Greetings again from the darkness. “You have the right to remain silent.” Whether you say it out loud or just finish it in your head, the vast majority of us know what follows, even if it’s (hopefully) just from watching TV and movies. You likely also know that it’s part of The Miranda Rights … a list of rights that anyone being arrested is entitled to. If you are like me, you probably hadn’t put any thought into the origin of those rights or the requirement for law enforcement to recite them in a timely manner. Director Michelle Danner (THE RUNNER, 2021) and co-writers George Kolber and J Craig Stiles are here to educate by bringing us the story of Trish Weir and Ernesto Miranda.
The film is based on the true story of Trish, an 18-year-old working at a local movie theater. After one late night bus ride home from work, she was abducted and raped. As Trish, Abigail Breslin proves yet again that she is a terrific actor, and fully grown up since her breakthrough performance in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006). What follows is gut-wrenching, and likely a scene that played out all too frequently fifty years ago, and still occurs today. Trish’s mom (Mireille Enos, “The Killing”) tries to dissuade her from going to the police by warning her that “they never believe the victim”, and that she will then be considered “damaged goods.” It’s painful to watch this play out, despite knowing that mom thinks she is protecting her young daughter. Trish’s sister Ann (Emily Van Camp, “Revenge”) is very supportive and follows her to the doctor for the initial check-up, to the police station for filing the report, and ultimately to the courtroom.
There is much to consider in this story. How courageous was Trish for standing up and pursuing the case? How about the detectives (played by Enrique Murciano, Brent Sexton) who recognized that even though other victims had chosen not to come forward, Trish could help them stop a really bad guy? And then there is a legal system that was unfair to both Trish and Ernesto Miranda (Sebastian Quinn), as well as the attorney, judges, and jurors involved with the cases. Fittingly, a clip of the 1962 classic TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is shown, emphasizing the wheels of justice turn slowly. We see that the ACLU attorney (Ryan Phillippe) gets involved when he believes Mr. Miranda was coerced into a confession. This is the case that changes everything.
Supporting work comes from Luke Wilson as Trish’s attorney, Lawrence Turoff; Andy Garcia as Miranda’s first defense attorney, Alvin Moore; Donald Sutherland as a judge in the case; Taryn Manning (“Orange is the New Black”) as a key witness; Dan Lauria as the examining doctor; and Kyle MacLachlan as Chief Justice Earl Warren, who is excited for a rare public reading of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in 1966. It should be noted that the film is very well acted, with the notable exception of Ryan Phillippe, who tries oh-so-hard to steal his scenes, failing painfully.
Michelle Danner’s work as director here is exceptional, given how many facets to the story must be juggled and given proper due. Even the re-trial of Miranda is handled well, as Trish is put through another round of emotional turmoil, this time involving her spouse. The film ends with a startling statistic: only 5 of every 1000 sexual assaults result in a conviction. Those are today’s figures, so we are left to wonder just how much has changed over the past 60 years.
The film is currently playing the Film Festival circuit
Greetings again from the darkness. I was really hoping for a Josh Trank resurgence. When his FANTASTIC FOUR became one of the worst reviewed movies of 2015, he lost out on a chance to direct a Star Wars film. Given creative control as writer-director-editor, CAPONEwas supposed to be his chance bounce back and re-capture the intrigue and promise of his first film, CHRONICLE (2011). And he even chose the fascinating notorious gangster Al Capone as the subject for his comeback. What could go wrong? Well … most everything.
Tom Hardy usually adds enough interest to make any of his projects entertaining to watch, and sometimes he’s downright brilliant. Going back to BRONSON (2008), and on through TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011), WARRIOR (2011), THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015), THE REVENANT (2015), and TV’s “Peaky Blinders”, Mr. Hardy has quite a resume of memorable characters – and the above list barely covers half. This time out he plays Al Capone … “Fonse” … don’t dare call him Al “in this house.” He has recently been released from Alcatraz where he was serving his sentence for tax evasion. Confined to his Florida mansion, Capone is only 47 years old, but looks twenty years older thanks to the effects of neurosyphillis-induced dementia. His mind is never clear and his visions take him back to his violent criminal past, or snapshots of his youth (with an ever-present gold balloon).
