REVIEW: “SKIN” (2019) A24

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“SKIN” is a gritty true life tale that started off as a short film by Guy Nattiv and turned into this full length feature film featuring some stellar acting and a story, that while it might seem kind of familiar and possibly a bit formulaic, makes into a solid feature.

Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell) is a long-term member of the Vindlanders Social Club, run by Fred Krager aka ‘Hammer‘ (Bill Camp), who inducts down-on-their-luck young kids into his gang by offering them food and shelter, all the while drip-feeding racist bile into their mindset.  As we first meet Bryon, he’s already beginning to question his membership in the organization, even though he is getting ready to participate in one of their horrible missions to burn up a building with his fellow Neo-Nazi’s.   This self-examination of what he is doing in his life, intensifies when he falls for Julie (Danielle Macdonald), a tough young mother with three kids ranging from 5-13, who has cut her ties with the Nazi ideology.  When he starts to see new recruit Gavin (Russell Posner) go through the same process as he did, he starts to look for ways to get out.

This is where things get tricky.  As Bryon’s journey is inter-cut with intense scenes of his tattoo removal process, which is in and of itself, a hard watch.  We also have to bear witness to him follow through with the mission of hate crimes they commit which then get him put on the Federal most wanted list of criminals. He then himself, has to go underground and work in the same type of situations the people he once so cruelly hurt do.

While the story might fall into traps of it’s own making and be similar to the kinds of movies that deal with this subject matter, i.e., American History X comes mostly to mind, as our main character starts off the movie with strong prejudices and views which throughout the course of the film he starts to question. So why even watch it if we know what’s going to happen I hear you ask? We watch it because we want to see the journey he takes that helps him reach the point of wanting to change, and for me this is where the movie fell down a little, the story felt a little rushed at times. For example I felt that more time could have been spent exploring the family gang-style dynamics because it was that family dynamic that shaped his racial views, but it all felt very glossed over.  I had no idea how large this “gang” was or how much power money influence they had because the movie didn’t tell me.

I thought this film was a credible, true story of what living with the consequences of your actions can be, but also with the hope that there is still time to change. I always have a problem with UK/Aussie actors trying to come in and do strong southern accents as they are extremely difficult and I can usually spot faults with it immediately and here we have not only Bell (British) but Macdonald (Aussie) as leads. That being said, Jamie Bell was phenomenal here and pulled this character off completely, though Vera Farmiga was just criminally underused as Mom.

This film can help change mentalities. I was sucked into seeing the differences of some people whom actually live within this world and make these decisions believing they are doing good in the world.  All in all it’s a good film, I’d say it’s not as powerful as other similar films like the aforementioned ‘American History X’, but then again this a true story and that alone makes it an interesting watch. Not only to see how a real person so entrenched in hate culture can change their lives for the better of not only themselves, but everyone around them as well.

Grade: C+

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, July 10, 2019 ~ Courtesy of 42 West LLC/A24

“SKIN” HITS THEATERS ON FRIDAY, JULY 26, 2019

REVIEW: “THE JUDGE” (2014) Warner Bros.

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Before I even start this review…I want to note that my heart & thoughts go out to Robert Downey Jr. who lost his mother this week and as he would usually be out promoting this film, instead he put out a beautiful tribute to her (http://www.eonline.com/news/583342/robert-downey-jr-s-mother-dies-read-his-moving-candid-tribute-to-elsie-ann-downey) in the wake of this movie opening, which in a weird twist of fate, has the plot starter of the loss of the mother bringing his character home for the funeral. #RIP

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Now down to the movie here. I’m just gonna say I liked it and thought it told a good story.  Could the pace of it have been better..yeah..did it have some spots that lagged.. yeah..but it told a good story. As it started off I thought ‘oh no, another dysfunctional family film, I’ve just seen one of those last week and it wasn’t so good (see review https://peggyatthemovies.com/2014/09/20/review-this-is-where-i-leave-you-2014-warner-bros/) but then the story starts to unfold and it’s you realize it’s much more than that.

The film starts off with “Hank Palmer” (Robert Downey Jr.) who is a very good lawyer, (and I gotta say, wears a good cut suit like no other here), though possibly not really a ‘good’ man as he knows the people he is defending are all pretty much guilty, but he has a knack for making ‘reasonable doubt’ happen and makes a boatload of money doing it. In the middle of a big trial, he gets called home as his mother has passed.  He hasn’t been home nor spoken to his father since before law school as seems he had gotten into a few to many scrapes as a kid/teen and was shipped off to a more disciplinary school type deal.                                                   judge 3

Still Downey makes this character likable and you begin to remember that yes, before Iron Man, he was a really good dramatic actor,can carry & hold his own and that says a lot about him here because while he is still his fun self, he’s also much more. As we delve into the main part of the story here where Hank’s father, “Judge Joseph Palmer” (Robert DuVall) the ‘Judge’ of the small town in Indiana where all of this takes place, is arrested.  The prosecutor, “Dwight Dickham” played by Billy Bob Thornton, makes it clear that in many ways, Downey Jr. and his accused murderer father are actually kind of the bad guys here. It’s up to the jury to decide in a fun scene with Downey Jr., & Dax Shepard, who plays the country bumpkin lawyer hired because initially the Judge doesn’t want Hank representing him in this case but in reality, the court case is really secondary and there’s no big mystery to be solved. It’s first and foremost a father-son story, the main hook being whether or not Downey and his somewhat unfriendly, estranged father will be able to come to terms with each other, and not whether he’ll be convicted and go to jail. The success lies in the fact that ultimately you are rooting for these two guys to sort out their issues with each other, even if both are headstrong and often exasperating.  judge billy bob

With that in mind, this movie is not a complete success in all the way around. For one, the characters of his older brother, “Glen” (Vincent D’Onofrio) and his younger, somewhat mentally challenged younger brother “Dale” (Jeremy Strong) are almost completely irrelevant to the story for exception of a bit of background in that Glen serves a purpose as when they were teens he was a star baseball player and got in a car accident with Hank, who was driving while under the influence of basically everything, was injured and never could play again which led to the estrangement between father and son. The same thing could be said for the character of “Samantha” (Vera Farmiga) who plays Hank’s old girlfriend/new possible love interest with a kinda icky sub-plot of her daughter “Carla” (Leighton Meester) whom Hank has a torrid make-out scene with, but whom could possibly be his daughter.  All of this, plus a bit more even, are the lagging parts I previously spoke about and easily could have been cut-down which would have made this movie a much more manageable watch time-wise.  There are a lot of sub-plots going on here as Hank is going through a possible divorce, wants to see his daughter more, Duvall’s character has numerous things going on all over the place and to get into detail about them all would not only be time-consuming, but spoil the movie for you.  Needless to say, they all get woven in together quite well I think due to the fact you have strong actors playing the two lead roles who also mesh well together on screen and in this movie.

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I don’t think “The Judge” is going to win any awards and I’ve been wrestling with my own ‘grade’ of the pic.. because I think it does tell a good story, has the makings to do somewhat well at the box office considering the star power of the cast, and it has that ‘feel-good/tug at your heart’ thing going for it. It also has definite entertainment value and it does work on a lot of levels.  With all that going for it, it is far from perfect but yet, is a crowd pleaser. With that.. I’m giving it ….

Grade:  C+  (above average)

(See grading scale)

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