Jury Coordination and Notes

Archive for October, 2017

Roman J. Israel, Esq. – Stunning Performance by Denzel Washington

Monday, October 30th, 2017

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a dramatic thriller set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system. Denzel Washington stars as Roman Israel, a driven, idealistic defense attorney who, through a tumultuous series of events, finds himself in a crisis that leads to extreme action. Colin Farrell costars as the monied, cutthroat lawyer who recruits Roman to his firm. KIDS FIRST! Juror, Juanita L. comments, “I love Denzel Washington as an actor, director and man.  Denzel once again shows his excellent acting skills portraying a civil rights attorney who has worked behind the scenes for more than three decades.” See her full review below.

Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Reviewed by Juanita Seon Leary, KIDS FIRST!  Adult Juror

As Roman J. Israel, Esq., Denzel Washington is outstanding. His law partner, William Henry Jackson had more of a stomach for the grinding inequality of the justice system and served as the face of the firm, while Roman kept to himself.

Jackson becomes ill and eventually dies. His family follows his wishes and, to dissolve the firm, brings in a slick, well-dressed, high-price attorney George (Colin Farrell) to do the job. George is an interesting character and Farrell is plays the part well. First I thought George was the antagonist – a soulless, greedy lawyer who only cared about his retainer. However, George sees something in Roman and offers him a job at his large law practice. Roman resists at first, but money troubles make him reconsider.

Roman is brilliant and quite possibly has Aspergers syndrome (it is not entirely clear about this.) He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, but isn’t so good at interacting with other people. He also seems to be trapped in the 70s, unaware of how his familiarity of the culture has changed. We see many examples of his inability to interact with people. In one courtroom scene he disagrees with the plea options for a young offender and he voices his displeasure.  The judge declares him in contempt and fines him.

One of my favorite scenes is when Roman shows up at a non-profit agency that fights for legal rights of the underprivileged as he offers his services to Maya (Carmen Ejogo). She is inspired and moved by his commitment and informs him that everyone volunteers. They develop a friendship and Roman appears as a guest speaker. It becomes clear to Roman that the justice system and the people have changed. And, it ignites his passion to make a change.

The message of this film is about one man’s ferocious commitment to a greater good, to lost causes and to connecting to what he believed in at the beginning. A fighter for those who cannot fight for themselves, he is unique, a lawyer who believes in the law and his clients.

The film contains violence, strong language, drinking, drug use and sexuality. This could be an interesting film for mature teens interested in legal drama. I recommend this film for ages 16 to 18 as well as adults. I give it 5 out of 5 stars! Roman Israel, Esq. opens in theaters November 22, 2017. Go see it and find out more about this unique lawyer.

Marshall – 1940s Legal thriller Based on a True Story about Thurgood Marshall

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Young Thurgood Marshall faces one of his greatest challenges while working as a lawyer for the NAACP. Marshall travels to conservative Connecticut when wealthy socialite Eleanor Strubing accuses black chauffeur Joseph Spell of sexual assault and attempted murder. He soon teams up with Sam Friedman, a local Jewish lawyer who’s never handled a criminal case. Together, the two men build a defense while contending with racist and anti-Semitic views from those who deem Spell to be guilty. KIDS FIRST! Reviewer Juanita L. comments, “For me, this film brought back my experience as a young person who lived in Virginia and experienced the separate but equal in my education.”  See her full review below.

Marshall
By Juanita L., KIDS FIRST!  Adult Juror

I enjoyed watching and experiencing Marshall.  The 1940s legal thriller is the story about a dozen years before young Thurgood Marshall challenged segregation’s separate but equal premise in Brown v. Board of Education.  For me, this film brought back my experience as a young person who lived in Virginia and experienced the separate but equal in my education.

Chadwick Boseman captures the essence of Thurgood Marshall’s spirit. He brings the confidence, intelligence, cockiness as well as the charm and humor of Thurgood. It is an exciting performance from Hollywood’s go-to-guy for playing important Black Americans.