We can’t really tell if filmmaker Trank meant this as a parody or not. Capone is seen as a mumbling near-zombie, almost always wearing a bathrobe. His eyes are bloodshot, and the once menacing gangster is now a paranoid, saggy diaper-wearing shell who noisily chomps on a cigar (or carrot), fires off his gold-plated Tommy Gun, and has constant issues with vomit-bladder-bowels. Typically a parody offers either slapstick or black comedy, but I only recall a single chuckle … one that occurs when Capone pulls out a shotgun while on a fishing boat with his old mob buddy Johnny (Matt Dillon). Other than that, it’s mostly a bleak look at dementia and the lost power of a man who follows his visions into closets and basements, and jumps up during a movie to sing-a-long with the Cowardly Lion’s “If I Were the King of the Forest.”
The supporting players are given little to work with. The great Linda Cardellini plays Mae, Capone’s supportive wife, while Kyle MacLachlan is his crooked doctor, Noel Fisher is Al junior, Al Sapienza is Capone’s brother Ralphie, and Kathrine Narducci is Ralphie’s wife. There is a secondary plot point involving government surveillance as they attempt to discover the whereabouts of the $10 million Capone supposedly stashed years ago. Of course, Capone doesn’t remember, and when and FBI agent (Jack Lowden, with director Trank in a cameo) interrogates him, he’s unsure whether Capone is acting or actually that far gone. There is also a bit about phone calls from “Tony”, possibly a long-lost Capone son borne from an affair.
The film covers Capone’s final year, and mostly it comes across as a sad and depressing view of dementia. The most obvious statement on Capone’s loss of power, comes in the form of a metaphor, as his beloved “Lady Atlas” garden statue is removed to be sold off. There is also a recurring moment where Capone tunes the radio to a broadcast of the Saint Valentines’ Day Massacre, and family time at Thanksgiving is nothing short of painful to watch. Cinematographer Peter Deming (MULHOLLAND DRIVE, 2001) gives us a well shot film, but despite a couple of David Lynch-type moments, the film mostly lacks entertainment value. I can’t figure out who might want to watch this. Trank seemed to go the deeply artistic route on a subject that’s tough to watch. Maybe he’ll get yet another shot.
Greetings again from the darkness. Steven Soderbergh has won an Oscar for Best Director (TRAFFIC, 2002) and is one of the filmmakers who has enjoyed both Box Office success (the “Oceans” franchise) and critical acclaim (SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE, 1989). He has also been behind some quite creative TV projects (“The Knick”, “Godless”), as well as many technical advancements in the industry. This latest is his second consecutive film to be shot entirely with an iPhone (UNSANE, 2018). Bluntly stated, Mr. Soderbergh beats his own drum.
Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McRaney (MOONLIGHT) wrote the script and a talented cast allowed filming to be completed in only 3 weeks … a remarkably short production time for a feature film that is quite watchable and polished. Andre Holland (also one of the film’s producers) plays Ray, a sports agent with a soul. Rarely do films portray sports agents as the smartest guy in the room, much less as one with altruistic motives. But that describes Ray – although we have our doubts at times. The film opens with Ray having a heated discussion over lunch with his newest client – hot shot rookie Erick (played by Melvyn Gregg). The NBA is in the midst of a lockout and young Erick’s top pick contract has not yet been executed … so he’s in need of funds, as is Ray and the agency he works for.
