FlixChatter Review: JUST MERCY (2020)

I saw Just Mercy at Twin Cities Film Fest last October, but finally just got around to reviewing it. It ends up being perfect timing given today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day (MLK Day as it’s known in the States), celebrating Dr. King’s birthday. This year it happens to be the 25th anniversary of the day of service that celebrates the Civil Rights leader’s life and legacy.

Just Mercy is an extraordinary BOAT (based on a true story) film. Not only because of the powerful and thought-provoking subject matter, but the story is based on a memoir of attorney Bryan Stevenson who’s depicted in the film, with Stevenson himself served as an advisor. That aspects lends authenticity to the story, plus there’s two powerhouse actors bringing it to life: Michael B. Jordan as Stevenson, and Jamie Foxx as Walter McMillian, a wrongfully imprisoned black man who’s on death row.

The story starts with Stevenson after graduating from Harvard Law School. Naturally the bright young lawyer could’ve taken a number of lucrative jobs in a big city of his choice. But instead he drives to Alabama to work on people who are wrongly-condemned and not afforded proper representation. His only ally is Eva Asnley (Brie Larson), a young mother working to match lawyers with death row inmates. She was about to give up when she got a call from Stevenson looking to start a legal center for inmates on death row.

As far as legal/courtroom dramas goes, Just Mercy perhaps isn’t the most accurate. I talked to an attorney friend of mine after the screening and he noticed a bunch of glaring inaccuracies in the courtroom scenes. Be that as it may, for most people who aren’t in the legal field, I don’t think we’d ever notice those. What the movie has going for it is the emotional impact. The flashback scene that shows an encounter between Walter and the town sheriff who obviously deems Walter guilty before he does or say anything. “You don’t know what you’re into down here in Alabama, when you’re guilty from the moment you’re born.” – it’s just one of Walter’s gut-wrenching quote that stays with me. By the time we see him in the film, Walter’s already served several years on Alabama’s Death Row, having been accused of murdering an 18-year-old white dry-cleaning clerk.

It’s the kind of film that gets you riled up for the blatant racism and injustice that sadly still hasn’t been completely eradicated to this day. The film mentioned the fact that Walter had an affair with a white woman automatically made him a suspect, despite having a strong alibi that he was nowhere near the location of the crime, and dozens of witnesses were with him at the time of the murder. The scene where Bryan first met Walter’s family, greeted warmly by his wife who’s astounded that he’d bother to visit them packs an emotional punch.

Both Jordan and Foxx did an astounding job in their respective roles. It’s clear that the subject matter is personal to them, and it shows. Foxx has shared in several talk shows that his own father was wrongly jailed for seven years for having $25 of illegal substances. What’s most heartbreaking to see is how Walter sort of resigned himself to a death sentence. Even when Bryan assured him he could get an appeal, Walter thought a death sentence a foregone conclusion. It’s no surprise given just how much the rigged system is stacked against them, and that what really happens have no bearing on the jury’s conviction.

The third act consists of conventional courtroom drama stuff. It gets a bit schmaltzy and even plodding at times, but director Destin Daniel Cretton manages to keep the emotional quotient high. Jordan and Foxx really shine on and off the courtroom scenes, but I have to give props to supporting actors Herbert Richardson as Walter’s fellow death-row inmate and Tim Blake Nelson as a career criminal whose false testimony incriminated Walter. Rafe Spall, an underrated English character actor,  is also pretty effective as the District Attorney for Monroe County, a key figure in Walter’s appeal process. If I have to nitpick however, aside from one brief conversation with his mother about wanting to fight injustice, we don’t really get to see just who Bryan Stevenson is and what is he about as a person. I suppose the film’s focus in the fight to free Walter McMillian, but I think his character (and Larson’s) could use some more depth.

