REVIEW: “CLEMENCY” (2019) Neon Pictures

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“CLEMENCY”  opens with an agonizingly difficult scene and is definitely not for the faint of heart. We are watching a man die. Actually, incorrect. We are watching Victor Jimenez (Alex Castillo) being served his death penalty execution sentence by injection where a good vein cannot be found for the needle and it’s going horrifically wrong in every which way possible. A scene so horribly difficult to watch that no amount of squirming or covering of the eyes will ever quite be enough to un-see it. This horrific opening scene leads us into  Chinonye Chukwu’s second film with a point of view rarely shared, a non-political look at the emotional toll something like this takes on those who must carry out the sentence.

Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard) is the female Warden of a prison in Texas where death penalty sentences are carried out per the courts orders. Bernadine’s job involves dealing with every thing from family members, protesters, lawyers, the media, picking of guards and medical staff, overseeing the procedures, even final meals. statements and last rites performed in conjunction with Chaplain Kendricks (Michael O’Neill).  She performs these tasks in a very professional manner while trying to maintain a sense of duty and responsibility, in a seemingly matter-of-fact tone that comes across. This portrayed stoic persona is taking a toll on her life both personally and professionally. She drinks to much, fails miserably at having even the most basic of normal conversation, doesn’t sleep much which leads to more drinking and problems in her marriage to her husband Jonathan (Wendall Pierce), a high school teacher who dreams of them retiring together and taking a much needed sabbatical.

In the aftermath of the horribly botched execution, Bernadine is tasked with having to prepare for the next execution of convict Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge) and is under pressure to make sure the same mistakes don’t happen. From the Deputy Warden Thomas Morgan (Richard Gunn) to Prison Major Logan Cartright (LaMonica Garrett), most every person she tries to have help, expresses a desire to walk away and this speaks clearly to the burden associated with the tasking of carrying out the sentencing.  In the meantime, Woods, a death row inmate for now for 15 years and with his execution date fast approaching, is feeling the desire to try to leave behind something besides a legacy of his life of crime for his son to remember him by, and for some closure.  Hope rises from him with a visit from his former girlfriend Evette (Danielle Brooks), sadly, as she expresses to Woods what it is she needs, that hope is crushed as well.

Despite his claims of innocence, his confession that he was there but did not commit the crime he is convicted for, and critical evidence showing he was not the one who killed the police officer, Woods’ attorney Marty Lumetta (Richard Schiff) informs him that his last strand of hope is a decree of clemency by the governor as all legal appeals have failed thus far.  The rest of the movie’s parts work within each other to show the toll the past and present executions present and how they all must confront the demons put in front of them. Anthony’s lawyer character, equally damaged by not being able to save Anthony after putting all he had into it, tells him that this is to be his last case as he is on the verge of retiring, but not because he wants to, but because he simply can’t handle the despair of his job anymore. Hodge puts forth an almost non-verbal performance with his unspoken words reflecting his pain almost more than if he had spoken them. There are some moments between prisoner and lawyer that are touching and strong, especially as you realize that well, simply put, this isn’t going to have a happy ending.

But let’s be clear whose movie this really is and that is of course Alfre Woodard. Her ‘Bernadette’ is strong, but oh so pained and flawed. But yet she embraces her with every look, every nuance of this quiet performance is almost loudly done with micro moments that are seismic in the overall perspective. Only the character of Bernadine’s husband seems a bit thinly sketched here jumping into arguments and leaving Bernadine to cope on her own while in clear turmoil. Leaving the performances aside for a moment as the film itself misses something that’s hard to put a finger on. Maybe it’s the overuse of the jerky movement of the handycam in one nauseating scene where the roving camera didn’t fit in well, Maybe it’s the conflicted narrative at times, as we sometimes lose track of what exactly the film is leading us to. Is it Bernadine’s shifting attitude towards laws themselves or is it losing her composure with what the executions toll is taking from her emotionally & physically. Or is it about Anthony isolation for so many years and facing his impending death. Or we could go so far and make it about his lawyers impending resignation. Some of this leaves us hanging without balance, but once again it’s such a performance driven film and without said performances it wouldn’t be nearly so powerful that you almost forget you wished all of the characters were just people you wanted to like, but couldn’t grasp doing so.

Grade: B-

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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, December 3, 2019 ~ Courtesy of 42 West

“CLEMENCY” WILL BE OUT IN SELECT THEATERS ON DECEMBER 27, 2019 

Review: “ENTOURAGE” (2015) Warner Bros.

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entourage
“The Boys are back in town” — Spread the word around — The Boys are back– The Boys are back…

From the first opening scenes I’m guessing most will know immediately whether or not they will enjoy this film as before the opening credits even roll out we are caught up in the middle of a huge celebrity filled party scene as “Vincent Chase” (Adrian Grenier) is on a multi-millionaire’s yacht celebrating the end of his 9 day marriage with his friends zooming over on a speedboat to join him with nary a girl who’s not supermodel beautiful in sight. Life’s clearly a bitch for these guys..
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Entourage – based on the very popular HBO series that ran for eight seasons, is a fun, fast-paced, energetic look at both sides of the Hollywood machine. Side 1: The glamorous side of fast cars, nice homes & copious amounts of sex; Side 2: takes a really good peek at what goes on in behind-the-scenes deals that go down just to get films made. At 104 minutes long, there is not a moment wasted in packing in a ton of stuff into this glittering ride of a movie. The party scenes are fun, the dialogue is sharp and biting and the actors inhabit their respective characters well.

