FILM NEWS: JAN 9-15 | Cinema Clips | Salt Lake City Weekly


New This Week, Special Screenings, and Current Releases

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1917 3 Stars
See review on p. 37. Opens Jan. 9 at theaters valleywide. (R)

The Informer 1.5 Stars
Joel Kinnaman is an ex-con working undercover for the FBI snitching on drug-dealing mobsters in New York. Then everything goes south, and for complicated reasons, he has to break parole and go back to prison in order not to break cover. Will his fed handler (Rosamund Pike) be able to get him out safely? Will his wife (Knives Out's Ana de Armas, in a thankless role) survive the menacing of her husband's mobster boss (a rather terrifying Eugene Lipinski)? Will FBI honcho Clive Owen stop chewing the furniture? We've seen this all before—the twisty plotting, the gritty violence, the corruption, the cynicism—and it could have all worked if there was room for everyone to breathe and inhabit their world rather than simply racing around it; a familiar story like this lives or dies through our involvement with the characters. But there's way too much story crammed in here—the rushed finale is preposterous—and we're never able to get to know anyone. This might make a terrific 10- or 12-episode TV miniseries, but as a movie, it's like skim-reading a dense novel. Opens Jan. 10 at theaters valleywide. (R)—MaryAnn Johanson

Just Mercy 3 Stars
Some movies stir your sense of outrage at the injustice of our world, while not necessarily offering a lot more beyond that sense of outrage. Destin Daniel Cretton co-wrote and directed this adaptation of the memoir by Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), a Harvard-educated African-American lawyer who moves to Alabama in the 1990s to work for a nonprofit legal service for death-row inmates. There, Stevenson meets Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), convicted for the murder of a young white woman, where all the evidence suggests he was railroaded. If you're guessing that Stevenson faces opposition from the white Alabama establishment—including threats both subtle and overt—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. Opens Jan. 10 at theaters valleywide. (PG-13)—SR

Like a Boss
[not yet reviewed]
Two best friends (Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish) attempt to start their own cosmetics company together. Opens Jan. 10 at theaters valleywide. (R)

[not yet reviewed]
Kristen Stewart stars in a thriller about researchers threatened by natural and unnatural phenomena in a facility on the ocean floor. Opens Jan. 9 at theaters valleywide. (PG-13)


The Aeronauts
At Park City Film Series, Jan. 3-4, 8 p.m. & Jan. 5, 6 p.m. (PG-13)


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)—Scott Renshaw

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. (PG-13)—Criag D. Lindsey

Jumanji: The Next LeveL 1 Stars
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

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)—Craig D. Lindsey

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

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