Tag Archives: Jamie Foxx

Presumed Guilty

Just Mercy

by George Wolf

You may have noticed there’s no shortage of films exposing the miscarriages of justice that have landed innocent people on Death Row.

Sadly, that’s because there’s no shortage of innocent people on Death Row.

So while the prevailing themes in Just Mercy are not new, the sadly ironic truth is their familiarity brings an added layer of inherent sympathy to the film, which helps offset the by-the-numbers approach taken by director/co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton.

Cretton and co-writer Andrew Lanham adapt the 2014 memoir by Bryan Stevenson, an attorney and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, that details Stevenson’s years providing legal counsel to the poor and wrongly convicted in Alabama.

The film keeps its main focus on the case of Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx), who, by the time Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) comes along, has long accepted his death sentence for the murder of an 18 year-old white woman. But by winning over Walter’s extended family, Stevenson gains Walter’s trust, along with plenty of threats from the Alabama good ol’ boys once he starts exposing the outrageous violations during Walter’s “fair trial.”

It’s clear that Cretton (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle) is firmly committed to respectful accuracy in his adaptation, which is commendable. The authenticity of the roadblocks, impassioned speeches or blood-boiling examples of bigotry are never in doubt, but it’s only the ferocious talents of Jordan and Foxx that keep Just Mercy from collapsing under the weight of its own unchecked righteousness.

As sympathetic as Walter’s situation is, the script never quite sees him as a real person, painting only in shades of hero. Oscar winner Brie Larson, a Cretton favorite, is wasted as EJI co-founder Eva Ansley, who seems included more out of respect than for what the character ultimately adds to the narrative.

Jordan has the most to work with here, and – no surprise – he makes the most of it. Peripheral cases help Jordan give Stevenson the needed edges of a man who is equally driven by his failures, doggedly committed to helping those he identifies with so deeply, those who, as Walter puts it, are “guilty from the moment you’re born.”

Though it comes out swinging with heavy hands, Just Mercy steadies itself in time to become an effective portrait of systemic injustice. You will be moved, but with a force that is muted by simple convention.

Merry, Indeed

Robin Hood

by Hope Madden

Hey, do you guys remember Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur? I mean, of course you don’t. It made like $9.

Had it been anything other than a global box office disaster, a likeminded retooling of the British legend of Robin Hood might have made sense. And yet, here we have it: a poor man’s Guy Ritchie (Otto Bathurst) trying to anachronism his way through the old bandit’s tale.

Taron Egerton stars as the Hood, billed by imdb as “a war-hardened Crusader” but coming off more as a precocious 12-year-old. He’s joined by battlefield adversary and post-war comrade John (Jamie Foxx), who insists on calling him English regardless of the fact that they are in England and, you know, every single person is English. (Let’s not even talk about his accent.)

Eve Hewson and Tim Minchin round out the merry band as the politically liberal/inappropriately dressed Marian and the only actor who doesn’t embarrass himself, respectively.

Ben Mendelsohn shoulders the evil Sheriff of Nottingham duties this go-round. If you only know Mendelsohn from Ready Player One, Rogue One or Dark Knight Rises, please believe me when I say that he needs to stop playing scenery-chewing baddies. He is one of the most versatile and talented character actors in film today. Please go watch literally anything else he’s ever made. (Give yourself the gift of the Aussie film Animal Kingdom.)

Writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly blandly reimagine Robin of Loxley’s origin story, casting aside any historical authenticity in favor of hip fun. Tragically, the result is never hip and rarely fun.

The film details some ludicrously debauched ties with the church and a global plot to bilk a few hundred peasants of more money than the whole of England would possess. Where do all those golden bowls and goblets come from? How many peasants are dining so flamboyantly?

They also reach to give the sheriff some Trumpian moments, though that backfires as well. As fine an actor as Mendelsohn is, it is tough for him to come off as a dumb ass.

The score feels cribbed, the action is video-game superficial and the costuming came directly from Forever 21.

Why did they make this movie again?





Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing

Baby Driver

by Hope Madden

Start to finish, the soundtrack-driven heist flick Baby Driver has a bright, infectious charm – and you can dance to it.