Overall, the talented cast elevates Just Mercy slightly above a run-of-the-mill social justice drama. Stylistically, this film is pretty subdued, no dazzling cinematography or cutting-edge camera work to speak of. Even the music isn’t particularly memorable. But in the end, it’s Walter McMillian’s narrative that takes center stage, as it should be because it’s an inspiring, timely story and one that needs to be told. The film made me want to learn more about the McMillian’s case and others similar to his, as well as the Equal Justice Initiative that Stevenson and Eva Asnley founded in 1989. For that reason alone, the filmmakers and cast did an admirable job.


Have you seen JUST MERCY? Well, what did you think?

Musings on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

The fifth installment of the Jurassic franchise already made nearly half a billion bucks before it even opened here in North America (it now stands at over $700mil). So yeah, its financial prowess still prove to be monstrous, even as the power of its monsters continue to reach diminishing returns.

If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t worry about spoilers as I marked them properly. But if you have seen it, you can highlight the hidden text to read ’em.

In reply to my meh comment about the movie, my co-worker said ‘it’s a movie about dinosaurs, you can’t expect it to win an Academy award.’ True. I never expected an Oscar-caliber movie, but still, it’d be nice for a blockbuster of this magnitude to at least aim for greatness. I recently rewatched Jurassic Park and still gasped when the dinos were first revealed. Alan Grant’s and Ellie Sattler’s reactions were so infectious that we’re vicariously living through their experience and seeing those dinos for the first time through their eyes. The moment Dr. John Hammond said ‘Welcome to Jurassic Park!’ still gave me goosebumps. Well, the genuine sense wonder of the Spielberg original is gone, and so are the characters worth rooting for. This article from Decider.com is absolutely correct that every Jurassic sequel forgot what made the Spielberg original so great.

The only genuine thrill for me in this movie is the opening sequence under water which felt JAWS-like (perhaps an input from Spielberg who still serves as executive producer?) But after that it’s more like Jaws 3-D. The movie overall is practically thrill-free as nearly every sequence is predictable. In the first Jurassic World, we saw the luxury theme park/resort destroyed to bits by the dinos. Well, as soon as the movie shows news footage of it with the remaining dinos now threatened by molten lava, we know they’ll be back on Isla Nubar in no time. So thanks to Dr. Hammond’s former partner Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), the film’s protagonist Claire is soon back to the island to save her precious dinosaurs.

Let’s try this new t-rex ride shall we?

Bryce Dallas Howard can’t seem to part w/ those darn heels, and the camera made sure (in a defiant way) that we noticed them. Never mind her choice of footwear, I just can’t fathom why Claire loves these dinos so much when she clearly didn’t mind working for a corporation which sole purpose is to profit from these creatures. But the writers didn’t bother to give any of the characters any background story or at least a semblance of real human beings. Heh, even in a fantastical universe like Star Wars and the Marvel superhero movies, you expect the characters’ drive/motivations to at least feel true. Here, the humans’ behavior are so ridiculous they should be the ones extinct!

Hello! I’m the Indoraptor, the new hybrid dino in town!

New dinos, but same old human greed. The theme of ‘greed breeds catastrophe’ is even more derivative when the novelty factor of genetically-bred dinosaurs has worn off since the last movie. As an Indonesian, I’m quite amused they keep naming the scariest dinos with ‘indo’ Indominus Rex in Jurassic World and the new one, IndoRaptor. Spoiler alert (highlight to read): the first bidder of the dino auction is from Indonesia, too, ahah.

Of course Claire’s not going back there alone without her beefcake ex boyfriend Owen. Seriously, the movie actually refers to Chris Pratt‘s character as that, complete with eye-rolling sarcasm. There is so little chemistry between Owen and Claire, but that’s not the actors’ fault as we’re given very little reason to care for either of them. Is it just me or Pratt looks bored the entire time here? And what’s with all the squinting?? Unlike his role in The Guardians of Galaxy (or even his brief appearance in Her), Owen is devoid of the wit and playful charm Pratt is known for, but then again ‘devoid’ is the perfect word to describe this movie.

