Marshall: Movie Man Jackson

Justice isn’t guaranteed, it’s earned. Young Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) makes his living fighting injustices. He’s a traveling lawman for the NAACP, defending people of color who have been wrongfully accused of crimes they never committed. His latest assignment brings him to Bridgeport, Connecticut to defend a Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a black chauffeur who’s been charged with the rape and attempted murder of his provider, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson).

Things take a turn when Marshall isn’t allowed to take the lead. Rather, the defense lead is given to the man who briefed him on the situation, Jewish insurance lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), who is reluctant to take the responsibility for fear it’ll tarnish his business. With Friedman having no experience in the criminal realm, Marshall has to lead from the side while Sam takes point, navigating a slanted judge and jury while being the only hope an innocent man has in avoiding life behind bars.

The latest biographical movie, Marshall, follows the trend of late for Hollywood biographical movies and/or events. That trend being, to focus on a specific period and/or event instead of the overarching life and/or story. This approach does streamline things and allows a sometimes-staid genre to be less conventional. At the same time, there’s a little missing in the way of character building when going about a “biography” this way. Marshall sees both ends of this double-edged sword, but the good largely outweighs the bad.

There’s a reason “biography” was put in quotations, not because of loose facts, but what the idea of a biography conjures up; i.e. a relatively deep and possibly somber dive into a subject. Director Reginald Hudlin (The Great White Hype) and writers Michael (real life Bridgeport attorney) and Jacob Koskoff choose to place much of the focus not on the meat of the lead characters, but the trial that they are a part of. Marshall is great as a courtroom drama, which happens to be most of the movie’s runtime. To spoil bits of it would be a disservice, as the case being one of Marshall’s first ones makes it likely (at least for this viewer) that only the history nuts will know of the verdict and all the twists and turns. Watching this with a bit of uncertainty makes for a relatively gripping finale.

The case that the writers have selected from Marshall’s catalog is an intriguing one that places all attention on the legal proceedings, but in the process, does marginalize Marshall the man to an extent for a few reasons. This serves as a very surface level—almost Disney-like—look at Thurgood; those expecting great depths into the man’s everyday life and character will be very disappointed.

There’s a running joke going around many parts of the Internet that the film’s title should be Marshall & Friedman (aptly sounding), but it serves the point that Marshall is really a co-star and even a secondary player at times in a production named after him. The film itself takes on more of a buddy cop feel than foreseen, especially in tone, and the light one can be problematic. The levity is appreciated in spots, yet simultaneously undermines some serious moments, as does the mostly hokey score. Certain jokes simply do not need to be here. Whether delivery or timing, some dialogue is a bit odd-sounding and juxtaposes the noir-like recounts told by people on the stand.

After playing notable African-American individuals in Jackie Robinson and James Brown in 42 and Get on Up, it’s no surprise that Chadwick Boseman can carry the acting responsibility of portraying one of the greatest lawyers in history. The difference in his role, however, is that it seems to rely more on Boseman’s natural charisma and screen presence than those other two. He gets a lot of reign to show swagger and confidence that makes Marshall more of a dynamic watch than a history lesson. The dynamic he shares with Josh Gad is again an odd one in spots, but it works. Gad isn’t the strongest comedy guy turned serious actor, but he’s largely solid and better as the movie goes on. Rest of the cast is filled out by steady talent in Kate Hudson, Sterling K. Brown, Roger Guenveur Smith, Dan Stevens, and James Cromwell. A few characters can border on caricature, however; by and large the cast grounds them into enough realism.

The jury (of one) ruling on Marshall? Not a definitive introspective look at the man who would become the first African-American Supreme Court judge, but, a lighter-toned, relatively solid entertaining courtroom drama.

B-

Photo credits go to comingsoon.net, blackfilm.com, and algemeiner.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Captain America: Civil War-Movie Man Jackson

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Bob Marley was quoted one day saying that “Your worst enemy could be your best friend, and your best friend your worst enemy.” The recent events of the Avengers are going to test that quote to the fullest. Anytime the Avengers protect and serve, they also seem to bring unintended, but significant, collateral damage. First in New York, then with the total collapse of the city in Sokovia, and now the situation in Nigeria that leads to multiple deaths of innocents. Many in the world now do not see the Avengers as superheroes, but vigilantes.

