1917: Clear everything out! Mom's trying to park in the garage!
Mid-January sees an unexpected release in the resurrection of the ’90s buddy cop franchise Bad Boys. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return as Miami police detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett in Bad Boys for Life, which would be a much better title for a fourth entry. Original director Michael Bay has been relegated to Netflix and replaced by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah of the Dutch crime thriller Gangsta.
The other wide release, Dolittle, starring Robert Downey Jr. as Hugh Lofting’s legendary vet with the ability to talk to animals, was originally scheduled for a May 2019 release. This January date is an ignominious sign, to say the least. Downey is joined by an all-star cast of animal voices that includes Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer and Marion Cotillard—and those are only the ones with Oscars at home.
Ciné still has Little Women and Parasite—two of 2019’s best, if you have not seen them—through Thursday. Bad Movie Night returns on Jan. 21 for 1985’s 24 Hours to Midnight, which could be the first movie starring martial arts superstar Cynthia Rothrock. Late showings of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room are back Jan. 17–18; if you have not shared this moviegoing experience, do so. I recommend taking friends.
Flicker’s John-uary celebration of John Waters continues on Jan. 15 with 1974’s Female Trouble, starring his muse, Divine; the film is dedicated to Manson Family member Charles “Tex” Watson. Intriguingly and mysteriously, Skate Videos @ 9 follow. (It’s probably just skate videos that start at 9 p.m.) The ACC Library’s Anime Club will be screening the surprisingly appealing live action Pokemon flick Detective Pikachu on Jan. 16. Flashback Cinema at Beechwood offers an encore screening of the most influential sci-fi film maybe ever, Blade Runner, on Jan. 15, and the Harry Potter film series continues on Jan. 19 with the second movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which is most everyone’s choice for worst entry when ranking all eight films.
So, did the Hollywood Foreign Press make the right pick with their most recent Golden Globe winner for Best Drama?
1917 (R) Imagine Saving Private Ryan if its patriotism and narrative frame were stripped down to two hours graphically depicting the horrors of the D-Day invasion, and you have a solid grasp of what to expect from Sam Mendes’ 1917. On a random day during the Great War, two soldiers, Lance Corporals Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, Blinded by the Light) and Will Schofield (George Mackay, the oldest son from Captain Fantastic), are chosen to take an important message across No Man’s Land to a battalion on the brink of a catastrophic attack.
Mendes and acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049) construct 1917 to appear as one long short following the soldiers from one front to another. The horrors they experience on the way belie the boundaries placed upon genre. Do not tell your parents, who are guaranteed to be excited for this film, but 1917 is a horror movie. A realistic war movie is probably closer kin to a horror movie than moviegoers “who don’t like horror” would like to admit. And like Spielberg’s WWII epic, 1917 is more a technical achievement than a narrative one.
The occasionally surprising plot moves along through frustrating consequences. Special guests appear like WWI is a holiday variety show, and no real marks can be given for fresh takes on heroism, bravery or humanity in the face of war. Yet 1917’s structure and period combine into a nonconforming war movie that stands out amidst a popular genre typified by inspirational, nationalist messaging.
JUST MERCY (PG-13) Certain Southern audiences may struggle with Hawaii native Destin Daniel Cretton’s stirring takedown of Southern injustice and the death penalty. Michael B. Jordan stars as Bryan Stevenson, upon whose nonfiction book the script is based. As a young lawyer fresh out of Harvard, Bryan traveled to Alabama, where he sought justice for death row inmates whose prior legal representation ranged from poor to none. One of his highest profile cases involved Walter “Johnnie D” McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a black man convicted of the murder of an 18-year-old white woman based almost entirely on the confession of a criminal named Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson).
An engaging cadre of performances ranging from powerful (Jordan and Foxx) to fine (Brie Larson) to showy (Nelson) to unwatchable (Rafe Spall’s atrocious accent) keep the narrative engaging. Like many real-life stories, one imagines a documentary would be more accurately enlightening, yet anyone with a heart will find it bleeding for the Americans, mostly black men, sitting on death row around the country, not just in the South, based on far from convincing evidence.