FILM NEWS: JAN. 16-22 | Cinema Clips | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

FILM NEWS: JAN. 16-22 

New This Week, Special Screenings, and Current Releases

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NEW THIS WEEK

Film release schedules are subject to change. Reviews online at cityweekly.net

Bad Boys for Life
[not yet reviewed]
Veteran cops Lowrey (Will Smith) and Burnett (Martin Lawrence) reunite for one last big adventure. Opens Jan. 17 at theaters valleywide. (R)

Cunningham 3.5 stars
Wim Wenders' 2011 Pina provided a terrific template for a documentary about a choreographer: Commit to making it about the dancing. Director Alla Kovgen's profile of choreographer Merce Cunningham does include material that could be considered conventional in a biographical documentary, including archival footage and interview snippets with both the late Cunningham himself and many of his closest collaborators, including Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Cunningham's professional and personal partner, composer John Cage. But the majority of the running time is devoted to re-creating Cunningham's still-fascinating dances themselves, bringing new vitality to works sometimes criticized for their chilly precision by staging them on a high-rise rooftop, or in the middle of a stand of trees, with Kovgen's camera prowling the perimeter or getting right in the middle of things. There's enough context from the interviews to provide a sense of Cunningham the man, like his resistance to "what it is it about" simplistic interpretations. But the real interest here, as Cunningham himself would approve of, is experiencing the dance—fitting for a man who says, "I don't describe my work; I do it." Opens Nov. 17 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)—Scott Renshaw

Dolittle
[not yet reviewed]

Robert Downey Jr. talks to the animals. Just imagine it. Opens Jan. 17 at theaters valleywide. (PG)

Invisible Life 3.5 stars
Billed as a "tropical melodrama," this period-piece tearjerker (and Brazil's official entry for this year's Best International Film Oscar) is certainly a sun-bleached version of the kind of kitchen-sinkers Douglas Sirk used to do in his sleep back in the day. This movie follows two sisters, a budding piano prodigy (Carol Duarte) and her free-spirited big sis (Julia Stockler), in 1950s Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, they spend most of their lives kept away from one another after their father (Antônio Fonseca) disowns the older sister for running off and getting pregnant. Any person who's had to deal with their own fare of deceitful, family bullshit will no doubt connect with this story, based on a Martha Batalha novel. Writer-director Karim Ainouz does give audiences a moving portrait of two women trying to hold on to each other as their dreams and aspirations fade away, thanks mostly to a patriarchal society filled with oppressive men who think they know better. Think of this film as a less-palefaced companion to Greta Gerwig's Little Women. Opens Jan. 17 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)—Craig D. Lindsey

Varda By Agnes 3.5 stars
You gotta hand it to the late, French New Wave filmmaker Agnès Varda: She wasn't gonna let anyone else tell her life story in some half-assed fashion. And, before she passed away in March of last year at the age of 90, she rounded up all of her footage to basically give an on-camera masterclass in filmmaking. With Varda literally taking center stage, discussing her cinematic journey in front of several theater audiences, she unspools clips from her filmography, including all the biggies: Cleo from 5 to 7; Vagabond; The Gleaners and I; her Oscar-nominated Faces Places. But she also explores her history as a versatile visual artist, starting out as a photographer and spending most of her later years doing elaborate art installations. More importantly, Varda shows audiences—whether diehard fans or curious folk who want to know more about this quirky old lady with the punk-bowl haircut—how she brought playful inventiveness to everything she did, even in her most serious work. She lets everyone know that if you're going to create cinema that will either challenge or infuriate viewers, you better have a good-ass time while doing it. Opens Jan. 17 at Broadway Centre Cinemas. (NR)—CDL

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Jojo Rabbit
At Park City Film Series, Jan. 17-18, 8 p.m. & Jan. 19, 6 p.m. (PG-13)

CURRENT RELEASES

1917 3 stars
If you want viewers immersed in your story, what value is there in repeatedly reminding them, "This shot was really hard to pull off ?" Director Sam Mendes approximates a single-take, real-time story sent on the World War I front lines of France in April 1917, as British army Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) set off on a mission to inform a company of fellow soldiers that they're about to head into a German trap. Mendes builds tension into their harrowing journey from the outset, and veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins lends his distinctive touch to the increasingly hallucinatory tale anchored by MacKay's intense performance. But then there's that whole gimmick thing, and a story built on the notion of feeling it shouldn't leave you instead simply admiring its technique from a slight remove. (R)—SR

