21 Bridges (2019)

21 Bridges (2019)

Directed by: Brian Kirk. Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, J.K. Simmons. Runtime: 1h 39 min. Released: November 22, 2019.

An embattled NYPD detective, Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is thrust into leading a citywide manhunt for a pair of cop killers and uncovers a massive conspiracy. 21 Bridges is a movie that I expected to enjoy given the talent involved – Chadwick Boseman stars and Joe and Anthony Russo are on as producers, as well. Boseman plays his character well as someone who lives in the shadow of his father, a cop who died when Andre was a kid. Andre is characterized as having a happy trigger finger and being the one who shoots first and never asks questions because they’re already in a body bag.

Boseman is easily the best part of this, and it’s interesting for the story that the trigger-happy detective leads the charge against a pair of cop killers. Everyone is out for blood as the stress is high, as Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons) puts Davis on the case. It’s interesting as Davis picks tonight to be a good cop and ask questions first as everyone else becomes trigger happy trying to catch Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and Michael (Stephan James). Sienna Miller is also solid as Detective Frankie Burns who teams up with Davis.

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Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch in 21 Bridges. (IMDb)

Instead of really enjoying this, though, most of the film’s developments felt obvious to me and it all felt predictable. The action itself is fine and some of the manhunt scenes are thrilling. It’s just an old-fashioned cop movie, but it doesn’t do enough with its premise. The sound design isn’t good, either, as gunfire constantly drowns out dialogue. The score also misses in a lot of scenes because half the time the music just doesn’t fit the scene. It’s a big booming orchestra when Andre is just looking through the crime scene and then a similarly dramatic score during the big action scenes. It feels awkward.

The premise of the film works well and the fact that they shut down Brooklyn and all its 21 bridges is a good idea for a lockdown sort-of film, but they waste the premise on a standard story. The villains are okay, here. Basically, Ray and Michael learn about a shipment of cocaine and find way more than they thought there would be. They’re both trained military, and Michael has a strong backstory. As the film starts to tell its conspiracy, it’s all terribly predictable. I do think some of the action is good, but the writing showed its cards so often I couldn’t enjoy it.

Score: 40/100

In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)

In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)

Directed by: Jim Mickle. Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Cleopatra Coleman, Michael C. Hall. Runtime: 1h 55 min. Released: September 27, 2019.

This film contains spoilers. 

Netflix’s In the Shadow of the Moon is a film has ambition that threatens to knock it down, but its originality keeps it standing for the most part. Boyd Holbrook plays Thomas “Locke” Lockhart, a Philadelphia officer who develops a lifelong obsession to track down a mysterious serial killer (Cleopatra Coleman) whose crimes defy explanation as she resurfaces every nine years.

The character work in this film is strong, as Locke’s wife gives birth the same night a serial killer surfaces and multiple people in Philadelphia die mysteriously of brain hemorrhages and their necks are branded with a three-pronged mark. That night lives in Locke’s memory and then he becomes more obsessed nine years later when she returns for reasons that become clear later.

The film starts in 1988 and goes forward nine years each time, so this spans several decades. Boyd Holbrook gives a memorable turn as Locke. He shows the effect his obsession has on him over the years as it affects his life and career. It’s just interesting what one night can do to a man. He also tries to care for his daughter Amy (Quincy Kirkwood as a child; Sarah Dugdale as an adult) but is literally unable to as the years pass because this obsession is eating him alive. I thought Locke was fascinating.

Bokeem Woodbine is also good as Locke’s partner Maddox. He doesn’t have much to do because it’s Locke’s show, but they are a good pair. Cleopatra Coleman is memorable as the mysterious killer as we try to understand her motives. She’s in a hood for most of the film and shows acting chops when she’s given the chance. The other actor of note in this is Michael C. Hall (TV’s Dexter). The character’s fine, he’s Locke’s brother-in-law, Detective Holt, and he’s a bit of a dickhead who goes against Locke at every turn. His Southern accent is also a strange creative choice, as it’s set in Philadelphia (though, it’s really filmed in Toronto).

In the Shadow of the Moon, article
Cleopatra Coleman in In the Shadow of the Moon (IMDb).

