The Burial

Posted on October 12, 2023 at 5:24 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: Strong language, racial epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: References to violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 13, 2023

The old lawyer’s adage is: When the facts are against you, argue the law. When the law is against you, argue the facts. When the facts and the law are against you, pound the table. Willie Gary, a sharecroppers son who became one of the most successful litigators of all time, likes to do all three. In this enormously entertaining film based on one of his most satisfying cases, a Biloxi, Mississippi funeral home owner vs a gigantic funeral conglomerate.

Copyright Amazon 2023

It takes place in 1995. Tommy Lee Jones plays Jeremiah O’Keefe, a 75-year-old decorated WWII veteran, father of 13, and respected member of the community who served two terms as the town’s mayor. His one wish is to pass on the family funeral business, including burial insurance, as his father and grandfather did. When the bueiness falls on hard times and he is unable to keep the required amount in the insurance company’s bank account, he reaches out, through his lawyer Mike Allred (Alan Ruck), to an enormous Canadian firm that has been buying up funereal homes. O’Keefe flies to Canada, where he is entertained on the $22 million yacht of the conglomerate’s CEO, Ray Loenwen (Bill Camp). They shake hands on a deal for Loewen to purchase three of O’Keefe’s funeral homes, which will give him the cash he needs to satisfy the insurance regulators.

But months go by and somehow the deal never closes. Hal Dockins (Mamoudou Athie), a young lawyer O’Keefe has taken on because he is the son of an old friend, suggests that the Loewen offer was never serious, just a tactic to drive the O’Keefe homes into bankruptcy so he could buy them cheaply. Despite Allred’s qualms, O’Keefe decides to sue. Hal recommends a lawyer he’s seen on the television series, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” Willy Gary (Jamie Foxx), who loves to flaunt his mansion and his private plane, called “Wings of Justice.” O’Keefe flies to Florida to watch Gary in action and decides, over Allred’s strong (and admittedly racist) objections to make him lead counsel. They file suit in a county that is majority poor and Black, and that is where the judge and jury will come from.

And so, we sit back in happy anticipation because we know how this is going to end and we know it will be a lot of fun on the way there. Foxx is every bit as electrifying as the man he is portraying, whether at the pulpit or addressing the jury, and his fellow Oscar-winner Jones is superb in the quieter role of a decent man who will not allow others to treat him indecently. Some of the details are adjusted or ramped up for dramatic purposes. For example, the real-life lead counsel for Loewen was a white, male, former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice, not a young, beautiful Black woman, heading a team of top Black lawyers.

But it is much more fun to see Jurnee Smollett as the entirely fictional Mame Downes, who lives up to her character’s nickname, The Python, as the lead defense counsel hired by Loenwen because of her outstanding credentials, and also because, in the words of the plaintiff’s team, “she out-Blacked and out-womaned us.” Athie has great screen presence as the young lawyer and Amanda Warren is wonderfully warm and elegant as Gloria, Willie’s wife, who gives him some very wise advice. Pamela Reed, a favorite of mine for years, makes us see the relationship O’Keefe and his wife have created over the decades. But Camp, always watchable, is limited here by an under-written bad guy character so one-dimensional he is cartoonish.

Foxx and Lee have a crackling chemistry that makes me hope they work together again. Director/co-writer Maggie Betts keeps their developing friendship through shared values as the heart of the film, with a lively, energetic tone that had the theater audience cheering.

Parents should know that this film has some very strong language including racial epithets used by Black characters and some discussion of racist abuses in the past and in the present day of the film. Characters drink alcohol.

Family discussion: Would you hire Willie Gary? Why didn’t Jerry accept the settlement offer? What would you do with $175 million?

If you like this, try: “Marshall,” about a real-life early case for later Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and read the article that inspired the film

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Drama Movies -- format

The Family

Posted on September 12, 2013 at 6:00 pm

the-family-movie-poster“Anybody who doesn’t contradict me can expect nothing but good things,” “Fred Blake” (Robert De Niro) explains in item 10 of his David Letterman-style countdown of what he considers his best qualities.  Fred is his current nom de witness protection.  Formerly, he was Giovanni Manzoni, a made man in the mob, now being hidden in the Normandy region of France with his wife and teenage children under the bleary but watchful eyes of the long-suffering federal marshal, Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones).  “Try to fit in,” he tells them.  “I’m tired of finding you a new place every 90 days.”  But those who do contradict Fred, we are shown, can end up sleeping with the fishes or just being buried in the back yard.

Co-writer/director Luc Besson enjoys genre mash-ups that can be outrageous to the point of being deranged.  Sometimes that mixture of mayhem, comedy, and sentiment works better than others.  Here, it works pretty well, if the idea of a combination of “The Sopranos” and “The Addams Family” seems appealing.

