Friday, January 10, 2020

'1917,' 'Just Mercy' take first week of year movie honors from newer duds

Though the the calendar now reads 2020, a pair of 2019 holdovers just debuting on northeast Ohio screens easily outpoint a pair of January newbies likely to start the year with a major thud.

Chapman and MacKay too easily discover that war truly is hell.
Let's begin with "1917," the WWI stunner which already owns Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture Drama and Best Director (Sam Mendes) and waits to see what happens Sunday night with its eight nominations at the 25th annual Critics' Choice Awards (7-9 p.m. on The CW Television Network).

Give or take a few prominent cameos, its mostly no-name cast, headed by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay, take us through an action-packed assault on the senses. The mission of the two soldier boys -- and that's really what they are at the start of their story from the French trenches -- is to travel almost 10 miles through mostly enemy-controlled terrain to warn fellow Brits about an impending possible slaughter.

Not only is time obviously of the essence, since the German attack is looming, but the brother of young Lance Cpl. Blake (Chapman) is also an officer in the unit facing a quick demise. Such urgency, combined with the nightmarish trappings of war along the way, some brilliant single-take images from legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, and Thomas Newman meaningfully conducting the magnificent score behind it all help make "1917" a year -- and movie -- to remember.

Mendes' film certainly will remind many of Peter Jackson's startling documentary from early last year, "They Shall Not Grow Old." If you missed that one, it's available on HBO and various streaming services. Just remember, there's nothing as immersive as big-screen viewing.

 Rated "R": violence, some disturbing images, and language; 1:59; $ $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5
Jordan and Foxx give their all as key players in "Just Mercy."

Thought-provoking and based in reality, Just Mercy earnestly scrutinizes capital punishment, civil rights and one man's fight for equality in Alabama. The once-again solid Michael P. Jordan stars, this time as crusading young lawyer Bryan Stevenson, who helped found "The Equal Justice Initiative" soon after his graduation from Harvard Law School.

Also on hand are a pair of Oscar winners: Brie Larson plays the committed paralegal who aided him in representing various death-row inmates, and Jamie Foxx delivers some exceptionally moving work as "Johnny D," a proud and personable soul railroaded by a rigged system of injustice.

Though a lot of what we see becomes straightforward, if penetrating legal drama, a few powerful sequences -- including one of  Stevenson being humiliated during an alleged weapons search and another that re-creates a prison execution -- should startle anyone. Director and co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton ("The Glass Castle"), apparently using Stevenson's own memoir as a guide, also includes a few convincing moments of jail camaraderie that deeply humanize an otherwise unimaginable life behind bars.

Rated "PG-13": thematic elements, including some racial epithets; 2:17; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Before Wednesday night's screening of "Underwater," a diving expert from the Greater Cleveland Aquarium told an eager audience that a shark will grow more than 30,000 teeth during a normal 35-year lifespan. If only the movie she was there to help preview had as much bite.

Stewart and Cassel get all wet.
I mean, there must be a reason that this Kristen Stewart star vehicle sat on a shelf for a couple of years before today's wide release. But, if anyone cares, there is no shark involved, just a terror dwelling well beneath the ocean and resembling the well-traveled "Alien" in some ways, and the giant squid from the ancient "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" in others.

T.J. Miller, on hand to intrude with an assortment of one-liners, even mentions Jules Verne's latter story while portraying a member of a research/drilling team whose deep sea dwelling gets destroyed during a somewhat disturbing opening sequence. Of course, it features the watchable Stewart, as the so-called mechanical engineer in the bunch and, because a couple of clues might suggest as much, the likely main squeeze of the veteran captain (Vincent Cassel) trying to lead his handful of shaky survivors to safety.

Yes, there are a few fright-inspiring moments here, but no, there is really nothing else to recommend just another mediocre January release trying to find an audience.

