FILM NEWS: DEC.26-JAN 1 | Cinema Clips | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly


New This Week, Special Screenings, and Current Releases

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Little Women 3.5 stars
See review on p. 37. Opens Dec. 25 at theaters valleywide. (PG)

Spies in Disguise 2.5 stars
You gotta hand it to the folks behind this computer-animated feature for getting a lot of mileage out of a ridiculous premise. Will Smith voices a cocky, Will Smith-looking secret agent who needs to disappear when he gets framed for a crime by a baddie (Ben Mendelsohn). He gets help from a super-intelligent—but, of course, highly nebbishy—scientist (Tom Holland) to help him disappear. But, unfortunately, he accidentally downs a potion that turns him into a pigeon—that's right, a friggin' pigeon. Stupid as this sounds, directors Troy Quane and Nick Bruno do come up with the usual amount of elaborate, screwball hijinks to properly appease the parent-kid combos in the audience, also properly populating the flick with an eccentric collection of star voices (Karen Gillan, Reba McEntire, DJ Khaled). They even squeeze in a message of pacifism, as Smith and Holland's characters mostly argue about the best way to handle acts of terrorism: with force, or peace. I wasn't expecting a flick where the Fresh Prince eats garbage, lays an egg and finds out how pigeons go to the bathroom. Opens Dec. 25 at theaters valleywide. (PG)—Craig D. Lindsey

Uncut Gems 3 stars
Josh and Benny Safdie (Good Time) clearly like stories about screw-ups who can't get out of their own way, and it's almost immediately clear that we're in the presence of another such character with Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a New York jeweler facing a likely impending divorce, mounting gambling debt and an accompanying threat of physical violence. But he thinks he's got the thing that will finally solve all his problems: a rare black opal from Ethiopia that he estimates is worth more than $1 million. The Safdies maintain a relentless momentum as Howard's schemes repeatedly blow up in his face, with Sandler turning in strong work as the kind of man who's always got a hustle, while never seeming to understand that the disaster of his life is his own fault. If anything, it's all too relentless, made even harder to take by a punishing score by Daniel Lopatin. The character study doesn't hold the same kind of thematic depth as Robert Pattinson's furiously entitled protagonist of Good Time, but it's still pretty consistently fascinating to rubberneck at this human car crash. Opens Dec. 25 at theaters valleywide. (R)—Scott Renshaw


At Park City Film Series, Dec. 27-28, 8 p.m. & Dec. 29, 6 p.m. (R)


Bombshell 2 stars
Charlize Theron looks a lot like Megyn Kelly in Bombshell—but it would be great to move on from that to whether Bombshell is actually a good movie. Because it's not. There's a scandalous premise at its core: the sexual harassment allegations at Fox News in 2017 that brought down the network's founder and architect, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), along with popular commentator Bill O'Reilly. But beyond the casting of familiar actors impersonating high-profile public figures—including Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson—what "there" is there in Jay Roach's movie? Occasionally it finds an emotional hook, like with a fictionalized sexually-harrassed producer played by Margot Robbie. Mostly, however, the performances are buried under an exercise in cinematic schadenfreude that's basically progressive fan service. We get to congratulate ourselves for recognizing that sexual harassment is bad, and Fox News is worse. (R)—SR

Cats 2 stars
Director Tom Hooper adapts Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage musical phenomenon about a weird annual ritual of cats trying to figure out which one of them gets to die and be reincarnated, with various cats (Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo, James Corden, Taylor Swift and more) each getting a solo number before being kidnapped by the villainous Macavity (Idris Elba). The only reason Cats works on stage, despite being a bad musical aside from the ubiquitous "Memory," is the spectacle of its stagecraft. On a movie screen, those mostly blah songs are in the mouths of people with CGI fur, which never stops looking creepy. Some lively dancing and the eye-catching ingénue presence of ballerina Francesca Hayward energize something that at least deserves credit for batshit craziness more fitting for a stoned midnight movie audience than a blockbuster holiday release. (PG)—SR