The story is intriguing, too. I love the first 18 years of the film and its set-up when people start dying randomly. The detective work and police work in the first 30 minutes is also great as everything in this opening worked for me. I honestly thought it would be the next great detective film looking for a killer whose crimes make little sense. The crimes do make little sense but we get answers by the end of it all. The detective work is consistently there but it eventually becomes more about Locke’s obsession than detective work, but it’s still interesting watching this all unfold.

After the one-hour mark, the film starts to get into the high-concept part of its story. Writers Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock tip their hand too much in one of the years where it becomes clearer how she’s doing the crimes and coming back every so often but finding out the “why” is still enjoyable.

One reason I didn’t love the second half as much is it’s because it’s not as enjoyable watching his life unravel, because he’s likable. The ending is satisfying because of the different turns it takes as Locke learns her motives, and the voice-over narration wraps it up in a tidy bow. I like it because it feels unique and it blends strong detective work and enough science fiction to make it accessible for both genres.

Score: 70/100

The Irishman (2019)

The Irishman (2019)

The IrishmanDirected by: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci. Runtime: 3h 29 min. Released: November 27, 2019.

Martin Scorsese brings an all-star cast of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci to the little screen in Netflix’s The Irishman, a mafia movie that follows Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a mafia hitman who recalls his career and his involvement in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).

The good in The Irishman are in its performances. De Niro is threatening and such a presence as Sheeran. Pacino plays a great union leader in Hoffa, and he gets most of the angry explosions that Joe Pesci has become known for. Pacino’s also perfect at convincing certain people that he’s nice, as well. Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, the head of the Buffalino crime family. He’s threatening and powerful but stays calm and collected throughout the film, and he’s more threatening for it.

The most interesting part about this for me is Frank’s relationship with his daughter Peggy (played by Anna Paquin when she’s older). Paquin does a great job as the character because while she only has seven words of dialogue, her stares at her father speak a thousand words, and just her general disapproval and suspicion of his involvement in Hoffa’s disappearance. In the scenes when Peggy is a child, we can tell she’s scared of him because of his reputation and just the fact that he curb stomps a dude right in front of her because the man pushed her (De Niro stomping near the guy’s head is the least convincing thing in this film). Frank’s relationship with his daughter was the only time I felt emotionally connected to the film.

That’s not to say that the dialogue is bad or anything, Scorsese writes and directs the film like the master that he is, there just aren’t a lot of moments in this film where I could get emotionally attached to the characters. They’re all criminals, but they’re well-sculpted characters. The mafia action scenes – when Frank would just casually walk up to someone and shoot them in the face – are great. The more complex ones like Frank shooting someone in a restaurant off-screen and then getting into his getaway car is also exciting. The scenes in this film that I loved, I truly loved, as everyone from the starring trio to Ray Romano and Jesse Plemons are well-cast and enjoyable to watch.

The Irishman article
Al Pacino in The Irishman. (IMDb)

The film just literally feels like I took all day watching this. I thought there were more than a few boring stretches in this 209-minute film. I don’t have anything against long movies, but this just feels like it drags. I’d be bored, it would hold my attention for 45 minutes, then I’d be bored again. The crime saga admittedly feels aimless at first as Sheeran recaps his career and it only gets fascinating when Jimmy Hoffa comes in but that’s not until 80 minutes into the story. De Niro’s point of view is a good way to get into this story, but I really feel like the first 80 minutes could have been done in half the time and this would me a much better film at 170 minutes.

It spans different decades and when the stars are younger, the film uses de-aging technology. It’s distracting at first as De Niro’s blue eyes are distracting and Pesci’s head looks too big for his body, and they still walk like old men. As it jumps around through its timeline, it becomes more fluid and less noticeable. That also could be just because it’s three and a half hours and you might forget they’re using de-aging technology. I think The Irishman is a good movie, just not one I’d ever be interested in watching again.

Score: 60/100

Just Mercy (2019)

Just Mercy (2019)

Just Mercy posterDirected by: Destin Daniel Cretton. Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson. Runtime: 2h 17 min. Released: December 25, 2019 (limited).

(This review contains spoilers.)

A well-acted true story, Just Mercy is about world renowned civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) as he starts a company, Equal Justice Initiative, defending the wrongfully convicted. His first case is Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a death row inmate falsely accused of killing a young woman in Monroeville, Alabama.