There are many parts that I enjoyed. When Marshall meets Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), we see his cockiness from the moment he steps off the train in Bridgeport, CT., ordering his white co-counsel, Sam Friedman, to carry his bags. Another enjoyable scene is the Harlem night club with Marshall and his friends, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.

The cinematography is outstanding. One scene when Marshall and Friedman are in the men’s room, it looks as if they are in the mirror together, however you can see them individually.  With its excellent role models and strong messages about courage, teamwork and tolerance, this film is a great movie for teens and families. You can expect to see fist fights and beatings, with bloody wounds and bruises. There’s also a flashback to a suggested rape, with violent acts against a woman. There is a mild sex scene which includes kissing, however there is no nudity. Language includes several uses of the “N” word as well as “kike.” Characters drink alcohol and there is background smoking.

This film celebrates standing up and courageously risking your own safety to fight against popular opinion and against difficult odds.  The movie is about tolerance in a way that’s more matter-of-fact than self-righteous. Characters work together in an effective way.

I recommend this film for ages 14 to 18 as well as adults and give it 5 out of 5 stars. Marshall opens Friday, October 13, 2017 in theaters across the country. Be entertained while learning about American history and a very powerful and influential man.

I Called Him Morgan – Unforgettable and Haunting Documentary

Monday, October 16th, 2017

An exploration of the relationship between jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan and his common-law wife Helen, who was implicated in his murder in 1972. KIDS FIRST! Juror, Terry S. comments, “This haunting documentary about the life of a great jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan and his wife Helen is one I will not soon forget. ” See her full review below.

I Called Him Morgan
By Terry S., KIDS FIRST! Juror

This haunting documentary about the life of a great jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan and his wife Helen is one I will not soon forget. Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin weaves the tale of their lives and their relationship through interviews with his friends and fellow musicians including saxophonist Wayne Shorter. He caps it off with an interview with Helen a month before her death in 1996.  Through extraordinary black and white archival photographs, rare TV performances and an amazing soundtrack of Lee’s music, we are transported to the NYC jazz scene from the 50s to the 70s.

As a music aficionado, I was aware of jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey, but not of Lee Morgan.  The footage of his trumpet playing with these masters really drew me in.  As one friend said in the film, “Lee really knew how to tell a story musically.”  His was an exceptional talent as a young teenager of 17.

However, his addiction to heroin took him out and it wasn’t until he met Helen, that he got back on his feet to play. Through her care, inspiration and love, she managed his career and uplifted him back to compose and play music and eventually form his own band, The Lee Morgan Quartet.

Lee had years of success playing not only clubs in the East but also on the West Coast.  Some of my favorite parts of the documentary include footage on a TV show called “Soul”, where he dedicates a piece to the activist Angela Davis entitled “Angela”, and another TV show hosted by Steve Allen, a talk show host popular at the time. The other favorite part was with the jazz mobile workshop where he worked with young people on musical arrangements and gave them a chance to play and learn from him.  

The twist and turns of Lee and Helen’s life together end tragically when Lee plays at a popular club called Slugs, down in the East Village of NYC.  On a snowy night in February 1972, his life is cut short at the young age of 33 by the woman who had brought him back to life. Following an altercation between sets, Morgan’s common law wife Helen Moore, shot him.

I give this film 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to ages 13 to 18 as well as adult jazz lovers.  You can catch I Called Him Morgan on DVD and Blu-ray beginning October 31, 2017.

 

 

Battle of the Sexes – A Doll’s House Re-visited, Almost

Friday, October 6th, 2017

In the wake of the sexual revolution and the rise of the women’s movement, the 1973 tennis match between women’s world champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and ex-men’s-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) was billed as the BATTLE OF THE SEXES and became one of the most watched televised sports events of all time, reaching 90 million viewers around the world. As the rivalry between King and Riggs kicked into high gear, off-court each was fighting more personal and complex battles. The fiercely private King was not only championing for equality, but also struggling to come to terms with her own sexuality, as her friendship with Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) developed. And Riggs, one of the first self-made media-age celebrities, wrestled with his gambling demons, at the expense of his family and wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue). Together, Billie and Bobby served up a cultural spectacle that resonated far beyond the tennis court, sparking discussions in bedrooms. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Willie J. comments, “The directing is swift, well paced and well filmed. Kudos to the cinematographer who really has a wonderful grasp on stillness to promote an essential moment and exerts great uses of soft and hard focus to portray dramatic moments and internalize character feelings.” See his full review below.

