Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Michael B. Jordan stars in Just Mercy as civil-rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, a real attorney who has dedicated his life to freeing wrongly convicted death-row inmates.

Destin Daniel Cretton’s film focuses primarily on the case of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man sentenced to death for the murder of a girl, even though evidence showed he was with friends and family at the time of the killing. What happened to McMillian is depicted competently in the movie, as are some other cases and Stevenson’s struggles to bring injustices into the light.

Jordan and Foxx are very good, as are supporting-cast members Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson and O’Shea Jackson Jr. The film is well done, but perhaps a little too routine in some stretches. Still, it’s a showcase for fine acting, especially by Jordan and Foxx. It’ll also get you thinking about problems with the death penalty, and the kinds of horrors men like McMillian have gone through.

Just Mercy is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Netflix is becoming a haven for the very best directors. Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma will debut on the streaming service on Dec. 14 after a very brief theatrical run. Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Paul Greengrass, Guillermo del Toro and Steven Soderbergh all have had, or will have, projects with Netflix.

The true stunner is that Joel and Ethan Coen also teamed up with Netflix for their latest, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The film is a six-part Western anthology that fits snugly in their repertoire, which includes No Country for Old Men, Fargo, Barton Fink and Raising Arizona. The movie’s arrival on Netflix, after a one-week theatrical run, establishes Netflix as a true original-film force.

The film opens with a story about the title character (played by Tim Blake Nelson), a singing cowboy who is frighteningly adept with his gun, casually killing many in the segment’s few minutes. The musical ending tells us we are in true Coen territory—where weird, beautiful things can happen.

The other shorts involve an unlucky bank robber (James Franco), a sad and greedy show-runner (Liam Neeson), a wily prospector (Tom Waits), an unfortunate cross-country traveler (Zoe Kazan) and a creepy stagecoach. All of the segments are good enough that they could be expanded into stand-alone films, and all of them successfully convey the overall theme—that the old West was a tricky, dark place.

For any Coen fans concerned that this represents anything less than their usual brilliance because it’s a streaming/TV affair: Fret not. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will go down as one of the year’s best movies, as their films often do. It’s also a nice companion piece to their other fine Western, their remake of True Grit.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

After a lot of bad buzz, Fantastic Four has finally hit the big screen, and it’s official: The summer movie season is officially dead. It has been punched in the neck.

The Marvel franchise has had a few misfires, including Ghost Rider and its sequel, the Amazing Spider-Man films, and, of course, the two previous Fantastic Four movies. (Actually, it’s three previous Fantastic Four movies, counting Roger Corman’s never-released effort.) Those films blew, but they had some sort of coherence. In contrast, director Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four is an epically discombobulated cinematic mess. It’s as if the people who wrote, directed and edited this thing never talked to each other about what they were doing.

Get ready for another origin story: This one goes all the way back to when Reed Richards was a little kid, making teleporters in his garage with his scrappy pal, Ben Grimm. The story then jumps ahead to a high school science fair, where Reed (Miles Teller) and Ben (Jamie Bell) are being mischievous: Their teleporter causes a basketball backboard to blow up … so, naturally, Reed gets a full scholarship to the prestigious Baxter Institute.

Reed spends his school days working for Dr. Franklin Storm (a completely terrible Reg E. Cathey). Storm’s adopted daughter, Sue (a detached Kate Mara), assists Reed in making a bigger version of his science project, as does biological son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) after he crashes his car and is forced to help. Reed’s team also includes the rebellious Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell). That last name should be a red flag, right?

When NASA and a gum-chewing Tim Blake Nelson try to take over their project, a drunken Reed and his boys (including Ben) decide to try out the teleporter thing, and they wind up in another dimension on Planet Zero (The Negative Zone in the comics). Everything is dull and grey, laid out as if somebody had intended to make a 3-D movie but pulled the plug and went 2-D when they realized the film was piss.

Things go wrong; Victor gets left on Planet Zero; and the Fantastic Four is born when everybody returns all fantastically screwed up. Sue, who stayed behind at the lab, still gets transformed, because she gets hit with blue light from the teleporter thing, proving my theory that a blue light bath from a teleporter thing often results in controllable invisibility.

So Sue is invisible sometimes; Johnny is the flammable Human Torch; Ben Grimm is the rock pile The Thing; and Reed is the stretchy guy. Mind you, very little action with these powers actually takes place. The film doesn’t even really allow the characters to acknowledge what has happened to them. It’s a leaden build-up to an even more-leaden, tacked-on finale.

Trank recently made a recent statement implying the studio hijacked the film, and the movie we are seeing is not really his. Given how disjointed this film feels, I’d be inclined to believe him, although his Chronicle was nothing to get all that excited about.

Apart from the terrible acting, the dung-heap dialogue and the plot problems, this movie possesses some of the worst special effects and makeup you will ever see in a modern, big-studio picture. For terrible makeup, look no further than Von Doom after he transforms on Planet Zero. He looks like a seventh-grader who tried to make a C-3PO costume out of melted silver Crayola crayons, and who then, while mushing the thing together, was introduced to low-grade methamphetamine.

Stan Lee doesn’t do a cameo in Fantastic Four. He shows up in almost all of these things. When Stan Lee doesn’t show up, you’ve been disavowed. This film deserves to be disavowed.

The Fantastic Four is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews