Tag Archives: Mahershala Ali

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Benjamin Button was born a little boy who looked like an old man; baby Benjamin suffered from old age ailments. He had a disease that made him age backwards. His mom dies in childbirth and his dad abandons him post haste, so little Benny Button is left on the stoop of a nursing home to be raised by the good-hearted Queenie. Benjamin first meets the love of his life, Daisy, when they are 7 years old. She’s a little ballerina, but he’s a wizened old man in a wheel chair. They’ll meet on and off again throughout all the years of his life, and make a little family when they overlap in middle age, but it doesn’t last long. So when Daisy’s on her death bed she tells this story in its entirety to her daughter Caroline, who learns for the first time who her father was.

MV5BMTI1MjY5MzY4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTU1OTUxMg@@._V1_The film was among the first to film in New Orleans after Katrina, enticed by tax savings that made up a good chunk of their budget. Director David Fincher praised the city’s rehab efforts and filmed in both rural and urban settings. The film pays tribute to Katrina by having the flood threaten just as Daisy lays dying.

Someone’s been wanting to make some version of this film since before I was born. In the mid-80s, Frank Oz was sough to direct, with Martin Short as its possible star. Later, Spielberg was keen to direct, and Tom Cruise slated to star. Then Ron Howard thought he might have a go, with John Travolta in the lead. Can you picture any of those?

Brad Pitt could spend upwards of 5 hours a day in the makeup chair. Even so, they had to resort to hiring child actors to portray the younger-looking versions of Benjamin – not because the makeup and effects teams couldn’t handle it, but simply because the budget was totally depleted. Cate Blanchett plays Daisy and had some young actors to cover her character as a child as well – including a very young Elle Fanning. Julia Ormand plays their daughter Caroline, but her younger self is covered by none other than 2 year old Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.

Since Sean and I are in New Orleans at the moment, we may swing by the Nolan house at 2707 Coliseum St., where lots of the filming took place, in virtually every room of the house. With 6 bedrooms, it was home to 3 generations of Nolans, one of whom played a doctor in the film. Fincher knew he wanted this particular house, benjamin-button-house.jpgwhich would serve to ground the fantasy, but it wasn’t an easy get. The owner had evacuated for Katrina, and had refused every previous request by movie crews. She turned down Fincher too – twice. Fincher combed over 300 other locations and ruled out every one. Finally the owner relented, and she moved into a condo so her home could be made to fit the period. She never did move back in: she evacuated again when hurricane Gustav threatened, and while away she passed, without ever seeing the movie filmed in her home of over 60 years.

 

 

 

If you want to keep up with our New Orleans exploration, visit us on Twitter @assholemovies

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Trump’s Muslim Ban & the Oscars

This past weekend, Donald Trump signed a deliberately hateful and ignorant document into law, making racism and Islamophobia national policy. Critics derided it as giphy (1).gifUnAmerican, and yet it was America who voted this buffoon into presidency just a few short months ago. In the face of one man’s cowardly discrimination, however, were many more acts of love and fraternity. American citizens stormed airports with signs of welcome and solidarity. Lawyers littered the floors working pro-bono around the clock. And a group of actors at the SAG-ACTRA awards used their acceptance speeches to give voice to millions of people who say: Not my America.

Over the next 90 days, visas will not be issued to nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Existing visas will not be honoured. People who boarded planes intending to legally enter the country, even those with green cards, were detained for hours, questioned, and deported.

In the face of this injustice, it seems almost petty to talk about the Oscars, but since this is a movie review site, this is what we will do.

Asghar Farhadi is the Oscar-winning director of A Separation; it made awards history in giphy (3).gif2012 when it was the first Iranian film to win an Oscar. This year he has toured the festivals with The Salesman, and won Best Screenplay at Cannes. Iran submitted it to be considered in the foreign film category at the Academy Awards and it won a nomination. Asghar Farhadi will not be allowed to attend the ceremony because of Trump’s “Muslim ban.” This is who his ban keeps out – not terrorists, but people who come here to work, to study, to visit friends and family.

The star of The Salesman, Taraneh Alidoosti, one of the most acclaimed actresses in her country, will boycott the Oscars in order to protest Trump’s racist ban. “I decided not to go even if I could, because it hurts me deeply to see ordinary people of my country being rejected for what might be their legal right to have access to their children abroad or to their school classes as students,” Ms. Alidoosti told The New York Times in an interview.

