Chadwick Boseman just can’t find a solid prestige picture

Marshall PosterPoor Chadwick Boseman. First he played Jackie Robinson. Then he portrayed James Brown. Now he’s NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall. This is the third prominent figure of 20th Century African American history he’s gotten the chance to play. And yet in each case, the movie he’s stuck in is a bland, insipid and worst of all whitewashed prestige picture.

Apparently Thurgood Marshall’s crowning achievement worthy of a biopic isn’t a story of how he became a lawyer or the racism he faced in his career. Reginald Hudlin’s “Marshall” cluelessly focuses on the one story in which Marshall is forced to be silent and cede his courtroom victory were it not for the one white man who stood up to save the day. Continue reading “Marshall”

Rapid Response: The Green Mile

I was wondering why I had waited so long to see “The Green Mile,” possibly because it has become TNT fodder, possibly because the critical through-line on it has been that it’s “The Shawshank Redemption” with magic, and possibly because it’s on that list of potentially overhyped IMDB Top 250 movies. But none of those reasons really justify how much I loved it.

Now granted, it has its flaws, but whereas “Shawshank” is a much more hopeful movie about survival and perseverance, “The Green Mile” has a wholesome spirituality that wins you over with its inherent goodness. Ultimately, its characters are flawed and even cruel and sadistic, but only one of whom do we really dislike and feel is in the wrong. Director Frank Darabont’s gift is in making a film that embraces its fantasy head-on to make for a wonderfully moving tearjerker.

I myself did not know about the film’s fantasy element, so I will not spoil it here, but it involves the miracles surrounding a massive death row inmate named John Coffey (the late Michael Clarke Duncan) and the prison’s head guard, Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks). The movie approaches the giant that is Coffey with the same trepidation that a person would walk the Green Mile before being executed, so it’s a patient film that takes its time over its three hours and allows us to savor every moment. Coffey’s story is one of deep anguish, and in a way, he’s the real emotional center of the film, not Paul.

Paul’s problem involves dealing with one of his prison guard colleagues, the pestilent and cowardly Percy (Doug Hutchison), who is the mayor’s spoiled nephew and feels entitled to be an arrogant little shit. He just wants to see one of these guys cook up close, and he even wants to know what it is to torture someone in one gruesome death sequence. What I like about Percy’s character, if anything, is that as vicious and awful as he is, he reveals himself as ultimately human, pissing his pants out of terror in one scene and revealing that he’s not entirely one-dimensional. We get a sense that he doesn’t entirely deserve the cruel, ironic fate he receives in the end.

Part of me believes that because Paul and his fellow guards are no saints either. They put Percy and their most difficult inmate, Wild Bill Wharton (Sam Rockwell), through both mental and physical brutality. But these characters’ flawed depth allows Hanks to exhibit deep, everyman pain and guilt as only Hanks can. His final conversation with John puts an insurmountable amount of emotional pressure on him that I hadn’t previously imagined.

Some of the scenes, such as the flashback to John’s murder, the execution scene of Eduard Delacroix (Michael Jeter), and the present day tags with Paul as an old man, are a bit heavy-handed and even unnecessarily long, but I’ll remember “The Green Mile” for its more serene moments, not its twists. The use of “Cheek to Cheek” in “Top Hat” is an absolutely beautiful capper. Seeing the mouse Mr. Jingles fetch the thread spool is one of those all time great movie moments. And the rest of the movie is not short of miracles, big or small, either.

Rapid Response: Babe: Pig in the City

My relative Pat Graham’s capsule review in the Chicago Reader in 1998 for “Babe: Pig in the City” is elegant, bizarre and wonderfully written. He described it to me as a sort of faux-poetry, an alternative approach to reviewing a distinctly alternative film. You can read his whole review here.

And yet Pat said it best to me in person what George Miller’s movie is about. “You watch it, and the film says, Look at this! Look at this! Look at THIS,” he said pointing in every which direction.

I watched it, and sure enough I said, “What’s that? What’s that! What’s THAT?!”

“Babe: Pig in the City” is about as surreal a children’s film as you will ever see. It’s absurd, madcap and overwhelming, and yet the film has an operatic, poetic quality about it that doesn’t fit in the slightest.

The resulting film is a beautiful disaster. It’s colorful, yet cold and disconcerting. It’s chaotic, but not a predictable, boring maelstrom of action. It’s teeming with animals all with dopey dubbed lips, and yet there are so damn many of them that you watch in awe of how much effort this must’ve taken. Continue reading “Rapid Response: Babe: Pig in the City”

The Artist

“The Artist” is a whimsical, crowd pleasing film that succeeds on its style and love of the movies, not its story, but for a modern silent film, that’s wonderful.

I should be thrilled “The Artist” is such a winning, fun crowd pleaser of a movie, despite being a silent, foreign film. This movie should be box office poison, and yet it’s whimsical and well made, despite an ultimately flimsy and familiar plot that makes it overrated as a Best Picture frontrunner. Continue reading “The Artist”

Rapid Response: L.A. Confidential

I’ve been playing the video game “L.A. Noire” for the last few weeks, and a game critic I admire said the game’s story borrowed heavily from the 1997 “L.A. Confidential.” I had seen the film before, but hadn’t remembered it for whatever reason. And the two stories do have their similarities, but the film’s rich characterization, stark yet colorful cinematography and gritty action sequences just can’t be beat by a video game.

It’s a story of the corrupt and broken Los Angeles police department in the 1950s when the actions of the police could still be brushed under the rug and their image manipulated within the press and how three completely different cops respond to that environment. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce are the three cops, each of them giving great performances and giving the film more memorable moments than almost any noir made in the ‘40s.

That’s not to say “L.A. Confidential” is the best noir of all time, but the reason it stands out as a unique example of a noir is because while it has the complexity of “The Big Sleep” and the sleazy characters of “Double Indemnity,” it also has the modern vigor and intensity of other ‘90s action films. Continue reading “Rapid Response: L.A. Confidential”