Let’s heal him so he can get back to attacking all of us!

The supporting cast are basically stock characters. The wuss computer genius dude (Justice Smith) and bad ass paleo-veterinarian (Daniella Pineda), played by a black actor and a Latina actress to fulfill the diversity quota. But since the writers (Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow) don’t even bother to give any depth to the main characters, let alone these guys. Poor Rafe Spall and Toby Jones (more terrific Brits wasted in a giant Hollywood tentpole flick) are relegated to a vanilla run-of-the-mill corporate ‘monsters’ who merely view these dinos in terms of dollar signs.

Spoiler alert: I gotta give him points though that he somehow manage to hide some freakishly scary dino under his boss’ mansion’s basement. I mean come on! You’d think its yawning sound alone would wake up anyone within 10 mile radius?? That’s not the most absurd bit of all though, that ‘honor’ would have to go to the auction scene. I mean, a bunch of billionaires gather for dinosaur auction. We’re talking about ‘the most dangerous creature that ever walked the earth’ as the auctioneer described, on full display inside poorly-constructed cages! As if that wasn’t enough, they’re selling these for a mere $10 million dollars?? Sotheby’s auctioneers would laugh in their faces. That’s even less than a penthouse in Manhattan or the Bay Area. What is this? Dinos Rummage Sale??

“Just what the heck are we doing in this movie??”

Naturally plot holes abound in this movie, but I guess logic be damned when you go into a movie about dinosaurs roaming around on earth, facing yet another extinction no less. So the sheer lack of logic is not the movie’s biggest fault (after all my suspension-of-disbelief level is already in overdrive), it’s the fact that it’s a dull movie. Not only is the ‘dinos as war weapons’ plot is unimaginative (and incredibly stupid), many of the scenes are recycled material. There are countless moments that lazily mimic the original (i.e. ‘objects in mirror are closer than they appear’ in rearview mirror, the raptors in the kitchen, etc.) yet nary any of the suspense and terror of the original.

Here we go again, dinos in the kitchen!!

I still remember fondly, vividly, the water ripple (or even the green Jello shaking) scene because of that visceral sense of dread. Here all the dino violence and gore are on full display as they trample, maim, chomp the human victims to bits, but none of it create a genuine sense of thrilling terror. Not much of emotional resonance here either (there is one scene on Isla Nubar that tugged my heart strings a bit, but even that felt like orchestrated melodrama), as the relentless action and convoluted plot pile on. Spoiler alert: That bit about the snoopy little girl being a clone thanks to Dr. Hammond’s technology is intriguing but the movie didn’t really expand much on it at all. Instead, they borrowed a scene from Nightmare on Elm Street w/ the IndoRaptor’s trying to claw her on her bed.

Dino Nightmare on Elm Street??

I gotta mention about the music. Michael Giacchino is a great composer but the music here feels so busy. It made me miss John Williams’ spectacularly-iconic score that’s only used in bits and pieces, too brief to make any real impact.

Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona have proven his chops with his smaller-budget films The Orphanage and The Impossible. I think his directing is okay, I take more issue with the absurd, criminally-vapid script that no amount of flawless CGI or mechanical dinosaurs can cover up. So Claire later swapped her heels with the more sensible boots, but unfortunately the movie itself refuse to evolve from being a formulaic, engineered money-making machine for the studios. Honestly, it left a terrible aftertaste as soon as I left the theatre. It’s a franchise that’s way past its extinction date.

P.S. If you love Jeff Goldblum… spoiler alert: Yes, he’s back as Ian Malcolm but all his scenes are in the trailers and nope, he has zero interactions w/ any of the dinos. Another criminally-wasted talent, especially considering how fun he was in the recent Thor: Ragnarok. I mean why bother hiring Goldblum if you’re just gonna have him sit in a congressional hearing the entire time?? 


Well, what do YOU think of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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