In a statement, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it was “extremely troubling” that Mr. Farhadi and the cast and crew of “The Salesman,” could be “barred from entering the country because of their religion or country of origin.” I’d say that’s a bit of an understatement.

Meanwhile, Asghar Farhadi had this to say on the subject: “I hereby express my condemnation of the unjust conditions forced upon some of my compatriots and the giphy (5).gifcitizens of the other six countries trying to legally enter the United States of America and hope that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations,” Farhadi said. He’s not the only one with this fear on his mind: “Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security” [italics are mine]. It wasn’t Bernie Sanders or Obama who said that, it was a joint statement from two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

It isn’t just Farhadi who will be affected by this ban come February 26th  (Oscar broadcast).

The filmmakers behind The White Helmets, a film about Syrian volunteer first responders in that country’s bloody civil war, had planned on bringing two representatives of that group to the ceremony, but Trump’s travel ban – which impacts Syria – will prevent that from happening. The White Helmets, mind you, have been nominated for a goddamned Nobel Peace Prize, and yet Trump sees fit to keep these heroes out. Producer Johanna Natasegara said in a statement “These people are the bravest humanitarians on the planet, and the idea that they could not be able to come with us and enjoy that success is just abhorrent.”

giphy-4The Syrian family at the heart of Watani: My Homeland, another short documentary up for an Academy Award, is also unable to attend the Oscars due to the travel ban, even though they are now German citizens. But movies and stories like this, and Fire At Sea, which tell the human story of refugees are even more vital at a time like this. Watani director Marcel Mettelsiefen said “We must reconnect with the common humanity of the refugee experience and we must all remember that the founding story of America is dependent upon people who have fled war, hunger and poverty in search of a better life.”

I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from.” These words were not spoken by “overrated” actress Meryl Streep but by Dick Cheney, who was vice president at the time of the 9-11 attacks.

Muslims are our friends, neighbours, and colleagues. They may serve you street food from a food truck or treat you in your local emergency room. They’re also in movies, sometimesgiphy (2).gif entertaining us, sometimes helping to tell urgently important stories. Oscar-nominated (and best supporting actor heir presumptive) Mahershala Ali is Muslim (Moonlight, Hidden Figures). Rogue One’s Riz Ahmed is Muslim. So are Dave Chapelle, Ice Cube,  Mos Def, Amal Clooney, Omar Epps, Janet Jackson, Aziz Ansari, Ellen Burstyn, Muhammad Ali, Shaq, Kareem, and some of my favourite members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Muslims are not terrorists. Muslims are terrorized by terrorists, who use any reason, including religion (including Christianity) to do evil.

giphyTaraneh Alidoosti, an actress known to very few over here in the west, is boycotting the Oscars. Wouldn’t it really mean something if others did as well? If the Oscars had to broadcast hundreds of empty seats, each tagged with the name of a celebrity who didn’t come because the thought of Trump’s America was so unpalatable that it’s better to stay home than to schmooze and be lauded by one’s colleagues? If they stood in solidarity with fellow film makers who are just as deserving but are prohibited from celebrating just because of their religion? Now that’s a story worth telling; let’s continue to take part in it.

 

 

 

 

SAG Awards

The 2017 awards season heats up as the SAG awards declare its winners.

hidden-figures-d2253fe9-c421-4a79-bce3-f3a344eae3aeOutstanding performance by a cast was won by Hidden Figures, edging out fellow nominees Captain Fantastic, Fences, Moonlight, and Manchester By the Sea, which was the most-nominated movie at the SAG awards but won absolutely nothing.

 

 

23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals

The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 29 Jan 2017rs_634x1024-170129170349-634-2017-sag-awards-kristen-dunstrs_634x1024-170129151155-634-glen-powell-cm-12917

Denzel Washington took home his first SAG award for his work in Fences, which denzel-washington-7d58843b-c112-4664-9626-c3247cc5cbf3means Casey Affleck for Manchester By The Sea got shut out, as well as Andrew Garfield for Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling for La La Land, and Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic. This is a rare exception in the Casey Affleck train. Do you think it’s likely to be repeated?

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Emma Stone’s performance in La La Land topped Amy Adams for Arrival, Emily Blunt forEmma Stone The Girl on the Train, Natalie Portman for Jackie and Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins. This makes her the frontrunner for the Oscar, with Isabelle Huppert and Natalie Portman possible upsets.