Just Mercy 3 stars
Destin Daniel Cretton adapts the memoir by Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a Harvard-educated African-American lawyer who moves to Alabama in the 1990s to help death-row inmates like Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), where all the evidence suggests he was railroaded. If you're guessing that Stevenson faces opposition from the white Alabama establishment, you would be correct, and Cretton does build into those scenes a genuine tension. But while we righteously fume over the institutional obstacles to freeing a black man who committed no crime, Just Mercy is stronger in its character moments, most notably from Foxx but also from Tim Blake Nelson as the primary witness against McMillian. The formulaic structure still allows for an appreciation of the grueling, frustrating work of getting a rigged system to admit that it was about to kill an innocent man. (PG-13)—SR

Like a Boss 1.5 stars
In this hella-predictable girl-power-fest, Tiffany Haddish and Rose Byrne are weed-smoking besties who run a cosmetics storefront on the brink of getting shut down. Enter Salma Hayek's cartoonishly ravenous beauty mogul, who tries to snatch up their business by pitting the ladies against each other. Once-promising director Miguel Arteta doesn't even attempt to cover up the fact that most of this film consists of scenes that have either been assembled out-of-order or simply reshot. The cast does give their all in being funny when needed, especially supporting players Jessica St. Clair, Natasha Rothwell and Ari Graynor as Haddish and Byrne's old gal pals, and Billy Porter as Haddish and Byrne's resident gay friend/employee, who gives the most hilarious exit after getting fired I've ever seen. If only the filmmakers gave as much of a damn as they did. (R)—CDL

Little Women 3.5 stars
Writer-director Greta Gerwig takes Louisa May Alcott's 150-year-old text and finds a way of telling it that feels new and vital. She radically re-imagines the structure, opening with Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) already in New York trying to build a career as a writer; the narrative flashes back from there seven years to Jo and her sisters—Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen)—living with their mother (Laura Dern). That fragmented chronology turns it into a tale juxtaposing the lives the young protagonists imagine for themselves with the choices they ultimately have available. Yet it's also gloriously entertaining, thanks to the top-notch casting. It's wonderful to see this source material as a call to recognize the unfairness the world might throw at you, stare it down, and decide you're going to make your own happiness. (PG)—SR

Spies in Disguise 2.5 stars
Will Smith voices a cocky secret agent who needs help from a nebbishy scientist (Tom Holland) to disappear when he gets framed for a crime. 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 come up with the enough elaborate, screwball hijinks to properly appease the parent/kid combos in the audience, while 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 argue about the best way to handle acts of terrorism. I wasn't expecting a flick where the Fresh Prince eats garbage, lays an egg and finds out how pigeons go to the bathroom to be so damn heavy. (PG)—CDL

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

Uncut Gems 3 stars
Josh and Benny Safdie (Good Time) tell another story about a screw-up who can't get out of his own way: Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a New York jeweler facing impending divorce, mounting gambling debt and an accompanying threat of physical violence. But he thinks a rare, valuable black opal from Ethiopia will solve all his problems. The Safdies maintain a relentless momentum as Howard's schemes repeatedly blow up in his face, with Sandler turning in strong work as a guy who's always got a hustle, while never understanding that the disaster of his life is his own fault. If anything, it's too relentless, exacerbated by Daniel Lopatin's punishing score. The character study doesn't hold the same thematic depth as Robert Pattinson's furiously entitled protagonist of Good Time, but it's still consistently fascinating to rubberneck at this human car crash. (R)—SR

Underwater 2 stars
You gotta have a perverse respect for filmmakers deciding, "Who actually needs a first act?" In a seven-miles-deep-in-the-Mariana-Trench drilling facility, engineer Norah (Kristen Stewart) and a few other survivors try to find a way to the surface while things collapse around them—and oh yeah, the drilling has released freaky, murderous heretofore-unknown creatures. The ensuing 90 minutes are pure survival yarn, an attempt at melding Alien and deep-sea monster movies like Leviathan that isn't as expertly crafted as the former, or as unapologetically shlocky as the latter. Because there's no introductory character material, every bit of back-story is grafted on wherever it will fit—or, more often, where it doesn't. There are enough claustrophobic genre thrills to provide some diversion; mostly, it's in such a hurry to get to the action that it forgets to be a story. (PG-13)—SR

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