Rated "PG-13": sci-fi action and terror, and brief strong language; 1:35; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Finally, rude, crude and chock-full of unfounded 'tude, "Just Like a Boss" not only might be the most shallow film to open a new year, but certainly already is assured a place on a slew of 2020 "worst" lists. It's that dreadful, despite the previously respected trio headlining it.

That includes comic Tiffany Haddish and, except for "Bridesmaids," the more dramatic Rose Byrne starring as besties since middle school, now running a small cosmetics concern with some good things going for it. Enter Salma Hayek, as a ruthless and flamboyantly over-the-top makeup magnate, attempting to take over their business and ruin their friendship.

Timing is non-existent in this alleged comedy, one "joke" sequence concerns an infant smoking pot, and Byrne gets to dance and sing, neither of them very well. Happy New Year, folks.

Rated "R": sexual content, language and brief drug use; 1:23; $ out of $5

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Ten films to remember 2019 by (and other stuff from the year in movies)

If forced to pick one favorite, "Parasite," with its extraordinary family, may be it. 
And, on the last day of 2019, we finally get around to naming our favorite -- and not necessarily the best -- films of a year specializing in extra long movies. As always, we include some other odds and ends, too, starting with a quick, alphabetical look at our most treasured 10:

Joker (a dark masterpiece, almost); Mike Wallace Is Here (with its barrage of celebs and newsmakers, the year's most entertaining documentary); Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Tarantino at his outlandish and colorful best); Pain and Glory (Almodovar and Banderas combine for a contemplative gem); Parasite (South Korean master Bong Joon-ho delivers an art film with a mighty mainstream kick); Richard Jewell (director Eastwood gives us an extremely watchable -- and relevant -- history lesson); Rocketman (I think it's gonna last a long, long time); The Two Popes (nothing anyone might expect from a couple of pontiffs just sittin' around talkin'); Uncut Gems (the Safdie Brothers and Adam Sandler's first real tour de force keep us glued to the screen); 1917 (this WWI opus opens Jan. 10 in northeast Ohio and simply will dominate your senses. I promise).

A six pack of honorable mentions: "The Aeronauts," "Dolemite Is My Name," "The Irishman," "Little Women," "Queen & Slim," and "Yesterday."

Two worthy in animation: "I Lost My Body" and "Toy Story 4."

MVPs (Most Valuable Performers): Willem Dafoe ("The Lighthouse," "Motherless Brooklyn," "Togo," "Tomasso"); Adam Driver ("The Dead Don't Die," "Marriage Story," "The Report," "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker"); Scarlett Johansson ("Avengers: Endgame," "Captain Marvel," "Jojo Rabbit," "Marriage Story"); and Florence Pugh ("Fighting With My Family," "Little Women," "Midsommar").

Award-winners you can bank now: Best Actress Renee Zellweger ("Judy"), Best Actor Joaquin Phoenix ("Joker"), Supporting Actor Brad Pitt ("Once Upon a Time in Hollywood"), Supporting Actress still too close to call.

A trio of overlooked workers: Julianne Moore as "Gloria Bell"; Octavia Spencer as "Ma," and Bill Camp, as the farmer/whistle blower in the Ohio-shot "Dark Waters."

Five guilty film pleasures: "Booksmart," "Doctor Sleep," "Ma," "Ready or Not," and "Shazam."

Last and certainly least (the not-so magnificent seven of 2019): "Climax," "Dumbo," "Isn't It Romantic," "Lucy in the Sky," "Men in Black: International," "Red Joan," and "What Men Want."

Sunday, December 8, 2019

'Irishman,' 'Hollywood' top 25th annual Critics' Choice nominations

The Critics Choice Association just announced nominees for the 25th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards. Winners will be revealed at the star-studded Critics’ Choice Awards gala, which will once again be hosted by film, television, and stage star Taye Diggs, and broadcast live on The CW Television Network from 7-9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12.

“The Irishman” leads all films this year with 14 nominations, including Best Picture. “Once Upon a Time Hollywood” also impressed with 12 noms, followed by “Little Women” with nine, “1917” and “Marriage Story” with eight, and “Jojo Rabbit,” “Joker,” and “Parasite” with seven each.