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viola-davis-23699bb3-331e-456a-b72f-4cd76124e741Viola Davis won  for supporting actress for Fences over Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, and Michelle Williams for Manchester By The Sea. She’ll be pretty unstoppable come Oscar time. I applaud her bold performance even though I radically disagree with her presence in the supporting category at all.

The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Red Carpet

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Mahershala Ali took the supporting actor trophy for Moonlight, besting Jeff Bridges for mahershala-ali-694ef816-f229-4b29-a4ef-756b3ffc8d94Hell or High Water, Hugh Grant for Florence Foster Jenkins, Lucas Hedges for Manchester By The Sea, and Dev Patel for Lion. This is the right move and I hope it repeats itself.

 

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Hacksaw Ridge won outstanding performance by a stunt ensemble in a motion picture over fellow nominees Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Jason Bourne, and Nocturnal Animals.

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Lily Tomlin received the SAG Lifetime Achievement lily-tomlin-30c3e284-59c0-4c49-bfc0-7888e8f6bc1dAward, presented by Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda. Amid the many political speeches of the night, including digs against Donald Trump and his insane ban on Muslims, Tomlin quipped What sign should I make for the next march?

 

 

 

The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 29 Jan 2017

So, what do you think? Best dressed? Biggest upset? How did it stack up to your expectations and how will it affect your Oscar pool?

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Oscar Nominations 2017

For some reason, the Oscar nominations were not presented in front of a live audience this morning. Pre-taped bits with past Oscar winners like Jennifer Hudson (best supporting actress, 2010 for Dreamgirls) and Brie Larson (best actress 2016, for Room) preceded an automated list announcing the Oscar nominations for 2016’s best movies, interrupted with a commercial for itself. The Academy Awards will take place February 26th, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. I just realized that I won’t be in the room to win my Oscar pool this year – Sean and I will be in Philadelphia, perhaps not even watching the ceremony!

An accounting firm called PricewaterhouseCoopers has taken care of the Academy balloting process for over 80 years. They send out the nomination forms in December and tabulating them in January takes about 1700 hours. There are over 6000 voting members of the Academy, and they’re all industry professionals. Each branch has different rules as to who can become a member – visual effects supervisors have to be active for a certain number of years, while an

actor must have a credited role in at least 3 films, and a writer should have at least 2 credits, and all must have “achieved distinction” in the motion picture arts and sciences. The tricky part is that you can only be a member of one branch, so someone like Ben Affleck has to decide whether he wants to be there as an actor, a director, or a writer. Each category votes only for itself – on editors can decide who will be nominated for best editing, and only actors vote for best actors nominees. Everyone can vote for best picture, however.

For a film to be considered, it has to meet some basic requirements: it must be over 40 minutes, it must have had at least a 7-straight-day run at a paid-admission L.A. theatre, and it can’t have debuted on television or the internet.

When an Academy member receives a ballot, they get to list their 5 nominee choices in order of preference, and are encouraged to “follow their heart”. The ballots are counted by hand, and the accounting firm looks for the “magic number” – the number of mentions it takes to turn a name into a nomination. The formula they use is: total # of ballots, divided by total possible nominees plus 1. So for Best Director, say you have 600 ballots, and you get to have 5 nominees (plus 1 = 6), that’s 600 divided by 6, or 100 ballots to become a nominee.

The counting starts based on a voter’s first choice  until someone reaches the magic number. Once Damian Chazelle (for example), reaches the magic number, all the ballots that had him as first choice will be set aside. The director with the fewest first-place votes is automatically knocked out, and those ballots are redistributed based on the voters’ second choice (the directors still in the running keep their calculated votes from the first round).  Once the nominees are announced today, the accounting firm will now send out new ballots and everyone can vote in all categories for the actual awards, although people are discouraged from voting for categories that they don’t understand.

Now on to the nominations!