Sprinkled throughout, and serving as a framing device, are talking head shots of actual NBA players Reggie Jackson, Karl Anthony Towns and Donovan Mitchell discussing the challenges of being a rookie. Their insight and perspective adds an element of reality to the tone of the film. Zazie Beetz (DEADPOOL 2) co-stars as Sam, Ray’s assistant who constantly reminds him, “I don’t work for you anymore”, despite her exceptionally strategic maneuvering of others. Also appearing are the always interesting Bill Duke as Spencer, who runs a camp for up and coming youth players; Kyle MacLachlan as the owners’ lead negotiator; Sonja Sohn as the Players Union Rep; and Zachary Quinto as Ray’s boss.
Ray’s work behind the scenes is misinterpreted by many, but his focus is on getting the two sides to negotiate so the strike can end. During this process, the film makes an interesting statement about who owns the players’ image. Is it the league, the players’ association, or the player himself? It’s a legal and philosophical question that again crosses the line into real life. There is also a comical bit that takes aim at the business side of the league regarding selling sneakers and inspiring rap lyrics.
Reminiscent of other Soderbergh films, there is an emphasis on heavy dialogue and creative camera work, as well as some life lessons offered up along the way. “You care all the way or you don’t care at all” is a philosophy preached by Spence, and clearly leading by example is an important element to the key characters. Toss in the music of Richie Havens, and it’s quite obvious this isn’t the typical inspirational, feel-good sports movie.
Greetings again from the darkness. Once upon a time … in 1995 to be exact … Pixar revitalized and revolutionized the world of animated movies with the release of the first Toy Story. In the process, they sent our expectations soaring for each of their subsequent movies. Despite the pressure of such high standards, the creative geniuses at the studio have regularly thrilled and delighted us over the years with classics such as Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), Wall-E (2008), and Brave (2012). And beyond these, there have been a few true cinematic masterpieces – transcendent films: Finding Nemo(2003), The Incredibles(2004), Up (2009), and Toy Story 3 (2010). This most recent release unquestionably belongs in the latter group … it’s one for the ages (and all ages).
Genius and brilliance could be used to describe all aspects of this movie. It’s a technical marvel, a visual kaleidoscope of bright colors across the full screen, and most amazingly, it packs an emotional wallop with real life moments for adolescents and parents alike.
My comments will be brief because this is one you should experience for yourself – and probably more than once. Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is an 11 year old girl who lives in Minnesota and loves her parents, her friends, and hockey. She is happy and well-adjusted. When the family relocates to San Francisco, broccoli on the pizza is only one of the challenges Riley must face. This change affects everything for her – no more friends, no more hockey, and a strained relationship with her parents. At this point, you are probably saying “So what? That’s nothing we haven’t seen before.” And you are correct, except we have never seen it explained the way Pixar does.
We literally go behind-the-scenes of Riley’s brain and see the control panel of her emotions. There is a constant battle between Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and the ring-leader Joy (Amy Poehler). This is an exploration of emotions and memories, and the explanation has some scientific merit. Memories are depicted as marbles, and Riley’s favorite things are shown as islands (Sports Island, Friendship Island, etc). How emotions affect memories is the key point here, and especially how sadness is necessary and vital to our joy. Have you wondered why we forget our imaginary childhood friends (Riley’s is Bing Bong, voiced by Richard Kind)? Have you wondered why our memories change over time, and are impacted by our emotional state in any given moment? This animated gem will help you understand.
Director Pete Docter (the genius behind Up) has a daughter of his own, and he clearly “gets” the emotional changes brought on during the pre-teen years. His research, and that of co-director Ronaldo Del Carmen, takes us on an adventure that should inspire much conversation between parents and kids. And even if it somehow doesn’t break the ice in every family, it will at a minimum help youngsters and parents better understand the link between emotions and memories … plus, they will probably share a good cry and a bunch of laughs along the way. Hats off (again) to the Pixar geniuses. I dare you to top this one!
***NOTE: you should also look forward to another Pixar tradition – the pre-movie short film. This one is a very unique short entitled Lava.