The powers that be determine that these superheroes need to be held accountable via the Sokavia Accords, a document that basically gives power to the government to ascertain when and where the Avengers should be deployed. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a proponent of the Accords, still feeling responsibility for many of the incidents. Joining him on his side is Vision (Paul Bettany), Rhody/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).

Aligning with Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) on the side of freedom is Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Scott Lang/Ant Man (Paul Rudd). The two viewpoints make a showdown all but a certainty. However, growing underneath the tension is an unforeseen threat, one who wants to make The Avengers pay for their past actions.

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As soon as Captain America: Civil War was announced back in late 2013 and everyone knew what the Civil War would consist of, everything that came before it has really been leading up to this film. And that is for bad and good. Bad, because in a way, other films that would normally be huge events on their own (i.e Avengers: Age of Ultron) kind of lacked the memorability and importance such a film should command. However, it is good because CA:CW is, more or less, what Age of Ultron should have been: Important, memorable, and extremely entertaining. And the build-up throughout that time is a big reason.

The latest entry to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe makes no concessions to those who haven’t followed along over the years. But with the box office returns being so high, most know all about these characters, so why should it? As stated, Marvel has been building to this moment for a while now, especially in the interactions between Stark and Rogers, and as such, it makes it much more easier to fall into the story and buy everything the writers tell us. Compare this to, say, Batman V Superman (it’s just too convenient not to!), where characters, their relationships and plot threads are thrown into one movie instead of allowing them to be gradually introduced to us.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s second superhero feature following The Winter Soldier is written about as well as one could generally hope, especially with the amount of characters making appearances. It isn’t all perfect. There are a few lulls, one in particular being right after the highest point of the movie. This definitely feels a full 136 minutes during the end. The main villain, even with sound motivation and a good performance by the talented Daniel Brühl, suffers simply because he isn’t all that interesting. It would have been nice to see more of Frank Grillo’s Crossbones, but at least he owns it while he’s on the screen.

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But, the lack of a compelling traditional villain isn’t felt as much in Civil War because the true opposition comes from within, obviously from the opposing viewpoints that Captain America and Iron Man support. It’s important to note that neither one, no matter what “team” you may be on, is all that vilified, though Iron Man has always been a guy who possessed heelish tendencies and as such, feels slightly like the bad guy. Both men have good reasons for carrying the ideologies they carry, and a cool extra layer exists under what side they support. Personality-wise, Rogers is as orderly and straight-laced as heroes come, compared to the brash and free-wheeling Stark. So, the fact that Captain America refuses the order and the government and Iron Man readily accepts it despite what their personalities would suggest is something yours truly found intriguing.

With 12 notable characters on the screen, one would think that some characters would naturally get the shaft. While some shine brighter than others, all have their moments, not just in action, but in non-physical interplay with one another, like Vision and Scarlet Witch (dropped accent and all), or Falcon and War Machine to name a few. Sometimes the interplay is emotional, sometimes it is funny, but in all cases, it adds to the characters, which in turn adds to the action.

Once again, though this time assisted by John Wick directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, the Russo brothers film action as practical as they possibly can. A little shaky in a few spots, but overall it’s about on par with their work from Winter Soldier. Much like the first Avengers, which has the scene everyone remembers with the panning of our new superhero team, this one has that similar moment as well, setting up an action sequence that could stand as the best of the year when all is said and done.

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Captain America: Civil War achieves where Age of Ultron didn’t. It’s as big but more focused. It’s more emotionally satisfying. There are actual changes that should carry sizable ramifications. And above all, it’s more fun. If every movie in Phase 3 will be this good, in the words of Captain America, “I can do this all day.”

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to collider.com, comicbook.com, and forbes.com.

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Get On Up: Movie Man Jackson

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“As soon as you hear that groove, I know I got you.”

In music, there are artists, performers, and icons. Many in the business fit in the first two groups, but few ascend to icon status. James Brown was unequivocally one of these few people. Get On Up takes us into the story of James Brown (Chadwick Boseman), and it isn’t a particularly pleasant one. From early on in his life, Brown is presented with many obstacles, such as a lack of education, a volatile home situation, and a world that is still unfavorable to African-Americans, both subtlety and overtly.