Best Picture

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell Or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land

Lion

Manchester By The Sea

Moonlight

Best Director

Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge

Damien Chazelle – La La Land

Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester By The Sea

Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Best Actor

Casey Affleck, Manchester By the Sea

Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge

Ryan Gosling, La La Land

Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic

Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Actress

Ruth Negga, Loving

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Natalie Portman, Jackie

Emma Stone, La La Land

Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Supporting Actor

Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea

Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Dev Patel, Lion

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Cinematography

Arrival (Bradford Young)

La La Land (Linus Sandgren)

Lion (Greig Fraser)

Moonlight (James Laxton)

Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)

Documentary

Fire At Sea

I Am Not Your Negro

Life, Animated

OJ: Made In America

13th

Documentary Short

Extremis

4.1 Miles

The White Helmets

Watani: My Homeland

Joe’s Violin

Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine

A Man Called Ove

The Salesman

Tanna

Toni Erdmann

Live Action Short

Ennemis Entreniers

La Femme et le TGV

Silent Nights

Sing

Timecode

Sound Editing

Arrival

Deepwater Horizon

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Sully

Sound Mixing

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

La La Land

Rogue One

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Production Design

Arrival

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Hail, Caesar

La La Land

Passengers

Visual Effects

Deepwater Horizon

Doctor Strange

The Jungle Book

Kubo And the Two Strings

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Costumes

Allied (Joanna Johnston)

Fantastic Beasts (Colleen Atwood)

Florence Foster Jenkins (Consolata Boyle)

Jackie (Madeline Fontaine)

La La Land (Mary Zophres)

Original Screenplay

Hell or High Water (Taylor Sheridan)

La La Land (Damien Chazelle)

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou)

Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)

20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

Adapted Screenplay

Arrival (Eric Heisserer)

Fences (August Wilson)

Hidden Figures (Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi)

Lion (Luke Davies)

Moonlight (Screenplay by Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney)

Makeup & Hairstyling

A Man Called Ove (Eva von Bahr and Love Larson)

Star Trek Beyond (Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo)

Suicide Squad (Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson)

Original Score

Jackie (Mica Levi)

La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)

Lion (Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka)

Moonlight (Nicholas Britell)

Passengers (Thomas Newman)

Original song

Audition – La La Land

Can’t Stop the Feeling – Trolls

City of Stars – La La Land

The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story

How Far I’ll Go – Moana

Animated

Kubo And the Two Strings

Moana

My Life As A Zucchini

The Red Turtle

Zootopia

Animated Short

Blind Vaysha

Borrowed Time

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pearl

Piper

Editing

Hacksaw Ridge (John Gilbert)

Arrival (Joe Walker)

Hell or High Water (Jake Roberts)

La La Land (Tom Cross)

Moonlight (Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon)

Supporting Actress

Viola Davis, Fences

Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Nicole Kidman, Lion

Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures

Michelle Williams, Manchester By the Sea

Wow, we’ve seen a lot of these! What have you seen, loved, hated, felt was overhyped? Surprises?

Hidden Figures

America, 1960s: the country is still very much divided by colour. Martin Luther King Jr is marching, JFK appears to be listening, but black people are still drinking for different fountains, still sitting at the back of the bus. Meanwhile, at NASA, about 2 dozen black women are working their fingers to the bone (actually, working their brains dry – they’re not labourers, they’re computers in the time before computers were machines). Does hf-gallery-04-gallery-imageNASA pay them equally? Not by a long shot. Treat them fairly? Not so much. Promote them? Never. But hire them they must because there’s a space race on with the Russians, and they can’t afford not to hire the best and the brightest no matter the skin colour encasing the brains.

These women, buried deep in the basement of a building far away from the main action, are fighting prejudice on two levels: race and gender. Hidden Figures follows 3 of them, real-life women who helped launch John Glen into space. Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) does the work of a supervisor without the title or the pay. Not only does she get shit done, she intuits that the future of her computing department is changing and she takes it upon herself to learn the language of the future  – and International Business Machine is being installed painstakingly at NASA, and she’ll be the one to learn its code, and teach it to others. Mary Jackson (Monae) has an engineer’s talent and mind but she can’t get her credentials to match because the only education opportunity is at an all-white school. Katherine Johnson (Henson) is a single mother as well as a mathematical genius. When NASA discovers her talent she works overtime to help invent the new math necessary for John Glen’s orbit while still drinking out of the “colored” coffee pot.

Hidden Figures is conventional story-telling all the way, relating the story of ground-breaking women in the least ground-breaking way possible. But it’s crowd-pleasing: it thumbnail_24795had the audience applauding. These women are so inspirational that it would be hard to mess up the story, and Hidden Figures manages not to stand in its own way. At the Toronto International Film Festival this fall, Pharrell Williams, who collaborated on the score with Hans Zimmer, gave a concert of all the original music he’d worked on for the film. I worried that he might overshadow the film, but in fact his music fits right in very comfortably, establishing the time period in a pop-heavy way.