Battle of the Sexes
Willie J., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 18

The themes presented in this film are still relevant and have merit. With that said, I want to add that ever since Ibsen wrote “A Doll’s House,” it’s very rare to get a film (or play for that matter) that is charged with the theme of gender equality and presents it in a way that truly resonates. What do I mean? In films that aim to give a message or present an issues, such as when the writer wants to say something about the relevant society, more often than not, the writer portrays those characters in simple categorizations of good and bad. That may work in a superhero film, but in a piece of realism, where character development and relationships are key elements to the storytelling, simple good and bad just won’t do. That’s my issue with this film. The screenplay simplifies a few integral characters too much, in favor of hoisting up its protagonist.

To get this out of the way, the performances are fantastic. Emma Stone and Steve Carell lead the cast well, and the cast doesn’t have a weak link in it. In particular, a lot of credit has to be given to Steve Carell. He took a character that was underwritten and perhaps even misrepresented and makes him sympathetic and someone to root for. Andrea Riseborough also delivers a very affecting performance and really gives us some great scene work with Emma Stone.

The directing is swift, well paced and well filmed. Kudos to the cinematographer who really has a wonderful grasp on stillness to promote an essential moment and exerts great uses of soft and hard focus to portray dramatic moments and internalize character feelings. The editing also deserves a shout out for some wonderful pacing and really effectively switching between the grainy, 70s like cinematography and more clear cinematography.

Now, back to the screenplay. What made and still makes “A Doll’s House” the ultimate gender-equality script is that every character can be sympathized with. We learn more about the human condition and evils of society, rather than placing blame and anger on individual groups. There are only two men that can be rooted for without hesitation and that’s our protagonist’s husband and father. Every other guy is completely unlikable and has no arc, and Steve Carell’s character can be questioned. Carell’s character, who is a vital part of this story, isn’t written very well or thoroughly. It’s always hard to have two protagonists in a film, especially at a reasonable and well paced time. Carell’s character is both an antagonist and protagonist or, at least attempts to be so. Carell’s character opposes Emma Stone’s. It’s a man versus women ordeal and their tennis match is the crisis and climax of the film. But, here’s the issue. Carell’s character is NOT the antagonist. It’s society! So why is Carell’s character’s standing within the realm of the film so questionable? Why doesn’t he get his own arc? Every major character in “A Doll’s House” takes a journey. That’s what makes us empathize with them and come away disliking their society, and not the products of that society. The same would work with this film. But instead, there is a co-protagonist / antagonist that is not written for people to care about or even empathize with. He gets no arc, no change. He’s unaffected. He may as well have been a smaller part.

Why is this an issue? Because Emma Stone’s character is a catalyst. She’s the driving force and vehicle used within the film to represent the affects of an unjust era and to showcase the positive effects that a change in this society would have. Unfortunately, because Carell’s character and the real antagonists (the sexists who sit atop the societal ladder) don’t change, because we only see them as unlikable, this story turns into something simple and ultimately unfulfilling. Stone’s character merely wins the battle within the film and we come away knowing that and are momentarily happy. However, that soon goes away, which makes this entertaining dramedy perhaps a little forgettable. Had the writing been more substantial and caring to all its characters, and forgiving to all its characters and condemned society instead, we’d come away with a more profound understanding of where issues lie and are issued from. That’s a memorable film. I suppose the cinematic world is still chasing Ibsen.

I give this film 3 out of 5 stars for its entertainment value and performances and recommend it for ages 13 to 18. It is playing in theaters now so go check it out.

 

 

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