Movie Reviews: “Justice League,” “Roman J. Israel,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

By | December 18, 2017

Three big theater offerings that may disappoint more than thrill…

Justice League…A week after watching this movie, you may ask yourself: “Who is the villain in this movie?” “What exactly are Aquaman’s powers and how does talking to fish help him defeat aliens?” “Why did Ben Affleck look so over this?” “Why did Superman look unhappy to be alive again?” “Did I even really watch this movie or did I just watch the trailer and fall asleep?” I’m no paid Marvel critic (I actually hate most of their movies), but the fact that so much of this doesn’t work at all means it’s time for Zack Synder to officially leave all DC franchises (which he has never understood, the underrated “Watchmen” excluded) alone. The effects are a mess—wouldn’t you like to be sitting in the pitch meeting where someone says “Hey! We should shoot everything in dark, muddy colors that wash out all the action! Great idea!”—and the characterizations never fully pop. Not only could I literally not tell you what the villain in this movie’s agenda is (he’s a generic alien bad guy hell-bent on destroying the world or enslaving it or something, and for what purpose I’m not sure), but how can characters as dynamic as Super-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman all share a screen at the same time and come off boring? This thing makes me nostalgic for the cobbled-together mess of “Batman vs. Superman” which at least had occasional flickers of personality bursting randomly on-screen. As is, the most memorable thing here is Ezra Miller’s natteringly mensch-y “Flash” and the out-of-character rock-n-roll badassery of Aquaman. Grade: D+

Roman J. Israel…Denzel Washington plays the titular attorney as a guy who can’t believe how bad the legal system he’s spent his career in is. Still, what starts out as an interestingly, timely film about the real legal quagmires facing our country (overzealous prosecutors that have more power than judges and who rarely lose, overworked defense attorneys that hope to plead out charges that really should be dismissed, an entire system focused on plea bargains and mandatory minimums that judges and juries have little control over) keeps getting sidetracked into a half-hearted character study into what a weirdo Roman is. [For his part, Washington seems a little unsure of how to play this activist nerd, in some scenes—like a potential dinner date where he’s just recently discovered the good life—he comes off as borderline autistic, but timidly pragmatic in scenes where Colin Farrell’s hot shot attorney dresses him down, and in others like a shy version of Cornell West.] The second half is more than a little scattershot, and you might wish the movie’s director Dan Gilroy had found a more cohesive way to fuse character and plot, the way he did with “Nightcrawler”‘s scathing media critique and Jake Gyllenhaal’s sociopathic climber. That Roman seems a little confused is used to good effect in a time when the left seems hellbent on challenging each other more than our opponents (Roman is practically booed out of a meeting of young activists), but isn’t explored enough. Grade: B-

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri…Even if this film is just a tad overrated, it’s still more than worth watching for Frances McDormand’s blistering performance as a grieving mother choosing to focus her anger on the only visible target: an inept police department, and for Woody Harrelson’s more nuanced, subtly moving work as a beloved small-time sheriff with more layers than you might expect. Still, the film meanders and defies logic in some places, and you wish it were truly as funny as it thinks it is (most of the best laughs are in the red-band trailer, and many more in the actual film fall short). Irish director Martin McDonagh doesn’t display the same affinity at portraying red state lives that Scottish director David Mackenzie’s “Hell or High Water” did (perhaps because that film was written by Texas native Taylor Sheridan), but since the majority of those that watch this will be doing so on HBO or Netflix vs. a $15 per ticket movie theater, it’ll be time well spent to see it. Grade: B

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