Fred (as we will call him) and his family are not cruel or insensitive.  Fred and “Maggie” (Michelle Pfeiffer) love each other and their children, Belle (“Glee’s” Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D’Leo).  You might think of them as your friendly neighborhood sociopaths with impulse control issues.  Maggie is a bit of a firebug, but like her husband, she directs her antisocial behavior at those who have violated her moral code in some way, usually by being rude to her.  Warren has a remarkably precocious, even preternatural, ability to size up the culture, cliques, and power of the high school in one day and master it the next, with a piece of every action in the school and a hefty squad of enforcers.  Belle has her mother’s temper and her father’s wicked way with weapons — also a crush on a student teacher.  And of course the guys who once dubbed Fred a made man now want to make him a dead man, with a dirty death, meaning it will be very painful for him and his family.

At the moment, though, what is occupying Fred’s attention is the barbecue the family is planning for the neighbors, the memoir he is banging out on the manual typewriter, and the brown water that comes out of the faucet.  Also on his Letterman list is his pride in seeing things through to the finish and his satisfaction in knowing that his sadistic urges are exclusively applied when he causes pain for a good reason.  And then, as a representative from America, he is invited to discuss an American film, Frank Sinatra’s “Some Came Running.”  But there is a mix-up and the film he ends up responding to is none other than “Goodfellas.”  Starring, of course, De Niro.

Yes, the plot is over the top and silly.  But it isn’t really about the Blakes or about the mob.  It is about the movies, and Luc Besson’s stylish fun in playing with them.  What works is the performances by De Niro and Pfeiffer who have showed in “Analyze This” and “Married to the Mob” that they know how to tweak the kind of crime drama portrayals they deliver in “The Godfather, Part II,” “Scarface,” and, well, “Goodfellas” for comic purpose without making them silly or over the top.  There is something giddily liberating about watching characters respond to the indignities of everyday life with such extreme measures, and something satisfying about knowing they will be able to respond to the extreme measures that are headed their way.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive and graphic crime-related violence with many shoot-outs and explosions, some chases, dead bodies, bullies, disturbing images, very strong language used by teenagers and adults, drinking, smoking, sexual references and a brief explicit situation.  There is an attempted suicide and a threatened rape.

Family discussion: What qualities did Belle and Warren inherit from their parents? Why did Fred want to write his story? How do you see the influence of American films on Luc Besson’s directing style?

If you like this, try: “Analyze This,” “Married to the Mob,” “Goodfellas,” and “Some Came Running”

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Action/Adventure Comedy Crime

Hope Springs

Posted on August 7, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Can this marriage be saved?

For decades, the Ladies Home Journal’s most popular feature has been its monthly he-said/she-said/therapist says looks at a marriage in trouble.  No matter how dire the problem — infidelity, money problems, blended family problems — somehow they (almost) always find a way to make it work.  Readers love it for three reasons.  One is the schadenfreude of reading about someone else’s misery and feeling better about our own problems.  It’s easy for fairy tale characters to live happily ever after; for the rest of us, it takes some work.  Another reason is the fun of thinking ahead to what the therapist will say to reassure us that we understand the intricacies of the relationships that for most of us are our life’s great adventure and purpose.  And third is that even more than our lives as individuals, no one is an island when it comes to marriage and whether we are married or single the strength of the relationships in the community matters to us.  Marriage can be a refuge of endless understanding and unconditional support.  Or it can be the loneliest and most desolate place on earth. Some marriages contain both.

“Hope Springs” is the name of the town an Omaha couple visits for intensive couples therapy.  And of course it is also the spirit that gets them there.  Meryl Strep is Kay, who works at a Coldwater Creek store in a mall, and Tommy Lee Jones is Arnold, a partner at an accounting firm.  They have been married for 31 years and are on a dismal sort of automatic pilot.  They sleep in different rooms and he dozes off to the Golf Channel every night.  They barely speak.  She wistfully hopes for some physical and emotional intimacy.  He does not let himself hope for anything.  She reads a book by a couples therapist and decides to spend $4000 for a week of intensive therapy in Maine, whether Arnold will go with her or not.  He is angry and uncooperative and she gets on the plane not knowing if he will join her.  At the last minute, he is there.

