Starting with a brutally botched execution by lethal injection, Chinonye Chukwu’s “Clemency” doesn’t get any more upbeat from there.
This is no “Just Mercy,” and there is no resounding message of hope in the light of injustice. “Clemency” is, instead, something even more powerful: a story about how to live with injustice without it destroying your soul and your hope.
Following prison warden Bernadine Williams (a marvelous, Oscar-worthy Alfre Woodard) as she prepares for her twelfth execution by lethal injection, “Clemency” is a quiet dialogue-driven movie with emotional career-best performances from undervalued character actors like Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff and Wendell Pierce.
The subject matter is heavy, and not all audiences are likely to get on the film’s wavelength. But those that do will be rewarded with a thoughtful, introspective picture that will sit with them, make them uncomfortable and force them to confront their own beliefs about lethal injection and our criminal justice system.
“Clemency” (rated R for some disturbing material and language) is an exemplary piece of social justice filmmaking. It is also available for free rental right now through most digital film retailers. It is well worth a watch.
Playing like an hour-and-a-half cut scene from a long-forgotten PlayStation 2 game, the animated “Swift” is a reminder that not all animated films are created equal.
The film tells the story of Manou, a swift raised by seagulls. The fact that Manou doesn’t realize he’s not a seagull is just one of the many eye-roll-inducing plot contrivances of the script, which hits most of the normal believe-in-yourself and accept-those-who-are-different beats.
There are a few clever touches, including a lovely opening scene showing a key plot point from Manou’s perspective inside his egg. Recruiting Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe and Academy Award winner Kate Winslet as Manou’s adoptive seagull parents lends “Swift” more class than it deserves.
The animation is stiff, ugly even. The characters are colorless and bland, the story is paint-by-numbers, and the voice acting – with the exception of Dafoe and Winslet- is a couple notches below your typical kids’ cartoon.
Very young kids may enjoy “Swift” (not rated but very family friendly), but the imaginations of their older siblings and parents aren’t likely to take flight.
“We Bare Bears: The Movie”
With an animal control officer gaining political power by spreading fear and hatred of those different from him, “We Bare Bears: The Movie” couldn’t be a more timely family treat.
The titular bears, stars of a long-running Cartoon Network program, are on the run from evil animal control officer Trout (Marc Evan Jackson) who wants to return them to “where you came from.” As the bears escape to the save haven of Canada, they run into a gaggle of internet-famous animals and have some close calls with law enforcement.
Director, writer and original series creator Daniel Chong lays the political metaphor on thick, but it works, and it’s hard to begrudge any film that teaches its young viewers to be more caring, accepting people.
At 69 minutes, the film is silly and slight, and its episodic plotting and bare bones animation give it the feel of an extended (and sometimes rather thin) TV episode.
Between the political metaphors and constant references to internet culture, “We Bare Bears” (not rated but ever-so family friendly) is very much of the moment, and it won’t have the lasting power of the animated classics. But as a sweet and thoughtful piece of family entertainment, it makes the cut. Barely. (Or is that bearly?)
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org