July 2020



Just Mercy (2019)

DIRECTOR: Destin Daniel Cretton

CAST: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Rafe Spall, Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Morgan, O’Shea Jackson


Just Mercy is an example of an entry in a well-traversed genre—the “based on a true story” courtroom/social justice drama—that doesn’t transcend its expected tropes but elevates them. It’s a well-made, well-acted, stirring, compelling, and affecting docudrama telling the story of a true miscarriage of justice that forces viewers to face the uncomfortable question of how many other similar stories have gone untold.

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Dark Waters (2019)

DIRECTOR: Todd Haynes

CAST: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Mare Winningham, Victor Garber, Bill Pullman


Dark Waters is a cinematic cousin to the likes of The Post and Spotlight; like those films, it tells the true story of a real-life legal battle pitting underdogs—in those two films, investigative journalists, here a corporate lawyer turned whistleblower and victims’ advocate—against Goliath “villains” (in The Post, it was the Nixon administration, in Spotlight it was the Boston Roman Catholic Church, here it’s chemical mega-corporation DuPont). To that end, it’s a stately, well-crafted, albeit unexceptional drama that both provides some viewers with an eye-opening education (albeit one some viewers might have preferred to have gone without) and stokes a little justifiable outrage about a corrupt self-protecting system.

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Gifted (2017)


CAST: Chris Evans, McKenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate


Its trailers make it look like Lifetime Original Movie fodder served up with a cute precocious child and a dash of melodramatic courtroom drama, but that does Gifted a bit of a disservice.  The movie isn’t anything hugely ambitious or original, but the movie is more emotionally true and—apart from some third act contrived narrative contortions—the drama more subdued than the previews might suggest, and the result deserves a chance to be judged on its own merits. Continue reading

Fracture (2007)

DIRECTOR: Gregory Hoblit

CAST: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, Rosamund Pike, Billy Burke, David Strathairn, Cliff Curtis, Fiona Shaw, Bob Gunton, Embeth Davidtz


Fracture is not a great thriller, and ultimately somewhat fizzles with an anti-climactic conclusion, but it’s a slick entry that serves up enough juicy twists and turns to draw us in.  Plus a movie that features the entertainment value of Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal Lecter mode (though here Hopkins restricts himself to chewing the scenery, not any cast members) has at least a few scenes worth watching on that score alone. Continue reading

Murder in the First (1995)

DIRECTOR: Marc Rocco


Christian Slater, Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman, Embeth Davidtz, William H. Macy, R. Lee Ermey, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brad Dourif, Kyra Sedgwick, Mia Kirshner


Murder in the First is a serviceable courtroom drama with one exceptional performance, a certain amount of style and polish, and a couple harrowingly effective sequences. Unfortunately, it’s also a film that makes a virtual lie of its ‘based on true events’ tagline and docudrama style from beginning to end. Continue reading

Philadelphia (1993)

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Demme


Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Antonio Banderas, Jason Robards, Joanne Woodward, Mary Steenburgen, Bradley Whitford, Charles Napier, Daniel von Bargen


AIDS (Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome) emerged as a major crisis in the early 80s but was largely ignored into the beginning of the 90s in the United States even though the US had more cases than any other nation. Educational programs were well underway in Europe, but US politicians gave it low priority, and President Ronald Reagan did not mention it in a speech until 1987. By that time there were 51,000 cases in 113 countries. Reagan’s administration resisted congressional efforts and the crusading of Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to increase funds for AIDS research and prevention. To many Americans, AIDS was a ‘gay disease’ and was not considered a subject for polite conversation due to its (exaggerated) association with homosexuality. Media treatment focused on the relatively few heterosexuals who had contracted the disease through blood transfusions. This partially changed in 1985, when archetypal Hollywood leading man Rock Hudson announced that he was gay and dying of AIDS. Hudson died in October of that year, leaving $250,000 to an AIDS research foundation, and while the revelation that a popular celebrity was infected prompted more coverage of the shamefully ignored plight of thousands of infected homosexuals, many Americans continued to inaccurately view AIDS as a disease which only pertained to homosexuals, who were largely viewed with indifference or even considered to deserve it. Despite its status as the worst epidemic of modern times, it was the subject of extraordinary ignorance and fear, with infected individuals ostracized and even attacked by others who believed incorrectly that you could contract it through casual contact. The epidemic peaked in 1993, the same year of a second step forward in AIDS awareness, director Jonathan Demme’s (The Silence of the Lambs) flawed but courageous and socially important drama Philadelphia. Continue reading