These wrongfully accused stories are one of my favourite sub-genres in film, so I have been excited for this one for awhile and it doesn’t disappoint. Michael B. Jordan is strong as Stevens and it’s fascinating learning why the character’s fighting for these characters. Jordan brings a strong presence to the character, though he gets outshined by Jamie Foxx as McMillian who has to trust that another lawyer won’t screw him over like the Alabama justice system has. When Stevens is different than most lawyers and legitimately cares about the case, it creates a charming chemistry because of Stevens’ compassion.

Much of the injustice here is the racism and how everyone in the community accepted McMillian did it because of some rumours in the town of Monroeville. The smartest observation in the screenplay (by director Destin Daniel Cretton and co-writer Andrew Lanham, based on the book by Bryan Stevenson) is that since the crime took place in Monroeville, multiple characters including new district attorney Tommy Champan (Rafe Spall), reference their pride that their town is Harper Lee’s hometown, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

The irony is brilliant that they’re so proud that an author from their town wrote such a classic piece of literature – about a black man falsely accused of rape as a white lawyer defends him – that they’re unaware they’re just being as racist and prejudiced as the characters in the novel.

The depiction of some of the prejudice feels stereotypical, as some just feel like cartoonish racists, mainly on two occasions where Stevens is pulled over by police for no apparent reason (this scene is tense), as well as a group of men angry that one of their “own” is working with Stevens.

That is Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), the Operations Director of the company. This aspect of the film is interesting as she is judged the most harshly for aligning herself with an outsider who is trying to get a man off death row. Larson has some strong moments in the film and adds to the well-rounded cast. A charming part about this film is the sense of community it creates between its characters.

Just Mercy Foxx
Jamie Foxx in Just Mercy. (IMDb)

One of the reasons I like these kinds of films so much is because the lawyer research feels like detective work as Stevens goes through the case and sees the many things that the original lawyers missed or didn’t even bother to look at. I just like it when the case breaks and everything just clicks, and it feels like the highs of a sports movie in that way. The lawyer work is great as Stevens learns surprising things on that journey, and Tim Blake Nelson is strong as an integral character, too. I like the layers to his character, and he helps show that the true antagonist in Just Mercy is Monroeville’s justice system.

The main storyline is compelling and well-paced at 137 minutes. A main sub-plot with a character called Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan) is great, too. Morgan is fascinating as a death row inmate and ex-veteran dealing with severe PTSD who has to cope with his actions.

Also making an appearance in the film is O’Shea Jackson as Anthony Ray Hinton. This character feels out-of-place because there’s no interaction between him and Stevenson, but he’s accurate to the real-life story as one of Walter and Herbert’s cellmates. I imagine some of his scenes could have been left on the cutting room floor for pacing, as his story is relevant enough to have added another 30 minutes to the film. It’s smart for pacing to sideline him, but it feels like a waste for the character and the actor’s talents.

Despite that fault, it’s still an emotionally compelling film with some engaging courtroom drama, as well as a handful of heartbreaking scenes. Both these characters truly give perspective into how many inmates need the help of Bryan Stevenson and the film is generally an important story showing the importance of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Score: 80/100

Richard Jewell (2019)

Richard Jewell (2019)

Richard Jewell posterDirected by: Clint Eastwood. Starring: Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde. Runtime: 2h 11 min. Released: December 13, 2019.

American security guard Richard Jewell saves thousands of lives from an exploding bomb at the 1996 Olympics but is vilified by journalists and the press who falsely reported that he was a terrorist. One of my favourite sub-genres of films are false accusation movies where the main character must clear their name with the help of others, and Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell falls into that category. It’s also a story of heroism that turns tragic when Jewell’s five minutes of fame turns into a nightmare.

This nightmare starts when Olivia Wilde’s character, journalist Kathy Scruggs gets a report from one of the leading federal agents, Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), that they’re investigating Jewell as the bomber. The Feds think he fits the profile because he’s always wanted to be in authority but not able, and this on his resume would catapult him into an authority role. From here, the feds they tunnel-vision onto Jewell because they think it just fits so well.