But some are destined for greatness regardless of the impediments put in front of them, and James was one of those people. His unfortunate experiences did impact his life down the line in later years, but even in his twilight he was gifted. Quite simply, he was a truly super bad man with a crazy amount of soul.

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Back in the 90’s, my parents always used to play this James Brown cassette tape in the car (we had an old car). I didn’t know much about James Brown, but I knew that I loved his stuff. It wasn’t until I got into my preteen and teen years that I started realizing that so many of my favorite rap, R&B, and even rock tracks took lots of inspiration from Mr. Dynamite, whether legally through sample or otherwise. He was, and still is a big deal, and Get On Up does a wonderful job of driving home this point.

The movie is essentially a biography however of James Brown’s life, and it is here where it underwhelms. It takes a nonlinear progression of moments in Brown’s life, vibrating back and forth between years and even decades. Get On Up has no issues with jumping from the 80’s to the 40’s to the 60’s and back to the 40’s again, in different combinations nonetheless. This progression doesn’t completely mar the whole piece, but does sort of force the audience to “recalibrate” where the story is. For me at least, it sometimes took a minute or so to catch up on where the movie was.

And, since this is Brown’s life chronicle, it isn’t just about the music. But, the attention some of the personal moments get either do not receive enough time, or they are thrown in at the last moment. This is a little harder to describe without spoiling certain instances, but a few things just happen with little to no build. It may not have been a necessity for the movie to be linear, but perhaps a slightly more standard way of storytelling would have made for a more cohesive story.

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So with the disappointing story execution, what makes Get On Up groove? The answer is simple: Chadwick Boseman. He hasn’t been in a ton lately, but has put in very solid work playing Jackie Robinson in 42 and as draft hopeful Vontae Mack in Draft Day over the past year. I’m not going to claim that I know all of his work (most consists of TV appearances), but from what I have seen, this portrayal of Brown is easily his best to this point. From the swagger in his walk, to the mannerisms and inflections of spoken words, and the raw charisma exuded, Boseman is outstanding.

James Brown was a dynamic individual in all senses but especially on stage, only rivaled by Michael Jackson as a performer. Without missing a beat, Chadwick captures what Brown repeatedly brought daily and nightly on the grandstand. It is a completely flawless performance, and one where he never appears to be overwhelmed with the character. Though it may only be August, this is one of the stronger acting roles of the whole year. The only time where his performance stumbles are during the out of place fourth wall breakers speaking to the audience, and really, you can’t blame Boseman for their inclusion.

The movie is carried on the shoulders of Chadwick Boseman, but others also give adequate help. Nelsan Ellis plays Brown’s best friend and bandmate Bobby Byrd, and while the character obviously isn’t as bold as Brown, his performance is good as the literal and figurative support of Brown. Likewise, Dan Aykroyd doesn’t have a huge part, but plays an effective role as the sort of father James never truly had. Even people like Craig Robinson, Octavia Spencer (small role), and Jill Scott put their imprints in this one.

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Get on Up also serves as a mini-period piece as well, and director Tate Taylor does a great job of making the film feel like it is in the respective decade(s). But where he really excels happens to be during the many performance scenes. Different camera angles and perspectives are used, including James’, that of his background mates, and the audience. The energy during these scenes is so infectious, and next to Boseman, serve as a main reason to watch this movie. Those performance scenes work so wonderfully though because of the licensed music. Nothing in the film is covered or “original”, and it is all the better for it. If you don’t bob your head or tap your feet at least a few times, I don’t know what to tell you.

While the actual story may hit flat notes from time to time, Get On Up succeeds on the strength of a stellar Chadwick Boseman and the raw vibrancy it brings to the silver screen. It is a funky enough tribute to a man often known as “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”

Grade: B

Photo credits go to movienewsplus.com.

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Draft Day: Movie Man Jackson

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“Every year, someone comes out of this looking like a donkey.”