 “This has been a truly great year for both television and movies,” said CCA CEO Joey Berlin. “In every genre, from every viewpoint and distribution platform, brilliant storytellers are challenging and delighting us. We are so excited to have the opportunity to celebrate them, and their work Jan. 12 on The CW!” 

“Critics’ Choice Awards” are bestowed annually to honor the finest in cinematic and television achievement. Historically, they are the most accurate predictor of the Academy Award nominations.

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the U.S. and Canada, representing more than 400 television, radio and online critics. It was organized this year with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the blurring of the distinctions between film, television, and streaming content. For more information on television nominations, visit:


Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Uncut Gems

Antonio Banderas – Pain and Glory
Robert De Niro – The Irishman
Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Adam Driver – Marriage Story
Eddie Murphy – Dolemite Is My Name
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Adam Sandler – Uncut Gems

Awkwafina – The Farewell
Cynthia Erivo – Harriet
Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story
Lupita Nyong’o – Us
Saoirse Ronan – Little Women
Charlize Theron – Bombshell
Renée Zellweger – Judy

Willem Dafoe – The Lighthouse
Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins – The Two Popes
Al Pacino – The Irishman
Joe Pesci – The Irishman
Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit
Jennifer Lopez – Hustlers
Florence Pugh – Little Women
Margot Robbie – Bombshell
Zhao Shuzhen  – The Farewell

Julia Butters – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Roman Griffin Davis – Jojo Rabbit
Noah Jupe – Honey Boy
Thomasin McKenzie – Jojo Rabbit
Shahadi Wright Joseph – Us
Archie Yates – Jojo Rabbit

The Irishman
Knives Out
Little Women
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
Greta Gerwig – Little Women
Bong Joon Ho – Parasite
Sam Mendes – 1917
Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie – Uncut Gems
Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
Rian Johnson – Knives Out
Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won – Parasite
Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Lulu Wang – The Farewell

Greta Gerwig – Little Women
Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony McCarten – The Two Popes
Todd Phillips & Scott Silver – Joker
Taika Waititi – Jojo Rabbit
Steven Zaillian  – The Irishman

Jarin Blaschke – The Lighthouse
Roger Deakins – 1917
Phedon Papamichael   – Ford v Ferrari
Rodrigo Prieto – The Irishman
Robert Richardson – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Lawrence Sher – Joker

Mark Friedberg, Kris Moran – Joker
Dennis Gassner, Lee Sandales  – 1917
Jess Gonchor, Claire Kaufman – Little Women
Lee Ha Jun – Parasite
Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Bob Shaw, Regina Graves – The Irishman
Donal Woods, Gina Cromwell – Downton Abbey

Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie – Uncut Gems
Andrew Buckland, Michael McCusker – Ford v Ferrari
Yang Jinmo  – Parasite
Fred Raskin – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Thelma Schoonmaker – The Irishman
Lee Smith – 1917

Ruth E. Carter – Dolemite Is My Name
Julian Day – Rocketman
Jacqueline Durran – Little Women
Arianne Phillips – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson – The Irishman
Anna Robbins – Downton Abbey

Dolemite Is My Name
The Irishman
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Ad Astra
The Aeronauts
Avengers: Endgame
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
The Lion King 

Frozen II
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

Avengers: Endgame
Ford v Ferrari
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Spider-Man: Far From Home

Dolemite Is My Name
The Farewell
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out

Ad Astra
Avengers: Endgame

Les Misérables 
Pain and Glory
Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Glasgow (No Place Like Home) – Wild Rose
(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again – Rocketman
I’m Standing With You – Breakthrough
Into the Unknown – Frozen II
Speechless – Aladdin
Spirit – The Lion King 
Stand Up – Harriet

Michael Abels – Us 
Alexandre Desplat   – Little Women
Hildur Guðnadóttir – Joker
Randy Newman – Marriage Story
Thomas Newman  – 1917
Robbie Robertson – The Irishman