It needs to be good, though. The third film in as many years about a mixtape, a rag-tag gang and a dead mom, this movie needs to bring something genuinely mesmerizing.

If there is one thing writer/director Edger Wright knows how to do, it’s propel a film’s action. That’s hardly his only talent, but few excel here quite the way he does. Scene to scene, set piece to set piece, he makes sure your eyes and your ears are aware that things are moving at a quick clip.

Never has this been more true than with Baby Driver.

Wright edits in time with his expertly curated mix tape, creating a rhythm that keeps his lead dancing, his film moving, and his audience engaged.

The beats offer more than a gimmick to ensure the flick dances along – the tunes getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) has buzzing through his ear buds give rhythm to his impressive high speed antics.

Baby is the one constant in the teams Doc (Kevin Spacey) assembles to pull off his jobs. A reluctant participant making good on a debt, Baby keeps his distance from the crew – whether it’s the oily Buddy (Jon Hamm, marvelous as ever), his sketchy girlfriend Darling, (Eiza Gonzales), or the straight-up psycho, Bats (Jamie Foxx – glad to see you in something worthwhile again).

Of course, the tension comes in when Baby tries to leave the robbery biz behind, egged on by feelings for the cute waitress at his favorite diner (Lily James).

If you’ve ever seen a movie, you’ll know that getting out is never easy.

Wright’s agile camera keeps tempo with his killer playlist. Whether back-dropping romance at the laundromat with gorgeous color and tongue-in-cheek visual call-backs, or boogying through back alleys, on-ramps and highways, Baby Driver is as tasty a feast for the eyes as it is the ears.

The game cast never drops a beat, playing characters with the right mix of goofiness and malice to be as fun or as terrifying as they need to be. For all its danceability, Wright’s film offers plenty of tension, too.

Like much of the filmmaker’s work, Baby Driver boasts a contagious pop mentality, intelligent wit and sweet heart.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Orphan No More

Annie

by George Wolf

First of all, this Annie wants you to know she is a “little foster kid,” not a little orphan. That’s just one of the many updates made for the new film version of the classic musical, one that doesn’t end up being any better than the first version from 1982.

“Daddy Warbucks” is now a germaphobe business tycoon named Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), who’s made billions selling smartphones but now wants to be mayor of New York City. Will’s poll numbers aren’t good, but his advisors Grace and Guy (Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale) think a certain little girl could give him a big bump.

A chance meeting finds Will pulling 10 year-old Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) out of the path of a speeding car, and the internet takes notice. So, why not invite the young street kid to come live in a mansion for as long as it takes to lock up the “swell guy” vote?

Director Will Gluck (Friends with Benefits/Easy A) introduces his film’s sugar-coated sheen with a colorful, pleasant opening, but things quickly fall clumsily flat. The musical numbers, which of course should be a high point, never get off the ground. Gluck’s heart is in it, and though he tries to throw in plenty of visual flair (quick cuts, props as percussion), he can’t muster the pizazz required to keep the numbers vibrant onscreen.

Wallis, so shockingly good at just six years old in Beasts of the Southern Wild, sings well enough and is an impossibly cute Annie, and that’s really all this script requires. The entire cast, most notably Cameron Diaz as mean Miss Hannigan, is pushed to exaggerated, big eyebrowed performances, which may fit the comic strip origins of the characters but often leaves the film feeling too childish.

With a two hour running time that will make the littlest viewers restless, Annie is more concerned with modernizing the plot through multiple nods to social media than actual storytelling. Despite some well-placed cameos and a few clever, self-aware asides, it ends up being a mixed bag of Christmas candy, endlessly sweet but never satisfying.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

 

 





Like Your Crazy Uncle Frank

Horrible Bosses 2

by George Wolf

After trying to kill your boss and getting away with it, the sensible career choice is clearly self employment. That’s the plan for the three bumbling schemers in Horrible Bosses 2, a film with scattershot hilarity that can’t quite match the success of the original.

