lightly..this is a dark dark film (yes pun intended) that just takes you places that I probably never want to visit again.

It’s a Western, but not like one you’ve ever seen before because it’s not just Cowboys & Indians here. It’s really like how it must have truly been because there were tons of immigrants coming from all over and settling in as cowboys, though in every Western you’ve ever seen, they just pretend that suddenly everyone was just a regular old southern boy without an accent drifting out West. ZZZzzzzz

Well this one is 1870’s America, the gold rush is on, and this peaceful Danish settler “Jon” (Mads Mikkelson) has been separated from his wife & son for 7 years and finally brings them out to be with him. Literally within an hour of being here, they are kidnapped, his wife raped & murdered & young son also murdered by two degenerates, one of them being a character named “Paul” (Michael Raymond–James). Jon sets out, with his brother “Peter”(Mikael Persbrant) to avenge their deaths and hunts them down and kills them, which then leads to the unleashing of notorious gang leader “Delarue” (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) coming after them as Paul was, unbeknownst to Jon, Delarue’s brother. The really weird townspeople then desert him in his hour of need because they don’t want to die, ends up most of them do. Eva Green is thrown in as a character named “Madelaine” who has her tongue cut out so she doesn’t speak..which doesn’t matter as she really can’t act anyways.. and then comes some really hard core horrible death scenes and basically anything that can go wrong for Jon does, until of course it doesn’t.

This isn’t a great film, it a super depressing one to be honest, but it’s also not horrible. Mads is quite good as a cowboy, Jeffrey Dean Morgan even better possibly as the villain, though you know my motto, you’re only as good a your villain..yeah that doesn’t apply here. Jonathan Pryce “Keane”, Eric Cantona “Corsican”, Sean Cameron Michael “Lester” and Jose Domingos “Raul Delgado” all offer good supporting characters. This film was definitely a mixed bag for me.

Grade: C

50 shades
50 SHADES OF GREY (2015) Focus Features/Universal Pictures

What was the big deal here is all I kept thinking about while watching this film. I thought I was going to be watching the second coming of Deep Throat or some really trumped up S & M film or something the way everyone was going on about it..and all I got was an actually very tame, quite badly done film about this guy, “Christian Grey” (Jamie Dornan) wanting to control this girl “Anatasia Steele” (Dakota Johnson). She’s a literature student who works in a hardware store (of course she does) and he’s a tormented handsome, self-made millionaire businessman..ZZZzzzz oh sorry I drifted off there for a minute just telling with that ridiculous storyline. They are like the new Twilight couple featuring some S & M sex vs. vampires & wolves. Control in the way of having her sign a contract before sex, because he doesn’t spend the night with anyone or have relationships..blah blah blah.. of he does end up doing so, she ends up letting him take her to the ‘The Red Room’ and with some reeaaally bad dialogue thrown in and possibly worse acting, you have the story in a nutshell. I don’t think two people with less chemistry together have made a movie about sex so badly before. And truly, there wasn’t anything hardcore about this. Why all the fuss?? So the guy has a dungeon like room full of sex toys.. a few sex scenes that seriously weren’t that far out there at all. I feel like I must have missed something..but if I did, that’s okay because I will probably miss the next few ones in the trilogy also unless they up their game and their acting ..a lot.

Grade: D

So now you see why I just threw them altogether in one review. I like some, but didn’t love any of them. And now I’m caught up, back and ready to go! 😀
@pegsatthemovies
peggyatthemovies.com

(See grading scale)

“UNBROKEN” REVIEW ~ UNIVERSAL (2014)

Standard

unbroken
It might be hard to judge how much art there is in imitation, but Angelina Jolie certainly does this film justice as this is a truly good old-fashioned Hollywood tear jerking biopic in-line with some of the best of them. For whatever that’s worth is where the debate lies in for Unbroken.

