Just Mercy

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Just Mercy is a movie with a message. It is a moving, emotional, visceral film.

Based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who comes to Alabama to work on behalf of a death row inmate, the film succeeds because of the strong performances by its cast, especially its two leads. And because it handles the legal movie set pieces with restraint and grace. Just Mercy has its tense moments but does not overwhelm with melodrama.

It’s important to note that Just Mercy is rated PG-13, which means it is more likely to be seen by younger viewers than an R-rated version of this story would be. The film moves at a brisk pace and should keep moviegoers of all ages engaged.

Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) sits in Alabama’s Holman Prison sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a Harvard Law grad, comes south to examine the case. He discovers that testimony which was key to McMillian’s conviction was false.

In telling McMillian’s story, Just Mercy also presents those of others on death row. An execution is presented in stark detail, stopping just short of showing the actual event.

The cast includes Brie Larson as local woman Eva Ansley who helps Stevenson set up the Equal Justice Initiative. (She previously worked with Just Mercy director Destin Daniel Cretton in the excellent 2013 film Short Term 12.) Tim Blake Nelson appears as prisoner Ralph Myers, a man whose damaged life is spared by giving false testimony. Rob Gordon plays McMillian’s death row neighbor Herbert Richardson in a heart-breaking performance. The ensemble of players who portrayed McMillian’s Monroeville, Alabama family and neighbors is a natural and likable crew.

Stevenson’s real life message and the message of the movie is that injustice is real, not just a plot in a novel written by a woman who was also from Monroeville, and it remains an issue today.

Stevenson has played a role in overturning numerous convictions around the U.S. He advocates against the death penalty.

Will this movie change minds and behaviors? We’ve seen dramas such as Twelve Angry Men that cause us to reconsider the true meaning of justice. Even that one episode of The Andy Griffith Show—where a guy played by Jack Nicholson(!) is accused of a crime and the only one who believes (correctly) that he’s innocent is Aunt Bea—informs us that what our natural prejudices might suggest may not always be accurate.

Just Mercy may be the perfect vehicle for Stevenson’s ideas to reach an broad audience beyond those who’ve read his book or attended his speaking engagements. That is, if people go see it.

 

 

 

 

1917

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1917 is a really good war movie. The reason it is not quite great is… its gimmick.

Some have hailed the gimmick as a major accomplishment even though another movie did pretty much the same thing a few years ago.

The gimmick is: the entire movie is what appears to be one continual shot that seems to run in real time. The gimmick is impressive, without a doubt. It is also distracting.

As I viewed 1917, my concern was less for the film’s characters and more for the camera and sound crews as they had to navigate trenches, rough terrain and water hazards to get the shots.

The “one continual shot” bit was a feature of 2014’s Birdman but it did not distract quite as much from that film’s compelling story. Birdman won the Oscar for Best Picture five years ago.

1917’s story is simple. Two young British soldiers in Europe during World War One are chosen to deliver a message to the commander of another unit of Brit troops. The message: “don’t proceed with your planned attack… it’s a trap.” Oh, and one of the two guys has a brother in that group that’s planning to attack. Oh, and they have to walk all the way to get to that other battalion.

Of course, the journey is perilous. Hey, it’s WWI and the Germans are bad people. (Well, they were bad people then. And then again a couple of decades later. But we like them okay nowadays, right?)

1917 has appearances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth but their screen time is fleeting. The two young guys are played by relative unknowns Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay as Corporals Blake and Schofield, respectively. Both are good! (Chapman played King Tommen on Game Of Thrones.)

You may be able to enjoy this film and appreciate the feeling of immersion that director Sam Mendes hopes to achieve with this special perspective. You may not be distracted with thoughts about the welfare of the crew behind the camera. You may, as some critics already have done, praise the one continual shot thing as genius.

Or, you may, as I have, find it to be a distracting (and unnecessary) gimmick.

1917 was included on several top ten lists for 2019 releases. The film won Golden Globe awards for Best Drama and Best Director. Its imdb.com rating (from a small sample of users) is 8.6, the same as Saving Private Ryan.

1917’s wide release was pushed back from a Christmas Day 2019 opening to the less competitive January 10. (Although 1917 is still competing for IMAX screen time with Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker.)

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Awards Season And I Don’t Care Who Wins

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Awards are nice. I’ve prepared materials that led to PR clients winning significant awards. I have been a finalist for national broadcast awards. Recognition for one’s efforts can be gratifying.

But I seriously do not care anymore who wins the big awards. Oh, I have been passionate in the past! Michael Keaton should’ve won an Oscar for Birdman but an actor who played an especially sympathetic character won that year. I got in trouble in the 80’s when I joked on air that a certain rock group must’ve shared their cocaine with lots of music industry voters to win a Record of the Year Grammy (which they should not have won).

One reason I don’t care anymore is voting for most entertainment awards is not transparent. We do not know who the voters are nor do we know how many votes a winner receives. It has been suspected Harvey Weinstein (and others) have called in favors and swayed voting to nab awards for a particular film or actor. Is a record company executive likely to vote for Grammy nominees based on their performances or based on their business connections to that exec? Also, it is generally not revealed whether a winner wins with a 90% majority or a 39% plurality. Should those numbers be made public? I don’t know. And I don’t care.

Voting for many sports awards, on the other hand, IS transparent. We know how many votes Joe Burrow received for the Heisman Trophy and the identity of many Heisman voters is known. Similarly, with baseball MVP and Cy Young awards, we know who votes and by how big a margin the winners win. Sometimes I agree with the choices; sometimes I don’t. It’s interesting to see who wins and I do have my sports favorites. But I don’t care who wins those votes.

More controversial are Hall of Fame votes. Will the Pro Football Hall of Fame choose Isaac Bruce this year? They should. But because they’ve overlooked him in the past, I don’t care anymore. Peter Gammons posted an impassioned plea on The Athletic last week for baseball HOF voters to vote for Curt Schilling for his baseball accomplishments and to overlook some of Schilling’s obnoxious behaviors in his private life. Will they? I doubt it. But I don’t care. (Let’s not even get started on the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame and its shortcomings. I used to care. I do not anymore.)

Another reason I don’t care is that there are now such a huge number of awards handed out. I recall one season a few years back when I was more impressed by certain actors’ abilities to act surprised when they won award after award after award for the same acting job than I was for their actual on screen performances. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration AND a badly constructed sentence. For that I apologize.)

The Golden Globes were handed out this past Sunday. The Critics Choice Awards will be presented Sunday, January 12. Oscar nominees will be announced Monday, January 13. The SAG Awards will be handed out on Sunday, January 19. Grammy winners will be announced Sunday, January 26. The big Academy Awards show with Oscar winners will be telecast Sunday, February 9.

Awards shows can be a pleasant amusement and entertaining TV. I’ve attended a few of the country music awards shows in Nashville and Los Angeles and they (and the after parties) are fun. Awards shows are useful because they generate lots of discussion and plenty of publicity for artists and their works.

I’ll watch some of the upcoming awards shows. I’ll groan at the hosts’ attempts to be funny. I will be curious to see who gets to walk up and accept the various trophies. I’ll be happy for some of the winners. I’ll enjoy the occasional surprises. I’ll read the inevitable online rants afterward about who got snubbed. But, sorry, I really don’t care who wins.