Nick, Kurt and Dale (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, respectively) have a great new plan for business success and surprise, it’s legal! Their new “shower buddy” invention looks promising, so all the guys need now is a big investor, and their days of working for someone else will be history.

Things look good when business tycoon Bert Hansen (Christoph Waltz) puts in a big order, but when he pulls out and leaves the boys high and dry, their criminal minds take over. After an inspired brainstorming session, they decide to kidnap Hansen’s obnoxious son Rex (Chris Pine) and hold him ransom for a payback payday.

Hard to believe, but the plan goes quickly sideways, and to stay ahead of the law and out of the morgue, the boys turn to some old friends: Nick’s former boss (Kevin Spacey), Dale’s sexual harasser (Jennifer Aniston) and the trusted criminal adviser “MF” Jones (Jamie Foxx).

Most of the original writing team is back for the sequel, but their script is lighter on laughs and heavier on convention, relying on the cast to just squeeze out laughs whenever they can. With this cast, that’s a safer bet than most. Bateman, Sudeikis and Day are flat out funny, and their wonderful chemistry is anchored by flawless timing that is just a kick to watch.

The supporting trio of Foxx, Aniston and Spacey is nearly as good, and Pine blends in nicely with the stable of returning castmates. Only Waltz seems out of place, his usual greatness wasted in a very limited role.

You know that crazy uncle you still invite over for Thanksgiving because, even though he can be offensive and tedious, he’s still funny and likeable?

That’s Horrible Bosses 2.

Pass the peas (and stay for the credits).

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





Countdown: Best (and Worst) Actors Playing Athletes

 

Major League‘s 25th anniversary meets Draft Day‘s opening weekend, and it got us chatting about the more and less convincing onscreen athletic performances. Remember Chelcie Ross as Eddie Harris, veteran Tribe pitcher and Jobu hater? How old was that guy, a hundred? (Fun fact: he was 47.) We believed he was a MLB starting pitcher almost as much as we bought Denis Leary playing a grizzled NFL coach. But is anybody worse? And does anybody do it well?

Most Convincing

Kevin Costner

It really doesn’t matter the sport. He’s convinced us as a baseball player several times, and a golfer. And it’s not just the easy athleticism or the mechanics, but his comfort with lingo and team relationships. We’re sold.

Jamie  Foxx

Any Given Sunday lacks a lot. A lot. But one thing it absolutely possesses is a realistic athlete in the form of Jamie Foxx. He has grace and skill and his onfield performance is almost enough to compensate for Al Pacino’s screeching.

Woody Harrelson

The guy can play basketball. Hustling on a playground or finishing a semi-pro career, Harrelson has some skill on the court. Dunking or not, tell Aunt Bea we said he can ball.

Chadwick Boseman

He had some big shoes to fill in 42, and not only does he look the part off the diamond, he actually swings a bat and throws a ball with the confidence of a man brave enough to play Jackie Robinson.

Charlie Sheen

Sheen’s passion for baseball is well-known, and he took his role as an MLB pitcher seriously. Whether he was throwing just a bit outside or right down the plate, Sheen had pretty smooth delivery. Hell, maybe he Tribe should sign him up.

 

Least Convincing

And we’re not talking about Will Ferrell, who put his lack of athleticism to excellent use as a basketball player (Semi-Pro), skater (Blades of Glory), soccer coach (Kicking and Screaming), NASCAR driver (Talladega Nights). Ditto for Will’s buddy Danny McBride, whose casting as a 100 mph fireballer in East Bound and Down is equally ludicrous. No, these are the folks who were wildly miscast as serious athletes.

There are a lot of options here. Rob Lowe in Youngblood as hockey player who clearly cannot skate. Or Madonna in A League of Their Own. Or pint sized Michael J. Fox playing basketball in Teen Wolf – sure it’s a comedy, but is it the basketball itself that was meant to draw giggles?

There are other real standouts, though.

Wesley Snipes

Snipes wins. The guy was forever being cast as an athlete, and though he looked good in a uniform, team sports were clearly not his bag. You might not know it from casual viewings of Major League – yes he made that catch at the wall but notice you never see him throwing – but between The Fan and White Men Can’t Jump, you do.

