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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

Almost a quarter-decade ago, The American President came out; it’s a cutesy romantic comedy starring Michael Douglas as a Bill Clinton-like president and Annette Bening as the lady he wants to date. America swooned, but I threw up. I hated it.

Now, in the Trump era, we get Long Shot, a different twist on a high-profile politician dating a commoner. This time out, Charlize Theron stars as Charlotte Field, secretary of state and potential presidential candidate. Her eventual romantic interest is Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), a journalist-turned-speech writer who, not surprisingly, smokes lots of weed.

Long Shot is better than The American President. It’s a lot better than The American President.

Flarsky is a dweeby, wind-breaker-wearing columnist whose alternative-weekly newspaper is sold to a conservative media mogul (an unrecognizable Andy Serkis). He quits his job and finds himself attending a high-society party featuring Charlotte and Boyz II Men along with his best pal, Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr., showing he’s a lot funnier than his reasonably funny dad, Ice Cube).

It turns out that Fred knows Charlotte; she was a neighbor when he was a kid, and she (being three years older) baby-sat him. They get reacquainted; Fred gets a job as her speech writer; one thing leads to another; and there you have it—one of the year’s most unlikely rom-com pairings. It works swimmingly, because Theron and Rogen have serious onscreen chemistry.

Before you go squawking that a woman of Theron’s caliber would never date a Rogen-type in real life, I’d like to point out that Theron seriously dated the scrunchy-faced Sean Penn. Seth Rogen kicks Sean Penn’s ass in many categories, including looks. Just saying.

Whatever you may think of this pairing before you see the movie, trust me: Theron and Rogen pull it off. Their courtship is funny, awkward, hilariously drug-laced and utterly convincing. There are many fantasy elements to this movie, but most of those play out on the political side. As for the romance part, that’s the most realistic thing happening in this film. Charlotte likes to party, and much of the Fred character is modeled after Rogen—and Rogen is the king of partying. It’s a good match.

The political stuff is hyper-satire, with Bob Odenkirk scoring big points as the former TV star-turned-president who won’t be seeking re-election, because he wants to make the big leap into film. (He idolizes Woody Harrelson.) Oh, if only this were this the case in 2020 …

Long Shot is directed by real-life Rogen buddy Jonathan Levine. (The two worked together on 50/50 and The Night Before.) Levine proves to be the right choice to pull off the wacky screenplay by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah, a script that gives equal time to environmental issues and accidentally jacking off into one’s beard (a moment reminiscent of There’s Something About Mary). It’s a daring script that takes chances, like a nuclear-bomb thriller portion. Not all of the jokes hit the mark, but enough do.

Theron is one of the best actresses at work today, and she’s also one of the funniest. (See her stint on Arrested Development for further evidence.) She’s actually funnier than Rogen in this movie. That’s not a dig on Rogen; he’s funny, but Theron wins the funny war in Long Shot. As for Jackson, his Lance deserves his own spinoff movie.

Sadly, Long Shot got its clock cleaned at the box office by a little movie called Avengers: Endgame. It looks like America isn’t convinced it needs to see Theron and Rogen making out while high on molly. Whatever. If you are skipping this because you think the pairing looks ridiculous, know that it is indeed a ridiculous movie—but the pairing is the least-ridiculous thing about it. They are a good onscreen couple. I hope they work together again, and I hope Long Shot finds life in the future on streaming platforms.

Long Shot is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I did not realize until I had watched the entirety of Straight Outta Compton, the thrilling new N.W.A. biopic, that Ice Cube’s son was playing Ice Cube.

It’s not like the guy is named Ice Cube Jr. He’s actually named O’Shea Jackson Jr.—his dad’s birth name with Jr. tacked on to the end.

Jackson Jr. is the No. 1 reason to see Compton, a blast of a film that chronicles the rise of the rap group, the eventual infighting and the birth of some gigantic solo careers and record labels. Besides Jackson, Jason Mitchell is a revelation as Eazy-E, while Corey Hawkins is a nice anchor as Dr. Dre.

The film works best when covering the creation of the legendary album that shares the movie’s title. The film also spends plenty of time on the band’s management problems with Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti in a moderately distracting wig) and Eazy-E’s eventual death from AIDS. At a running time of almost 2 1/2 hours, plenty of ground gets covered—in a way that never gets boring.

O’Shea Jackson Jr. is the spitting image of his dad, especially in the way he talks and raps. This lends an invaluable level of authenticity to Compton. It’s a real blessing that Ice Cube’s kid, making his film debut, is a supremely capable actor, because he blows up the screen like Ice Cube did when he made his film debut in Boyz n the Hood back in 1991.

The movie’s music melds original N.W.A. work with actors doing their own vocals. Watch and listen closely, and you’ll catch moments when Jackson and Mitchell prove they are more than capable of re-creating the N.W.A. sound. According to Rolling Stone, the actors re-recorded the original Compton record as an exercise—and that exercise paid off.

Adding to the party are Aldis Hodge as MC Ren, Neil Brown Jr. as DJ Yella, and Keith Stanfield, who totally embodies the part of Snoop Dog. R. Marcos Taylor is quite fearsome as the cigar-chomping Suge Knight. The real Suge Knight is currently in jail, awaiting trial for a hit-and-run death that occurred during a promotional shoot for the movie.

There is one brief scene featuring Tupac Shakur (Marcc Rose) laying down a track. The scene feels tacked on and obligatory, and probably should’ve been relegated to the cutting-room floor.

The depiction of always-evil cops in this film is borderline cartoonish, but what do you expect? This is a movie about the creation of the gangsta rap group that sang “Fuck tha Police.” I didn’t expect to see any warm and fuzzy cops scratching their heads and protesting while Cube, Dre and E are unjustifiably face-down on the pavement. Save the good cops for another movie. This is about Compton in the late ’80s and early ’90s, a war zone where nobody was doing anything right, and the likes of Ice Cube were definitely not feeling the love from the boys in blue. The real-life former members of N.W.A. had a hand in producing the movie, and I’m thinking they are perfectly OK with the depiction of cops in this movie.

Compton was directed by F. Gary Gray, who worked with Ice Cube two decades ago on the very funny Friday. Compton actually has some good laughs to go with its drama. Gray has stumbled a bit with some bad films (Be Cool, Law Abiding Citizen) since his last pairing with Ice Cube, but Compton shows he still has plenty to offer.

Straight Outta Compton is a solid cinematic time capsule that gives some deserved glory to an influential group that forever changed the landscape of hip hop and brought much-needed attention to a very troubled part of the world. It does the band and the biopic genre proud.

Straight Outta Compton is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews