Cherry Jones

Defending Jacob (2020) s01e07 – Job

Finally the start of the courtroom episodes, which are apparently going to be two because it’s the second-to-last episode. It opens with a flashback to Pablo Schreiber with a goatee getting advice from—oh, look, they were friendly once—Chris Evans. Evans gives Schreiber a list of things to work on so if you want to wait to see if Schreiber uses them against Jaeden Martell… He uses at least one.

I’m not sure about the rest. I lost interest in tracking them.

It’s trial time and the “good guys” feel ready. Cherry Jones continues to be great and Schreiber’s a good bad guy; Daryl Edwards is good as the judge. Ben Taylor’s really good as the friend of Martell who’s got the most damning testimony, which surprises Jones, Evans, and Michelle Dockery. Turns out Martell wasn’t being forthcoming about all the possible evidence against him and it’s a big problem. It’s also a big problem because Evans should’ve found it but didn’t actually do the work to find out about it. And he never told Dockery about any of it, which eventually leads to her saying how their whole marriage is a shame because they’re only together to… pretend it’s a fairytale. Or something.

Dockery and Evans are nap-inducing when they’re alone together—or icky when they’re having weird sex scenes all over the house—so it’s a really disinteresting argument scene.

Other important developments this episode include J.K. Simmons calling to check up on the trial, the cops tracking down professional thug (who’s following Evans and Dockery) William Xifaras, and Patrick Fischler and Megan Byrne fighting in the courtroom. They’re the dead kids parents. Might be more interesting if it was there story too, especially since we still don’t know how Fischler decided Martell was guilty the day after the murder or whatever. Fischler’s good but he’s barely in the show.

It ends with a big surprise—though not really, not if you’ve got a fourth grader’s understanding of foreshadowing—involving pedophile suspect Daniel Henshall. But at least it’s about to be over.

Defending Jacob (2020) s01e06 – Wishful Thinking

Last episode they were at like seven weeks from the trial, now it’s ten days before the trial. Apparently nothing interesting happened in five weeks, which is believable given “Defending Jacob.”

The episode opens with Chris Evans and lawyer Cherry Jones looking at the dead kid’s cellphone, which prosecuting attorney Pablo Schreiber was going to keep secret because Schreiber’s a dick. Schreiber also baits Evans about his dad being in prison and Evans roughs him up. Interestingly, 6’5” Schreiber is wearing lifts to be even taller than 6’ Evans. Just want to know whose idea the lifts were.

Then Betty Gabriel bonds with Evans over incarcerated family—her brother’s in prison, which she apparently told him over the years and he didn’t share about his dad. Because they’re not friends.

Gabriel also warns Evans Schreiber has something great in the case because he’s overconfident.

Through in some quick distraction about Jaeden Martell going online with a crappy self-made meme based on American Psycho: The Movie because American Psycho: The Movie is big with the tweens in 2020. Though I suppose it’s at least not a Paramount release. The family talks and watches multiple Paramount eighties favorites (Paramount produced the show for Apple TV+). Though this episode has Daniel Henshall watching Invasion of the Body Snatchers when the cops search his house because Hale Lytle comes forward with some information about Henshall. Lytle and mom Therese Plaehn are some of the better actors in the show.

Anyway—Martell going online. Evans yells at him about it. It’s a thing.

There’s also a chase scene when a car is following Michelle Dockery on her daily jog. It ought to be a good scene. It’s terrible. Morten Tyldum’s is terrible. Thank goodness the story’s not more thrilling, the show would be even worse.

The end has shrink Poorna Jagannathan giving Evans and Dockery the summary of her findings on Martell. It’s the Friday before the trial or something, and Martell’s birthday, which doesn’t matter at all. Except to show Martell’s character development so far in the series—thanks to his ordeal, he’s started liking metaphor in literature.

As Chris Evans, in the grand jury bookend, tries to emote, it occurred to me this show would be amazing—with all its problems—if only they’d gotten Edward Norton.

Defending Jacob (2020) s01e04 – Damage Control

The episode opens unironically with Michelle Dockery going to the grocery store before it opens at 6 a.m. and waiting to go in and be alone while shopping while Chris Evans does the same thing… only with the swimming pool.

Makes me wonder if the Dockery character is such a non-entity in the William Landay novel, in which case it does sound a little like an easy reader version of Presumed Innocent.

Anyway.

Dockery having a crap part is going to get indirectly spotlighted from the glare off Cherry Jones, playing tween murder suspect Jaeden Martell’s lawyer. And apparently, no, Evans didn’t see any conflict of interest in Jones having already represented town sexual predator guy Daniel Henshall.

It’s time for Jones to see how well Martell might do on the stand and he’s not going to do well. Martell’s petulant teen thing doesn’t come off well and Jones walks all over he, Evans, and Dockery in the scene. It’s okay, because Jones is the most life the show’s exhibited. But then it gets weird because Jones makes Evans better. He’s got rapport with her. He’s got no rapport with Dockery. Reminder: Mark Bomback’s script is really trite, so a lot of the problem is the script. And possibly the source novel.