A Hidden Life 4 stars
Maybe it's because Taika Waititi's so-called satire Jojo Rabbit left a bad taste in my mouth that I find Terrence Malick's latest opus to be a far more appealing account of living among the Nazis during World War II. Mostly set in an overwhelmingly idyllic village in Austria, the movie follows Franz Jägerstätter (August Diehl), a real-life peasant farmer who chose not to fight with the Nazis, even if that meant spending a huge chunk of wartime incarcerated. As always with Malick, there's a love story at its core—this time, it's between Jägerstätter and his loyal, supportive wife (Valerie Pachner), who goes through just as much pain and drama as he does. As usual, Malick creates what seems like an endlessly emotional dream, as he and cinematographer Jörg Widmer constantly come up with gorgeous, sensuous shots and images that are just as vital to the story as the actual narrative. Even though I'm sure some people will complain about the nearly three-hour length, when you're engulfed in a world that's as moving and beautiful as the one Malick assembles, time doesn't mean a damn thing. Opens Dec. 20 at theaters valleywide. (PG-13)—CDL

Honey Boy 3 stars
Shia LaBeouf co-wrote this semi-autobiographical story where Lucas Hedges plays his stand-in, a rage-filled actor who gets sent to rehab and tries to rebel against the therapy that might take him back to his younger years, when he was just a child actor (Noah Jupe), getting pushed too hard by his recovering-addict, ex-clown dad (LaBeouf). With help from director Alma Har'el, LaBeouf uses this lyrical, engaging film to virtually purge the demons that made him such an erratic, unpredictable public figure. And while it dips into the surrealism well a bit too often—you could make a lengthy YouTube compilation of all the times Hedges wakes up from a bad dream—you sense that LaBeouf had to make this, so he could finally be at peace, and get back to being the captivating performer he's becoming quite good at. (R)—CDL

Jumanji: The Next Level 1 star
Two years ago, a quartet of high-schoolers magically entered a 1990s-era videogame and were transformed into "hilariously" opposite avatars (scrawny nerd becomes buff swashbuckler; shy girl becomes scantily clad "dance fighter;" etc.) to solve a jungle adventure puzzle. The one-joke wonder of the 2017 movie is painfully extended as two grandpas join the shenanigans, and now it's "hilarious" that squawky curmudgeon Danny DeVito lands in the body of The Rock (later Awkwafina) and a loquacious Danny Glover becomes "Boy Scout" Kevin Hart. Writer-director Jake Kasdan directs action sequences as if he intends to suck all the excitement and suspense out of them. The stakes are too low, anyway, to generate much suspense: Everyone gets another life when they "die" in the game. This isn't an action adventure so much as a body-swap comedy, minus any real laughs. (PG-13)— MaryAnn Johanson

Knives Out 3.5 stars
Rian Johnson upends the idea of a whodunit with this bracing cocktail of genre entertainment and lacerating social commentary, focused on the suspicious death of millionaire mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) and the possible suspects among his family members and employees. Johnson always has tricks up his sleeve when it comes to approaching genre conventions, and his gifts as a filmmaker are a perfect match for his gifts as a writer. Johnson also has a few serious things on his mind, taking a blowtorch to the notion of anyone "deserving" inherited wealth. Inevitably, we find our way to a resolution in which puzzle pieces fit together, and dumping all that exposition isn't easy, but Johnson expertly sticks the knife into a few deserving targets with Knives Out. How hedunit is something you should discover on your own. (PG-13)—SR

Richard Jewell 2.5 stars
Clint Eastwood's account of events surrounding the 1996 terrorist bombing at the Atlanta Olympic Games—and subsequent suspicions cast on security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser)—wants you to believe that Jewell's life was torn apart by irresponsible FBI investigators and reporters. And you can believe that, while still concluding that Eastwood himself is being irresponsible. The set-up is effective and making it clear why the gung-ho, authoritarian Jewell "fit the profile," and Hauser's performance is terrific. But the story focuses on making Jon Hamm's lead FBI investigator a total dick, and Olivia Wilde's tenacious reporter a corrupt sexpot. The question isn't whether Jewell was caught up in the frenzy to resolve a terrifying attack; it's the distinction between portraying law-enforcement and journalists as careless, and portraying them as mustache-twirling villains as culpable as the actual bomber. (R)—SR

Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker 2 stars
J.J. Abrams attempts to wrap up 40 years of Star Wars' Skywalker saga with the possible return of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), as all of our main characters—Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)—trying to figure out what it all means. The set pieces, while energetically staged, involve a lot of racing around trying to find a Very Important Object, or even trying to find the Very Important Object that will help them find another Very Important Object. We also get new characters, making the movie even more densely packed with stuff. But the elephant-in-the-Throne-Room problem is that this feels like a cover-band version of Return of the Jedi, puts characters through the motions of arcs we've seen before, offering a comforting pat on the head without any surprises. (PG-13)—SR

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