Wilde and Hamm are both convincingly despicable. Their unlikability feels unrealistic at times, especially Shaw because he’s so cruel to Jewell – and that’s not to mention the unethical things he and partner Brandon Walker (Mike Pniewski) do – but it all feels reflective of how nightmarish this situation must have been for the real Richard Jewell.

Paul Walter Hauser turns in easily one of my favourite performances of last year as Richard Jewell. He’s been on my radar since 2017’s I, Tonya as an absolute scene-stealer as Shawn there, but he steals the entire show here as Jewell. He plays mean security guard at the beginning well but that’s just because he wants respect, and you can tell Jewell just wants to do his job well.

Richard Jewell article
Sam Rockwell and Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell. (IMDb)

His compassion is endless and his patience throughout this whole ordeal is heartbreaking because of the way he’s treated, they don’t deserve that patience. In key scenes he shows he’s just as angry as everyone else even if he doesn’t express it, but you can see it in his eyes. His scenes of vulnerability are great and the only thing that Jewell’s character is guilty of is respecting authority too much. It doesn’t spoil anything, but a scene of Jewell with eating a doughnut is great acting. That sounds silly without context, but it is one of the film’s best scenes.

Sam Rockwell is also great as Richard’s lawyer, Watson Bryant. His fight for Richard is nice and their chemistry is great. The chemistry shines from the opening scene as Richard briefly works at his firm and Watson is the only one who treats him as a person. Kathy Bates is heartbreaking as Richard’s mother Bobi Jewell, and Bates plays her with great vulnerability. If anyone has a harder time in this situation than Richard, it’s his mother and she shows this in a few key scenes. Her recreation of Bobi Jewell’s real-life speech is flawless as she pleas the press to lay off Richard.

The story itself has good pacing and feels like an accurate depiction of what happened. Screenwriter Billy Ray does a strong job with the screenplay, adapting a magazine article by Marie Brenner. The scene where the bomb goes off and its lead-up is so suspenseful and is well-directed by Clint Eastwood. This is truly just a great story of a regular guy caught in an undeserved media circus.

Score: 80/100

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Birds of Prey posterDirected by: Cathy Yan. Starring: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Runtime: 1h 49 min. Released: February 7, 2020.

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) intends to make a name for herself in the crime world after breaking up with the Joker. Instead, everyone wants to kill her because she’s no longer under his protection, which makes for some fun scenes. Eventually, Harley teams up with Dinah/Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and police officer Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) to save a girl, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) from crime lord Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor).

I’ll start with Roman, a.k.a. Black Mask. McGregor plays the character with some solid humour. He’s also scary, especially when flexing powers in misogynistic scenes played for intimidation. He’s a more imposing and interesting villain than Cara Delevigne’s Enchantress in 2016’s Suicide Squad, and McGregor has fun in this role. He fits the shoes well, though it seems like a role tailored for Sam Rockwell’s quirks, as far the humour side of the role goes. McGregor is a fine choice and he’s great when he finally puts on the Black Mask.

Margot Robbie is of course the highlight as Harley Quinn. She makes the character and has a lot of funny lines, and I like the bit about finding the perfect breakfast sandwich. Her action scenes are simply fun, and as far as the R-rated violence goes, a scene in a police station has some of the film’s strongest fight choreography.

The humour and action fits Harley as a character, as does the way the story that bounces around according to her train of thought and when she thinks it’s important to tell you something for the story. Screenwriter Christina Hodson understands Harley, and it’s a strong screenplay. This is two good screenplays in a row for Hodson after Bumblebee, and I mention that because she started off with two bad films, Unforgettable and Shut In, both of which I consider among the worst films of their release years. Hodson does well with this property.

Birds of Prey
Margot Robbie in Birds of Prey (IMDb).

This is more of a Harley film than a Birds of Prey film, they have both in the title but Birds of Prey is front and centre. The members of BOP show up throughout, but Dinah/Black Canary has the most to do throughout as an employee of Roman’s at his club. As a regular person, she’s the most interesting one here besides Harley.

 

Rosie Perez is solid as Montoya and I like the bit that she talks like a cop from a bad TV show. I like how all the characters come together through Cassandra Cain, a street-smart pickpocket who has a decent chemistry with Robbie. All of the core characters have solid chemistry with each other in the way they’re brought together but don’t really like each other.