Then it turns out to be kind of Michelle Dockery’s episode. Like she gets the subplot about stalking her former work gala, sending away from information about Evans’s murderer dad under a pseudonym (which is an absolutely pointless subplot and does lend credence to the idea Bomback just cut Dockery’s character out for the TV show because she doesn’t even get real C plots but less Bs), and then getting ambushed in a pseudo-Denny’s, which Dockery makes a big deal to say she likes actually, by reporter Audrey Wasilewski.

Now, Dockery might have been prepared to be on the lookout for Wasilewski, if only Evans had warned her, like Jones asked him.

Because “Defending Jacob” is about how Evans is a terrible partner and how it’s okay because it’s a White guy.

“Defending Jacob” would feel regressive in 1983.

Defending Jacob (2020) s01e03 – Poker Faces

I am a fan of both Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery. I’m not a fan of them together but, individually, I am a fan. Though, sadly—and “Defending Jacob” proves it—Evans is not working with the right directors in the right projects. He comes off in this thing like a not-fun period Dennis Quaid but still young when Evans was always good at being fun.

Anyway.

At one point in the episode, defense attorney Cherry Jones—Evans hired the lawyer defending his personal prime suspect (Daniel Henshall) because conflict of interest does not exist in “Jacob”—tells the couple they need to show no emotion.

Really.

Steve Rogers and Lady Mary need to not show emotion. Wonder if they can handle it.

The weird—and bad—thing is how Dockery should be able to handle it, but director Morten Tyldum directs them the same instead of for their specific kinds of stone face. It’s a missed opportunity and kind of where it’s super-obvious “Defending Jacob” is never going to get good.

There’s a big reveal from Evans about his family history in the episode, which they hide in various layers of flashback—first it’s in the present, with prosecuting attorney Pablo Schreiber questioning Evans about defense shrink Poorna Jagannathan, then we cut to Evans in the past telling Dockery he’s got to tell her a secret, then we jump ahead to the meeting with Jagannathan, then we keep jumping back and forth between the meeting and the reveal to Dockery.

And the big secret?

Evans’s dad is in prison for murder. What if it’s genetic predisposition! What if Steve Rogers’s bad genes made son Jaeden Martell a murderer!

Okay, so Defending Jacob: A Novel came out in 2012. Wasn’t genetic killer coding already out by then? Like, this premise sounds like a really boring TV version of Minority Report or something. But the show takes it seriously. Like, sure, science, schmience, let’s just make up nonsense.

Also dated is the homophobic bullying, especially in the way the show’s portraying it. But, also good to know the dead tween was a bigot.

We also find out when Evans says he’ll take care of things, he doesn’t and then Dockery has to do it in addition to making dinner or whatever, and, oh—turns out there were plenty of sociopath signals with Martell as a toddler and whatnot, the show just didn’t divulge because… it apparently makes the parents maybe covering a murder even more sympathetic? It’s unclear.

Also unclear is if the show’s aware its protagonists are like Nancy Myers protagonists with a murderer son (oh, who else saw or read Before and After). The show almost seems to be aware of they’re too absurdly WASP. Like Black lady cop Betty Gabriel tells Evans they aren’t real friends and she feels bad for him if he thinks they are because they’re not… they’re all like super fake. Is that intentional or Bomback’s writing? Gabriel telling Evans what’s up suggests the former, but everything else suggests the later. Always err on ineptness apparently.

Defending Jacob (2020) s01e02 – Everything is Cool

About twenty minutes into this episode it felt really familiar then I realized I was just watching scenes from a bad Presumed Innocent remake. What with Chris Evans and his investigators and his coworkers and whatnot—it just feels like a retread of that film (and novel). I’ll bet source novel author William Landay read the Scott Turow novel.

“Defending Jacob” teleplay writer Mark Bomback? I feel like he maybe saw the movie.

The episode opens still in the flashback. Chris Evans has just discovered son Jaeden Martell’s classmates think he killed their other classmate and are posting about it online. He’s also found a knife in Martell’s bedroom.

So Evans lays awake all night and in the morning tells Michelle Dockery, who asks if he should let his boss know. You know, the district attorney (Sakina Jaffrey), who he promised he’d stay impartial with. He says, no. And then pretty soon destroys evidence, at which point I started to wonder if they realized Evans is the bad guy and basically “Defending Jacob” is basically a heroic version of Brock Turner’s parents.

Complete with Evans racing in his car from being suspended—not even for the evidence destruction but because there’s physical evidence Evans didn’t know about because he was doing such a bad job on the case because he’s apparently a bad prosecuting attorney (Turow deep cut)-racing home to get there before a search warrant can be executed.

The funny thing about Bomback’s abject lack of understanding about… well, anything really, is how the accusations of Martell didn’t go viral after being discovered online and sitting there for eighteen hours. Instead, the Internet just took a break for everyone to sleep and so on. It’s something.