As it is, this is the true story of a triumphing American hero if ever there was one. It’s lavishly done, expensive, and altogether a very ambitious epic about Olympic runner-turned-WWII bombardier-turned-POW “Louis Zamperini” (Jack O’Connell). While I’m sure there are many of them, this is, with all it’s harrowing moments, one story that should always be told and if any tale of survival deserves to be made, it is this one. While there’s probably room for a much better movie here, as points of it do drag on..but Unbroken at least benefits from having one hell of a story to tell. unbroken 1

Thanks to flashbacks, we see Louie as a kid (C.J. Valleroy), wasting whatever potential he has by shoplifting and hiding his stolen items in a secret spot where he sits by himself and drinks liquor out of a bottle painted to look like it contains milk. It’s made clear he’s thought of, especially in those times, as a juvenile delinquent of a child. Being an Italian immigrant didn’t help. Luckily, when being chased by a local neighborhood policeman one afternoon, he happens to do a sprint across the field during a school track practice, catching the eye of a friend and his own brother, “Pete” (Alex Russell) who convinces Louie to take up running as a sport. unbroken 2

The main cast doesn’t have the support of any big name veteran performers, and that’s fine as the supporting cast, a lot of them in brief but pertinent roles, ranging from Jai Courtney “Cup”, Marcus Vanco “Lambert”, Ross Anderson “Blackie” and Garrett Hedlund as “Fitzgerald”, are all up to par here..but let’s just call it and say Jack O’Connell leads the bunch very well and it’s his performance that feels a cut above. O’Connell has all the boyish charm his role requires early on, when he’s running and attending the Olympics in flashbacks or while entrenched in a WWII air battle. And then when the rickety plane (yes it seems even back then we didn’t provide our soldiers with all the best equipment) he’s aboard crashes into the Pacific, stranding the few survivors in life rafts, the actor inspires with a brave yet calm resolve that proves key to maintaining the sanity of himself and his fellow survivors, “Mac” (Finn Wittrock) and “Phil” (Domhnall Gleason) as they float aimlessly in hope of rescue. unbroken 6

This part of the movie is handled well, with no cutaways, no escape from the endless floating along. To keep things moving along as thankfully we don’t go day by day..but rather weeks at a time, this section is filled with a lot of visual action, including a few big flashy storm sequences and some jumpy, although rather cheesy shark encounters. There’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before, but I liked the idea of sticking with Louis for the whole of this long drawn out ordeal as cutting away just might have taken some of the heart and horridness of what they endured out of it.

Now if only that was the peak of trials and tribulations for Louis Zamparini right there, it would be a mighty impressive tale of determination and resilience all on it’s own. But it’s barely the tip of the iceberg. From there, Louis is rescued in an ominous scene “I have some good news and some bad news,” he informs his raft-mate, Phil, by the Japanese, who throw him into a POW camp somewhere in the jungle, which proves to be a walk in the park compared to the camp he’s then shipped off to, wherein he meets the movie’s chief villain, Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (played scarily so well by Japanese singer Takamasa ‘Miyavi’ Ishihara). unbroken 3

Life in the POW camps understandably takes up a large amount of the movie’s lengthy running time (yes it’s 2hrs 20min). The horrors of the brutal imprisonment are put up front and personal without glossing over things too much, but while all the horrible harrowing things that are happening to Louis are quite convincing, the heart-tugging gets somewhat in the way of the real emotional jist of the story. During one of the darkest moments in the ugliest and most dehumanizing of the three POW camps he is sent to, Louis digs deep for the strength he needs to hoist a block of wood over his head in a defiant measure against “The Bird” and O’Connell expresses the emotion well with his face and body, but we also get the obvious with a flashback of a triumphant pre-war Louis at the Olympics. Of course. There comes that bit of cheesy again. unbroken 5

Does it help immensely that Zamperini’s story is one of overwhelming impossible odds, the kind of tale Hollywood loves to tell, yes, yes it does. Because to sum it up, beating up on the movie, tempting as it may be for some, just isn’t much fun. But that alone doesn’t really raise the movie to the level of great, but it does make this heroic tale of the familiar leave a lasting taste with us all.

The real Louis Zamparini with Dir: Angelina Jolie

The real Louis Zamperini with Dir: Angelina Jolie


Grade: B-
@pegsatthemovies

(See grading scale)