I liked the humour for her Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress and she has a couple moments to shine, even if she doesn’t do that much. One of my favourite parts of this is as she goes down a slide and uses a henchman as a sled as she stabs him to death. It’s a cool shot. Also when Black Canary is allowed to be super, her battle cry is worth the wait.

It’s the ending here when all the women band together to fight for a common interest in protecting the girl that the film really shines. It’s when the action is most memorable, too, and it’s a finale fit for a solid comic book film like this one. There is great comic violence throughout the film as the characters take care of business separately, but it’s just a different level of fun when they kick ass together. I wish they could have done that together for longer, but it’s a blast while it lasts. In general, too, Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is a good time at the movies.

Score: 70/100

Bad Boys for Life (2020)

Bad Boys for Life (2020)
Bad Boys For Life poster
IMDb

Bad Boys for Life. Directed by: Adil and Bilal. Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens. Runtime: 2h 4 min. Released: January 17, 2020.

Bad Boys for Life is a lot of fun and, after this and Bumblebee, proves the best way to reinvigorate a franchise is to remove Michael Bay as director. Who knew?

The new directors here, Adil and Bilall, bring fun action and more importantly a solid story (screenplay by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan) as Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence), narcotics cops with the Miami Police Department, don’t investigate narcotics this time. It feels fresh as it goes into a revenge story by someone from Mike’s past, and the film is revenge-fueled from both the villain and hero side.

As they’re older now, the film challenges Mike’s mortality and invincibility in interesting ways. It’s a story about knowing when to quit and because of that Marcus’ concerns feel natural for the plot because there’s a reason to get out of the game right now. In the first two films, the reason was just because Mike was a reckless partner. Mike is still reckless but he learns the importance of reliance, too. It’s a sequel with surprisingly insightful and emotional beats.

I liked the villains here a lot, played by Kate del Castillo and Jacob Scipio, but I won’t discuss their motives. I’ll just say they’re the franchise’s most interesting villains so far.

Familiar faces besides the main two are back like Reggie (Dennis Greene), Marcus’ daughter’s boyfriend who shows in his acting why he’s only ever had that role (sorry, Reggie) but it’s funny seeing him again. I also love seeing Joe Pantoliano as Captain Howard. Pantoliano gives me as much nostalgia as Mike and Marcus.

It is also intriguing how our Bad Boys join forces with others and that’s in the form of a new unit within the MPD called AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations) which is the new driving out the old.

The crew consists of Mike’s sort-of ex-girlfriend Rita (Paola Nuñez), and their banter is solid throughout. The youth of this group features Vanessa Hudgens as Kelly, Alexander Ludwig as Dorn (a tech guy with a punch) and Charles Melton as Rafe. They’re a good presence but I don’t think anyone here but Hudgens leaves an impression. It seems to me like they’re going for a 21 Jump Street vibe with their youth and gadgets. They’re a good complementary team to the film and I’d like to see them team up with our Bad Boys in a future installment, but I’m not ready for a spin-off film with them. That’s because Will Smith still kicks ass in the role even at the age of 51.

Bad Boys for Life article
Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys for Life. (IMDb)

Martin Lawrence isn’t a big part of the action scenes until the end for story reasons, but he’s great at the end and it’s nice to see that 25 years after the first film, their chemistry still shines. Their banter is great and I’d argue their chemistry is the best it’s been in the franchise. They still don’t see eye to eye, but they’re beginning to compromise.

It is delightful that this premise still works so well because there’s actually a good story and strong directing team to match the great pairing of Smith and Lawrence. Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (as Adil and as Bilall)’s directorial style never distracts, and they know how to shoot action. Some editing in action films can be hectic, but the action is shot well here by cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert.

I don’t hate Michael Bay as a director, but his films can be headache-inducing with the style. It’s apparent the franchise doesn’t mean any ill-well against Bay as he plays a Wedding MC in the film, and that’s the best place for him where his directorial style can’t shoot the Bad Boys in the foot. He lets them do the shooting.

Adil and Bilall also make this story work because the direction makes the story feel less cartoonish than the first two films, but it’s still outrageous. It’s awesome that the Bad Boys have found a pair of directors that brings out the best of them: And that’s in terms of story, action, comedy and heart. Bad Boys for Life is the best and most balanced film in the trilogy.

Score: 80/100