Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Judge

Year 8, Day 30 - 1/30/16 - Movie #2,231

BEFORE: I know what you're probably thinking - what about that recent "Terminator" sequel, wouldn't it have made sense to follow up two Schwarzenegger films with that one?  Well, sure, only I don't have a copy of that film yet, it hasn't run on premium cable - plus I heard that it kinda sucked.  Similarly, I could have followed the Stallone track and gone out to see "Creed" in a theater, but I'm not really feeling the urgency there.  I'll see it eventually, probably in another round of boxing films with "Southpaw".  

But I have to work my chain according to the films that are on it, not the films that I'm expecting to be there someday (with rare exceptions, of course).  Like, I'm starting a four-day Robert Downey chain that will lead me into February's "tribute to romance in all its forms" - when I know he'll be playing Iron Man in the "Captain America: Civil War" movie later this year.  But that's not until May, and I have to get to February and March first.  If I held back movies due to possible links that don't even exist yet, I'd never get anything done.  

So Vincent D'Onofrio carries over from "Escape Plan" and I'm nearly at the end of another month - and I think it's been a solid month, with some recent films, some older ones, Westerns, war movies, animated films, a couple of biopics, and a whole lot of Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas. 

THE PLOT:  Big-city lawyer Hank Palmer returns to his childhood home where his father, the town's judge, is suspected of murder. Hank sets out to discover the truth and, along the way, reconnects with his estranged family.

AFTER: Another film that seems like it starts with a great premise, a complicated legal case where an attorney has to defend his own father, who is also a judge.  And they're estranged, so they have to fix the relationship and years of family issues while working together on the defense.  

That said, this film has perhaps the most confusing opening ten minutes I've ever seen.  The first few scenes are full of contradictions, during a time when we're supposed to be eased into the story and told simply who these characters are.  Downey's character brags to a colleague about how much he loves his hot wife, then he goes home and argues with her.  After receiving a call about a family emergency, he rushes to pack and says goodbye to his daughter, to go visit her grandfather, whom she's never met.  If he loves his daughter so much, why not bring her along to meet the family she doesn't know?  And if he hates and mistrusts his wife, why does he leave her in charge of their daughter?  If he's splitting up with his wife and doesn't want her to have custody, why would he take off without his daughter?  The wife could easily leave town with the daughter or something.  

I don't think I'm overreacting here - the wife immediately starts asking questions like, "What time does she go to school?" and "Who's going to cook for her?"  Well, who was doing those things before?  Why doesn't the wife know what time school starts?  Is she that careless or just very stupid?  Did they have a nanny or something, and if so, where's the nanny now?  You can't ask me to believe that a rich, successful, busy attorney was also the child's primary caregiver, while the wife did absolutely nothing - it's an unfair portrayal at the expense of wives and mothers, done for the sake of expediency.

Things become a little clearer when Hank Palmer gets to his hometown, and we see how bad the relationship is between him and his father - but that's still no excuse to keep his daughter away from knowing her grandfather.  Sure, there are tragedies in the family's past, and we get the feeling that Hank is the kind of person who just leaves when the going gets tough, but it still feels like half of an explanation to create the maximum amount of drama when the characters are thrown back together.

Legal proceedings aside, this film shares a fair amount of its DNA with 2 films I watched last year - "August: Osage County" and "This Is Where I Leave You", which also featured families that were crazy and dysfunctional coming together after a family tragedy.  And like one of those films, there's a character who is mentally disabled - here's it's Hank's brother who has an affinity for making home movies with a Super 8 camera.  

(Which in itself doesn't make much sense to me - not that mentally handicapped people can't shoot films, but why is it a film camera and not a video camera or an iPhone?  If you ask me, this is just a contrived way to have a screening of the family's home movies that can't be fast-forwarded, forcing everyone to relive another moment of tragedy and have a cathartic argument.  But in this day and age, nobody's shooting home movies on film, because there are no more labs to develop the films, I'd wager.)

There's another connection to "August: Osage County" but I can't really mention it and remain spoiler-free, so let me just say that there's a similar twist in both family stories.  And it's kind of icky, in "The Judge" they sort of dilute it down a bit, but it's still a little bit questionable.)

Robert Downey has sort of the opposite acting problem that Stallone and Schwarzenegger had last night - here I had to rewind several times just because he was talking so fast, especially when muttering to himself.  Why does it seem so difficult these days for actors to speak their lines in a coherent manner?  I'm tempted to keep the subtitles on just to make things easier on myself.  But I'm not that old yet, damn it. 

Also starring Robert Downey Jr. (last seen in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), Robert Duvall (last seen in "Somebody Up There Likes Me"), Billy Bob Thornton (last seen in "Love Actually"), Vera Farmiga (last seen in "Safe House"), Jeremy Strong (last seen in "Zero Dark Thirty"), Dax Shepard (last seen in "This Is Where I Leave You"), Leighton Meester (last seen in "Date Night"), Ken Howard (last seen in "J. Edgar"), Emma Tremblay (last seen in "Elysium"), Balthazar Getty (last seen in "Judge Dredd"), Grace Zabriskie (last seen in "Gone in Sixty Seconds"), Denis O'Hare, with cameos from David Krumholtz (last seen in "Slums of Beverly Hills"), Lenny Clarke (last seen in "Stuck on You")

RATING: 5 out of 10 bumper stickers

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