The cast is stacked with heavy-hitters. Octavia Spencer is nominated for a Golden Globe for her role, and she’s as good as we know she can be. But I was impressed with Taraji P. Henson, who plays a vamp and a bit of a diva with the press, and an outspoken, strong contender on Empire, but in Hidden Figures managed to play bookish and humble with a shy strength and subversive self-confidence.

Hidden Figures is a feel-good tribute; a story that was meant to be told. The script is a charmer, and surprisingly humourous, and the three leads infuse it with power. Sure it’s a bit run-of-the-mill, but it’s also a positive way to start the new year, and a movie you won’t be able to resist.

Free State of Jones

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a poor man fighting a rich man’s war, and he knows it. The rich men have cleverly saved themselves from war by enacting the 20 Negro Law, which exempts any man who owns 20 slaves. Nice loophole. Knight is less than pleased. When a very young recruit is gunned down beside him, he straps the body to a horse and sets off to return the boy to his mother for burial. The only problem is, this act stinks of desertion to everyone that matters.

Not content with hiding out, Knight (a real historical figure) instead founds free-state-of-jonesthe “free state of Jones”, made up of deserters, runaway slaves, and women, and they start their own mini rebellion against the corrupt Confederates in charge. The soldiers have been raiding local homes, taking their “10%” (more like 90), but leaving large plantations untouched. These people aren’t exactly hard to convince which side will benefit them most.

Free State of Jones is graphic from the get-go, but if you can survive the first two or three minutes, the worst of the gore is over. It helps to establish how bloody and senseless this war is (the civil war, if that’s not clear): no matter how perfectly rhythmic the marching, it doesn’t stop you from getting mowed down. Director Gary Ross also tries to give the film some context by intercutting the main story with courtroom snippets of a case against a man     1\8th negro, a coloured person in the eyes of the law, who thus is not allowed to be married to his white wife. I didn’t care for the splicing but came to appreciate it by the end.

This is absolutely a brilliant and worthy piece of history but it’s not quite done right by Free State of Jones. The movie’s well over 2 hours but feels as though FREE STATE OF JONESit lollygags from scene to scene, dwelling in weird places, then rushing through others. Perhaps Ross has simply bitten off more than he can chew, but you can see his good intentions shine through. What we need, though, is passion. It’s sadly lacking here. Even McConaughey’s strong performance is muddied by the white saviour characterization: Knight was a much more divisive figure.

I enjoyed this movie but was frustrated by its limitations. I would have liked to have seen more of Rachel, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who I think  is spectacular but criminally underused in this film. I wouldn’t stop anyone from watching Free State of Jones, but I am endeavouring to temper your expectations. The civil war has many stories to tell, but they aren’t just historical ones. There are a lot of modern consequences, enough to give you shivers.

The Place Beyond The Pines

This movie was primarily filmed on location in Schenectady, New York. Schenectady literally means “beyond the pine plains” in Mohawk, so now you know where writer-MV5BMTcyODUxMjIzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjE3MzM0OQ@@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_director Derek Cianfrance got the name (it’s where his wife grew up). As for what it’s about, well, that’s another story.

It’s about a motorcycle stunt driver played by Ryan Gosling who finds out he impregnated a carnival groupie the last time he was in town, so he drops out of the circus in order to be a Baby Daddy, except the groupie (Eva Mendes) already has someone to help raise her child (Mahershala Ali), so there’s not a lot of extra room for a bum. In order to show what a good provider he can be, he and his buddy (Ben Mendelsohn) start robbing banks. And you know what? It actually works. For a little while, they’re almost a happy family. But robbing banks is a risky business that eventually catches up with him. Enter trigger happy cop guy (Bradley Cooper). Later MV5BYTczY2U4ODctMGU3Ni00MmYwLTlmMDktOGUzZDcyMTM5OGEwL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjcyNzA2MjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1500,1000_AL_Cooper will be remembered as a hero but we’ll all know he’s dirty. And what do dirty cops do? They run for public office!

It’s an interesting movie because it’s about that place where two lives intersect, and how quickly they can change the course of each other’s lives. And it’s also about legacy, and the burden that the little carnie baby is going to carry with him for the rest of his life. The Place Beyond the Pines is a search for truth; it displays the emotional intensity that the Gosling-Cianfrance combination brought in Blue Valentine (which I love but can’t stand to watch). And it reminds us about the shades of grey in everyone: how the “bad guy” bank robber can rock his baby gently to sleep, and the “good guy” cop can be corrupt as hell.