Then there’s unregistered pedophile Daniel Henshall, who Evans brings in to question and the cops can’t break him before lawyer Cherry Jones shows up so they just let him go. Turns out he’s a good suspect because he’s got photos of the victim on his iPhone (does Apple know the pedophile’s rocking an Xs Max?) but they just let him go. Without even getting him to register.

So Bomback’s definitely bad at the plotting, but was Landay bad at it too? Because outside upper middle White people—if your D.A. is speeding through the streets in a badass Audi, maybe audit him—who don’t know their kids, I’m missing who this story would be compelling for? Like, was the novel supposed to be better than a John Grisham?

Signs (2002, M. Night Shyamalan)

It’s impossible to overstate what a profoundly, risibly bad movie Shyamalan has made with Signs. As the end credits started rolling, after the most disappointing “epilogue” Shyamalan could’ve come up with—it’s not just disappointing, it’s also pointless (pointless is the probably the best adjective to describe scenes in Signs)—my wife joked the movie took two weeks to film. To which I responded, “Thirteen and a half days longer than it took to write.” Because even with all the bad in Signs—and there’s so much bad—the writing is the worst.

And Shyamalan does this non-committal “camera as POV” thing—cinematographer Tak Fujimoto should be ashamed of himself for enabling Shyamalan to do it and embarrassed with how poorly he shoots the thing; Signs looks terrible–so, in other words, there’s a lot of competition for what’s worst in Signs. Shyamalan’s direction of the talking heads scenes—and there so many talking heads scenes because Shyamalan, who’s ego is literally oozing from every grain of film–involves characters almost looking directly into the camera but then just a little diagonally. Shyamalan is going for something with Signs, with his very intentional direction, his very intentional casting of himself as the guy who kills star Mel Gibson’s wife in a traffic accident (Shyamalan was asleep at the wheel) and vehicular manslaughter isn’t a thing and it just turns reverend Gibson into an atheist (but they never say the a-word because while Signs is definitely a millimeter thinly veiled Christian movie, there’s still the veil and it’s never going to get confrontational about it). Also… Shyamalan wrote the movie, so he did kill the wife.

Symbolism. Pass it on. Like the dog tchotchkes at the end to remind the viewer there are dogs, even if everyone forgot about them because they don’t matter because Signs is insipid.

Signs is full of symbolism but not really full because there’s not much because Shyamalan gets frequently bored with things like mise en scène because there’s better things to do like write the awful scenes between Gibson and his family. I went into Signs at least thinking Gibson would get through it unscathed (performance-wise). No. No. Not at all. It’s a godawful performance. He is incapable of pretending to be a former reverend, a widow, a husband, a father, a brother, and a farmer. The scenes with Gibson and kids Rory Culkin (who’s kind of terrible; it’s not his fault, Shyamalan seems to be having him do a Macaulay impression circa Uncle Buck but he’s still bad) and Abigail Breslin, who gets terrible material and terrible direction, but is still phenomenal. Shyamalan can’t figure out how to direct her because she’s not terrible like the rest of his cast.

Though, not Joaquin Phoenix. He’s leagues better than Gibson, though it helps Phoenix’s character is a dope. Gibson’s ostensibly functional enough to get to this point in his life—whereas Phoenix apparently always had Gibson to lean on—yet Gibson is real dumb. Real dumb.

Other bad things about Signs? Cherry Jones. She’s awful. Ted Sutton is so bad SAG should’ve shut the production down. Bad editing from Barbara Tulliver; Tulliver’s editing, cut for cut, is probably even worse than Fujimoto’s photography. Tulliver—presumably unintentionally—screws up all of Shyamalan’s jump scares. Larry Fulton’s production design is bad.

James Newton Howard’s score, while inexplicably a complete Bernard Herrmann Hitchcock rip-off (oh, wait, was Signs in the middle of Shyamalan being the new Hitchcock era), and poorly utilized, isn’t poorly composed. It’s competent, just misapplied. Everything else is incompetent and misapplied.

I was looking through Rodale for a good, fresh adjective to describe Signs but I think vapid does the job best. It’s worse than I expected it to be, which is saying a lot, but it also surprised me. I had no idea Gibson would so spectacularly fail or Phoenix would be—with a lot of conditions—so much better. And I guess Shyamalan managed to be inventively terrible, it’s just he’s a pointless kind of inventively terrible.

Oh, you know what… there’s the word.

Puerile.

Signs is puerile.

CREDITS

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Barbara Tulliver; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Larry Fulton; costume designer, Ann Roth; produced by Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, and Shyamalan; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Mel Gibson (Graham Hess), Joaquin Phoenix (Merrill Hess), Rory Culkin (Morgan Hess), Abigail Breslin (Bo Hess), Patricia Kalember (Colleen Hess), Cherry Jones (Officer Paski), Ted Sutton (SFC Cunningham), Merritt Wever (Tracey Abernathy), and M. Night Shyamalan (Ray Reddy).


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