So remember ‘Medellin’? The film fiasco that was portrayed on the series that almost put a halt to the career of Vinnie Chase. This film picks up from the that as we once again takes a look at the lives of movie star Vincent Chase, his agent (now studio executive) “Ari Gold” (Jeremy Piven) and his group of cronies “Eric aka ‘E'” (Kevin Connolly), “Johnny Drama” (Kevin Dillon) and “Turtle” (Jerry Ferrera) who surround him. This time, the boys are making Ari’s first blockbuster picture ‘HYDE’ with Vince being not only the lead actor but in the directors chair as well. Everything threatens to go off the rails when the movie goes over budget. To get more money for the production, Ari has to go and deal with difficult Texan financier “Larsen McCredle” (Billy Bob Thornton) and his son “Travis” (Haley Joel Osment). Meanwhile, E is dealing with multiple pregnancies, Turtle is trying to court UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, Vince is dealing with his relationship with Emily Ratajkowski and directing his first major film for Ari, and Drama is coping with his stagnant career and a leaked sex tape. It’s all light fun, accompanied by fast cars, LA icon sightings and an absurd amount of celebrity cameos that if you blink you just might miss one of them.
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With various plotlines moving throughout the film, the party scene that occupies much of the middle section of the film is fantastic and the script really starts to move at a faster, funnier pace. But it’s always Ari who brings the film together. He is by far the most compelling character in the film, always ranting and raving, shouting an incessant amount of profanity at his co-workers while dealing with crazy financiers. Piven is a true scene-stealer, spouting off as much as he can and having a lot of fun with the role. As for the other four principle stars, they’re great together, and while it might take you a moment to recognize child-star Haley Joel Osmont, he does really well in this unexpected character turn with perhaps the meatiest co-star role out of all the actors, getting the chance to portray an immature Texan kid overwhelmed by the celebrity lifestyle.
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While this film is far from a masterpiece by any means, it did keep me smiling throughout with some very funny moments, great dialogue and simply put – it just all works. It’s a good summer diversion that delivers everything you want from a movie like this.. a good time.

B-
@pegsatthemovies

Screening Monday, June 1st, 2015 at Pacific Grove Theatres courtesy of Warner Bros.
Nationwide release: Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

REVIEW ~ “THE GAMBLER” (2014)

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Note: This films release date is Dec. 19th, 2014; this review contains no spoilers

Matk Wahlberg as Jim Bennett

Matk Wahlberg as Jim Bennett

In case you didn’t garner this from the title of the film, “Jim Bennett” (Mark Wahlberg aka always Marky Mark to me) is a consummate, addicted high-stakes gambler..he is also a college literature professor with a tad bit of a problem. He has played a little too hard and fast with what I like to call OPM ~ Other People’s Money. Now he is in a pool of quicksand seemingly without a ladder. gambler 4

First there “Neville” (Michael Kenneth Williams) with whom Bennett borrows from using himself & his own life as collateral as he pits creditor against creditor a few times over. The operator of the gambling ring is “Mister Lee” (Alvin Ing), to whom Bennett’s money is supposed to go to first and gives him 7 days to pay back 260K debt he has incurred with loss after loss at the blackjack & roulette tables. gambler 3But as he layers his debts one on top of another, he starts to owe more than just one person who threatens to kill him if he doesn’t pay. He even borrows from his well-to-do mother, “Roberta” (Jessica Lange) though as he’s done this before more than once, it’s seemingly his last card to play until it’s not and despite all of this he just can’t stop. Even when his college-student girlfriend “Amy” (Brie Larson) walks out on him as he gambles his last chance away. gambler 2

His last shot at redemption is to finally get to the lowest point in his life, as all addicts must, but being that Bennett is actually smarter than most, he develops a plan to get himself out of all of it, but to succeed he must first hit up the last person on earth with whom he can actually borrow from, “Frank” (John Goodman). What happens with all his plays to get out of his mess of a life is the jist of this whole story and what I forsaw as a predictable ending.. or was it?? I will leave that up to you to see as it can go many different ways.

The acting here is done well enough, though no real standouts except maybe Goodman who always does quite wonderfully making things a bit darkly funny while keeping true to the ‘bad guy’ portrait and a quick bit from Richard Shiff as the “Jeweler” which is also a bit comedic. (The great George Kennedy does a quick cameo if you can spot it!) Wahlberg dropped 60lbs in just a few months for this role and it’s very apparent how quickly he did this as not only is he the thinnest I’ve ever seen him, but even his lips have a sickly blue-ish, white pallor to them. His hair however..is great! 🙂 Gambler 1

While this film isn’t great, it is entertaining enough. One of the things I simply loved about it is the filming of it in and all over Los Angeles..not just one simple area..but all over from K-town(Koreatown) to the beaches of the Palisades, USC to Casino Morongo and back on over to the legendary Playboy Mansion, which serves as home to Roberta. As I was honored to be sitting in a Q & A afterwards with the legendary producer, Irwin Winkler ~ think everything from’They Shoot Horses Don’t They’, to the ‘Rocky’ franchise (spoiler Mr. Winkler confirmed there will be a Rocky 6 upcoming), ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Raging Bull’, and the ‘The Mechanic’ to name just a few on his high-profile list of films, but who noted he has lived in Los Angeles for 50 years and there were neighborhoods he still hadn’t known about that they used. Mark Wahlberg insisted they keep the movie here though as Los Angeles really serves as it’s own character fabric of this film so much so. Also speaking was his son, David Winkler, no slouch in his credits either. I also didn’t know this is a remake of the 1974 version of the same name starring James Caan. The Winkler’s noted they had never liked the ending of that film and decided to remake it with a few changes to the storyline and ending.

So there you have it. It’s an entertaining enough of a watch but come contender time, I don’t see it being up there.

Grade: C

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(See grading scale)