Movie Review: Just Mercy (2019)


Title: Just Mercy
Release Date: December 25, 2019
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Production Company: Endeavor Content | One Community | Participant Media
Macro Media | Gil Netter Productions | Outlier Society
Summary/Review:

This movie flew under radar when it was released last Christmas, but it was available for free on streaming networks in June, so I thought I’d check it out.  The movie is based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) and adapted from his book of the same name.  Stevenson is a Harvard-trained lawyer and as an idealistic young man we see him move to Alabama to begin the Equal Justice Initiative. With the support of local activist Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) he works to represent poor prisoners, including death row inmates, get proper legal representation.

The main plot of the movie relates to the case of Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of white teenage girl  in Monroeville (a town the is shown to be proud of  its connection with Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird). Stevenson sees that Johnny D. was convicted primarily on the testimony of another prisoner, Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson), who received a lighter sentence in exchange, and that witnesses who saw Johnny D at the time of the crime (including a cop) were not called at all.

I expect it is no spoiler to note that Stevenson will get Johnny D.’s conviction overturned, but the procedures and indiginities he has to go through still create a lot of tension. The early 1990s were a time when “tough on crime” was at its post-Jim Crow era peak, so its amazing that Stevenson is able to succeed (compare this movie with When They See Us, the story of the Central Park Five case happening around the same time). There is also a subplot involving another death row inmate, Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan), a Vietnam veteran whose mental health was shattered by PTSD and is convicted for planting a bomb that unintentionally kills someone. Some of the most harrowing scenes in the film relate to Richardson’s case.

The movie falls back on some of the cliches of civil rights themed biopics, but it does stand a notch above them.  Jordan and Foxx are absolutely spectacular in acting their roles, and they are a joy to watch.  The movie also foregrounds the Black characters, so it avoids Hollywood’s predilection for “white savior” narratives.  If you haven’t seen this movie, check it out while it’s still free (although it would also be worth paying for).

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)


Title: The Shawshank Redemption
Release Date: September 23, 1994
Director: Frank Darabont
Production Company: Castle Rock entertainment
Summary/Review:

I’m scratching off another movie from my I’ve Never Watched It List. Based on a Stephen King story, The Shawshank Repemption is the story of two men held in a Maine prison and their friendship that develops over decades.  Morgan Freeman plays Red, a long-time prisoner who is the go-to man for smuggling in contraband for the other prisoners.  Much of the movie is from Red’s point of view with Freeman providing voice-over narration that proves an exception to the rule that voice-overs are bad for movies.

Tim Robbins plays Andy Dufresne, a banker who begins serving a life sentence in 1947 for the murder of his wife and her lover.  Andy prove unexpectedly resilient and is able to gain favor by providing tax and accounting services to the guards and the prisons cruel warden (Bob Gunton). Andy use his advantages to help the other prisoners feel more free and alive by doing things like getting cold beers for men working on tarring a roof and advocating for a full prison library and GED courses.

The movie is beautifully filmed, well-acted with some terrific dialogue, and contains a lot of surprises of what Andy is working on behind the scenes.  I won’t spoil them here if you’re even more behind the times in watching this movie than I am.  The Shawshank Redemption balances the horrific brutality of prison life with the good humor of the camaderie among men. But most of all it is a terrific story of friendship – a love story, really – between Andy and Red.

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending December 16


60-Second Science :: Ancient Women Had Awesome Arms 

Thanks to science, we now know that prehistoric agricultural labor is the way for women to build upper body strength.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: The Bleeps, The Sweeps, and The Creeps

Did you ever think that the noises from your phone, computer, car, etc were actually designed by someone with specific ideas in mind.

Slow Burn :: A Very Successful Cover-up

This series on Watergate continues with the history of just how uninterested people were in the scandal during the 1972 Presidential Campaign

Science Talk :: The Skinny on Fat

The science behind fat, it’s importance to the body, and the mythology of fad diets.

Life of the Law :: Traditions

Stories from prisoners about their memories of Christmases past and the new holiday traditions they create while incarcerated.

Code Switch :: With Dope, There’s High Hope

The history of the demonization of marijuana by linking it to African Americans and immigrants, the inordinate arrest rate of African Americans on marijuana charges, and how people of color are being left out of the legalized canabis market.

The Truth :: Mall Santa

This story of a disenchanted mall Santa who finds hope in a young, drunken Santa-Con participant really touched me in the feels.

 

Book Review: Bitch Planet. Volume 1 Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Robert Wilson, and Taki Soma


AuthorKelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro (Artist.), Robert Wilson (Artist.), Taki Soma (Artist.)
TitleBitch Planet. Volume 1 Extraordinary Machine
Publication Info: Berkeley : Image Comics, 2015.
Summary/Review:

Writer Phillip Sandifer stated that this comic series is “most unapologetically social justice oriented book on the stands” so I thought I’d give it a try.  Bitch Planet is set in a future dystopia where noncompliant women are sent to a prison on another planet.  “Noncompliance” in this society is basically anything that doesn’t please men, so women who are angry, opinionated, independent, unattractive or overweight and attempt to control their sexual selves are the ones incarcerated.  In a lot of ways it builds on a tradition of feminist dystopia from The Stepford Wives to The Handmaid’s Tale.  The comic draws on the aesthetic of 1970s prison exploitation films and it is unsettling in its graphic depiction of violence.  It takes me a while to connect with characters in comics, but one who stands out is Penny.  Shortly after I finished reading this volume this comic was published in Unshelved which is a good introduction to the story.
Rating: ***