Bernie Mac

In Mr. 3000, Mac plays an unlikeable, retired hitter planning to skate into the hall of fame on just his career hit total:  3000 exactly.  But when an error in the stats reveals he’s short, he goes back to the diamond regardless of the fact that Mac had clearly never held a bat in his life. Usually it’s the throwing motion that gives an actor away, but Mac was so unconvincing at the plate we actually missed the technique of Wesley Snipes.

Anthony Michael Hall

In 1988, Uma Thurman was still unknown, Robert Downey, Jr. was still high, and Anthony Michael Hall was still a 90 pound weakling. So whoever decided to cast him as the number one high school football recruit in Johnny Be Good was clearly sharing  Downey’s brownies, because Hall wasn’t just far too small to be taken seriously. He looked like he was playing with his eyes closed.

Anthony Perkins

Three years before his breakout brilliance in Psycho, Anthony Perkins played another character with mental illness. Mental illness he handled well. Unfortunately, in Fear Strikes Out, that character – Jimmy Piersall – was also a Major League center fielder. Tee ball players show a more commanding grasp of the game. It’s hard to imagine anyone looking more lost than Perkins looked at the plate, in the field, heck, in the building.

Tim Robbins

While Bull Durham may be the greatest sports movie of all time, with much of its success due to casting, choosing Tim Robbins to play pitching phenom Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh clearly had nothing to do with his presence on the mound. Robbins is a limby, wobbly mess and that was the ugliest windup in sports movie history.

 

 





Cleanup in the East Wing!

 

by George Wolf

 

Well, I believe I owe Olympus Has Fallen an apology.

Just a few months back, I labeled that film a pandering, if strangely entertaining, Die Hard in the White House.

Little did I know that White House Down was lurking like a crazy uncle waiting to show how much louder his bitchin’ Camaro is than your puny ride. This new presidential ass-kicking fest proudly lives by a bigger, louder, faster mentality, uncorking more of everything – the pandering, the wisecracks, the unapologetic Die Hardiness.

Channing Tatum dons the dirty wife-beater as John Cale, a D.C. cop on a White House tour with his young daughter when a paramilitary group invades. Naturally, John has been denied a spot on the Secret Service detail of President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) that very afternoon, which adds a redemptive angle to John’s heroics that the film wears like a manipulative badge of honor.

John and the Prez fight the baddies through every room, hallway and secret Marilyn Monroe love tunnel (patent pending) in the White House, recreating as many Die Hard moments as they can. Shoes off? Elevator shaft? Loved one held hostage? Cops mistakenly shooting at our hero on the roof?  Oh, yes, all that and so much more, as clever one liners give way to all-out comedy routines while bullets fly and rockets launch.

Director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) displays his usual amount of subtlety:  none.  He keeps music swelling and flags waving, utilizing James Vanderbilt‘s script to deliver plenty of well choreographed, large scale action mixed with overblown speeches full of generic moralities.

And yet somehow, the unabashed ridiculousness and likable performances wear you down, and the over two hour assault on your objections calls to mind Russell Crowe in Gladiator.

“Are You Not Entertained?”  

Yes, a little.

Pass the popcorn.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3Dnvay5S7w





For Your Queue: Who’s the smoothest, baddest mutha to ever hit the big screen?

Django Unchained releases this week. Woo hoo! Quentin Tarantino’s first Oscar winning screenplay since Pulp Fiction unleashes a giddy bloodbath that’s one part blaxploitation, two parts spaghetti Western, and all parts awesome. Astonishing performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz might keep you from noticing the excellent turns from Sam Jackson, Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington. That’s why you’ll need to see it again. Lucky for you it’s available on DVD today!

For an homage with a more comical edge, we recommend 2009’s Black Dynamite, a hilarious send-up of the blaxploitation films of the 1970s. Co-writer Michael Jai White is perfect as the titular hero who is out to avenge his brother’s death at the hands of..who else?…The Man. With character names such as Tasty Freeze and Cream Corn, and B.D. seducing the ladies with “you can hit the sheets or you can hit the streets, ” you can bet you’re last money this flick is superbad, honey.