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Arts Film Review

Moviebriefs: Pride, The Judge, Alexander and the…Very Bad Day

Here’s another quick moviebriefs roundup of most of this week’s new films.

 

Kill the Messenger
Directed by Michael Cuesta

For special coverage of this release and an interview with Gary Webb’s son Ian: LINK.

 

Pride
Directed by Matthew Warchus

The best film of the week follows others in the strong British tradition of tackling social class and labor conditions, as in “Billy Elliot,” “The Full Monty,” “Brassed Off,” and “Made in Dagenham.” In the mid 1980’s in Great Britain, the coal miners’ union was on strike, protesting wages and working conditions – as also seen in several of the other films mentioned above. At that same time, the LGBT rights movement was becoming more visible, coincident with growing awareness of the problems associated with AIDS.

Against this double-backdrop of circumstances, a group of LGBT activists decided that their concerns as a downtrodden minority were similar to those of the miners and began to raise money for striking mineworkers, to help feed their families and aid their cause. But they weren’t getting very far in finding somebody at the union to take their donations, which were escalating and so they picked a single village in Wales to be the recipient of their fundraising efforts – with very mixed results and reception.

This film based on a true story is full of both drama and comedy, including both great performances and a turning point in British political history as, ultimately, the LGBT support of the miners caused the mining union to force the British Labor Party to incorporate LGBT rights into its national party platform – which hadn’t even been the goal of a movement started purely to show support for another group of victims.

At risk of being overly critical, the lead performance of the LGBT organizer Mark, played by Ben Schnetzer, is the only one in which the accent wanders a little. Schnetzer is American, albeit schooled in the UK, and his Northern Irish accent is a little inconsistent. But it’s an overwhelmingly positive film in all other regards and worth watching on multiple levels.

 

The Judge
Directed by David Dobkin

“The Judge” is a film that succeeds largely on the merits of its cast and their solid performances. However, the story is fairly ordinary and not especially gripping, albeit told well, and there are some very genuine-feeling moments between members of the central, estranged family.

Robert Downey Jr. plays a high-priced defense lawyer with a reputation for defending scoundrels and winning. His family life is in disarray and he hasn’t been to his hometown in years – until his mother passes away and he travels to the funeral. He can barely converse civilly with his father (played by Robert Duvall), the local, small town judge – and things aren’t too much better with his two brothers. But these already strained relationships are pushed to the limit when the father is accused of vehicular homicide.

Some of what stops “the Judge” from being a better film is the crowded content, without a clear sense of whether it’s trying to be a family drama or a courtroom and investigative procedural. It’s better in the scenes focused on family discord, with one especially noteworthy scene between Downey Jr. and Duvall which takes place in a bathroom. But the courtroom scenes are a little too predictable and formulaic to be as engaging. It’s probably a fairly safe, grown-up drama for a night out but it will play just as well at home when it’s released on video.

 

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Directed by Miguel Arteta

I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by this film. It starts off feeling like a cinematic clone of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” films, despite the literary source material predating that book series by 35 years. And if you watch this film with critical eyes, there’s much to dislike – such as an extended sequence in which a young teen girl gets inebriated on cough syrup and a story that opens with Alexander seeming so genuinely unhappy that it feels a little like a PSA for pre-teen suicide.

But this isn’t a film that lends itself to that kind of critical viewing. It’s so exuberantly over the top as the entire Cooper family live through the worst day in their respective lives that it’s hard to focus on such concerns – and I have to admit it completely won me over. Much of this is helped by a wonderful cast, including Steven Carell and Jennifer Garner as the Cooper parents, and with noteworthy performances by the child actors. This is a neat pick that will keep all (well, most) ages happy.

About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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