Arnold, still grumbling about being there and complaining about the cost of everything, is uncooperative at first.  But with gentle guidance from Dr. Feld (a sympathetic Steve Carell) he sees how important it is to Kay, and then he begins to see that it might be important to him, too.  It is very painful at times, but at least the pain is a feeling and that is better than the numbness that they have been living with.  Romantic movies are usually about people in their 20’s who fall in love.  But it is people in their 50’s and 60’s who really know what love is and how much courage it takes to stay in love.  And sometimes it takes them that long to learn that the clearest path to enduring love may not be that women’s magazine perennial, communication, but sharing laughter.  Arnold and Kay first begin to thaw when at dinner together he makes her laugh by imitating the therapist.

The story and script are nothing special, though a little less sit-com-y than the trailer suggests.  And it hurries us through the last half hour, skipping some of the emotional beats necessary to earn the ending.  If these people got married in the 1980’s, it is hard to imagine Kay would be so reluctant to speak up earlier or that Arnold would be so one-dimensional.  But Streep and Jones are pure magic, creating nuance and complexity that goes beyond the script.  The fear, the longing, the tenderness of these characters are beautifully illuminated in performances of exquisite understanding. Streep’s face as she tries to pull together to courage to walk from her bedroom to his heartbreakingly mingles hope, terror, insecurity, resilience, and attempted sexiness.  They play people we think of as ordinary.  But Streep and Jones give them the extraordinary attention that illuminates the characters with such sensitivity that we want very much to see them live happily ever after.  They show us that the luckiest among us fall in love more than once — with the same person.

Parents should know that this film has some very explicit sexual references and pretty explicit situations and some strong language.

Family discussion:  Why was it hard for Kay and Arnold to talk to each other about their feelings?  What was the most important thing they learned from therapy?  Who among your friends and family has an especially strong and enduring relationship and what makes it work?

If you like this, try: “Two for the Road”

 

 

 

 

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Men in Black 3

Posted on May 24, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Welcome back, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones.

The stars and director of one of the most creative and purely entertaining movies of the last 20 years are back for a third that does not match the original but makes up for the mangled sequel.  It has some references and tributes to the first two, though it is not overly bothered about consistency with the prior stories either in the details or in the tone.  This one seems balanced more toward the sci-fi action and less toward the wonderfully understated comic sensibility that made the first one so refreshing.  Nothing in this film reaches the matchless “Now I’m going to have to buy the White Album again” and testing scene moments of the first one.  But those black suits still fit and it is still a lot of fun.

High-spirited J (Will Smith) and craggy, taciturn K (Tommy Lee Jones) are agents for a super-secret government organization that handles immigration problems and aliens — not the kind from other countries, the kind from other planets.  Some are refugees, some are tourists, but some are here to wipe out all of humanity.  The Agency manages all of that and with the help of a flashing “nebulizer” the size of a pen to wipe out the memory of any human unlucky enough to experience an alien encounter.

One of the most dangerous aliens of all is Boris the Animal (“Flight of the Conchords'” Jermaine Clement), captured back in 1969 by K and now locked away in a prison on the moon.  As the movie opens, an incomparably luscious lady in a tight, tight dress and high, high stilettos (no special effects needed here: it’s Pussycat Dolls’ Nicole Scherzinger) is bringing him a very frosty cake.  As everyone but the prison guards guesses, what is in the cake makes possible Boris’ escape back to earth, where he picks up a time machine and goes back to 1969.  He plans to replay his encounter with K so that instead of losing an arm and getting captured he kills K and continues with his destruction of the planet.  And so J goes back in time, meets up with the K of 1969 (Josh Brolin, nailing it).

The expected fish-out-of water time travel jokes include technology (the pre-chip nebulizer is big and clunky!) and encounters with the people and events of the era.  One of the best jokes in the first movie was the display of monitors that revealed that people like Al Roker, Isaac Mizrahi,  director Barry Sonnenfeld, Sylvester Stallone, Dionne Warwick, Newt Gingrich, and Anthony Robbins as aliens.  In this version, it seems unimaginatively on-the-nose to include Lady Gaga, but back in 1969 there is a witty twist as one of the likeliest alien suspects of the era is revealed to be an undercover Man in Black instead.  Michael Stuhlbarg (“Hugo,” “A Serious Man”) is charming as a sweet-natured alien in a ski cap whose gift and curse is his ability to see every possible outcome.  I am sure at least a couple of those possibilities would have been better than this movie’s conclusion, which is muddled and unsatisfying.

 

 

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi action violence with chases, explosions, and aliens, some disturbing images, some strong language, and brief suggestive alien sexual references.

 

Family discussion: How did what J learned about his own past change him?  How will K be different and why?

 

If you like this, try: the first “Men in Black” movie (be sure to try the DVD’s director commentary) and “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”

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3D Action/Adventure Based on a book Comedy Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Fantasy Science-Fiction Series/Sequel
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