Being an Ohio resident since mid-2008 now, I have more or less adopted the hard luck Cleveland Browns as my second football team. So, seeing Draft Day not only accomplished my review mission, but also served as a potential feel good moment to Brownies fans, who have not had a lot of them in the franchise’s history. Draft Day is a fictional sports film detailing the 12-14 hours before and shortly during the NFL Draft, an event where the nation’s top players get selected by some combination of 32 teams in seven rounds over a three day period.

Kevin Costner stars as Sonny Weaver Jr., a much beleaguered general manager for the Cleveland Browns. He has been on the job for two seasons, and each has not inspired a lot of confidence in the team’s owner or its fanbase. Even worse, Sonny fired the team’s coach who just so happened to be his father, who has passed away a week or so after the move. He is feeling the heat from his superior to “make a splash.” Luckily, an offer from the Seattle Seahawks gives him that opportunity.

By trading his first round pick in three consecutive seasons (including this one), Sonny and his team obtain the rights to the number one selection. This is important, because prognosticators like Todd McShay and Mel Kiper project the pick to be a can’t-miss, franchise changing quarterback in Bo Callahan. Easy decision right? As most general managers would tell you, hitting on a draft pick, even a high one, is never a walk in the park.

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I love football, especially the NFL. But seeing the television spots for Draft Day did not set my expectations high. Consequently, while this film is nothing special and problematic, it worked enough for me and I was not particularly disappointed. As outlined, the film centers around a draft. Fairly original premise, but like the real thing, it too feels elongated and stretched out at places. It does the best it possibly can to appeal to those uninterested in football and forced to tag along with a significant other by reiterating why so much value is placed on certain things. It even lets the uninitiated viewer know where certain teams are located in a oft-used “Home of the” sequence! Still, those with little or no interest in the sport may struggle to find value or entertainment.

On the other hand, while this is a sports film, it does possess enough solid dramatic and occasional comedic elements to stand alone as a drama/dramedy. The role of a general manager has always been an intriguing one. I get a chance to play it out on a fairly small and heavily stripped away scale in Madden, but this movie does a great job of submerging the viewer into the life of a general manager. It is not easy, and one that is filled with stress, personal agendas, and false bravado, especially during draft time.

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Costner is good here in the GM role, and looks and acts the part. The character is a bit hard to pull for though; at times he seems like a jerk who only wants his way and behaves as if his job title, while a powerful one, makes him impervious to questioning by those on his staff. So, I found myself often connecting with the coach played by Denis Leary. He wants his players and Sonny wants to do things his way, and they naturally clash. Both have valid reasons, but his reasoning came across as more sound. Jennifer Garner is fine here, but she is ultimately present for romantic reasons in the film, which largely comes across as forced. The chemistry on display with Costner is iffy at best. But Chadwick Boseman of 42 fame displays his natural charisma and still untapped talent as Vontae Mack, a linebacker who is vying to be the first overall pick.

There are some issues with the plot. The draft is obviously serious business, but it is shocking and a little unbelievable to find out that no one in the organization has tape of the projected first overall pick with eight hours before the draft! I could see if it was months before, but even then, information travels and can be captured so fast in this day and age. There is really no excuse for anyone in the organization to be that clueless on a potential game changer.  In addition, the plot is predictable about 20 minutes in with regards to who will be the number 1 pick. As long as the viewer follows the real NFL draft on a somewhat consistent basis, it can become quite clear who the team should take based on issues and flaws certain characters have.

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Director Ivan Reitman uses an interesting, 24-like technique with this film to inject light tension in certain places. Makes sense, as many of the scenes are phone calls by Sonny either talking to rival general managers, or potential prospects. However, the transitions and framing come across as amateur at times and takes the focus off of the conversation and onto the fact that part of a character’s body is crossing the imaginary split line. This was probably intentional as this was visible many times, but I rack my brain as to why. Nothing from this editing technique added any substance or context. Apart from this, a by the books directing take can be expected, with tons of orange and brown backgrounds.

In all honestly, Draft Day could be worse. An quietly impressive cast takes it higher than it probably should be, and the premise will appeal to diehard football fans but may have enough flaws for them to be disappointed. Very interested to see how it does on a national scale outside of Ohio & the Midwest, especially with Captain America 2 likely not slowing down, and the arrivals of a well received Oculus and family fare Rio 2.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to http://www.tribute.ca & movies.msn.com

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