Cinematic Spillover: Short Reviews of 1917, Just Mercy and Underwater

click to enlarge Cinematic Spillover: Short Reviews of 1917, Just Mercy and Underwater
Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros.

Here are a few short reviews of films opening in San Antonio theaters January 10.

Shot and edited to look like it was filmed in one continuous take, Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049) have created one of the most visually stunning war movies in modern cinema. Narratively, the film is fairly simple: two British soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapma), who are serving during World War I, are tasked with delivering a message to allies through territories crawling with enemies. It’s a mission that will save the lives of 1,600 men, including one of their brothers. What follows after the setup is nothing short of miraculous as we watch the two men journey through hellish conditions to reach their destination. Not since Saving Private Ryan has a cinematic battlefield been this extreme. It’s one of the best films of 2019. 1917 opens nationwide January 10. 4 out of 5 stars (highly recommended)

Just Mercy
As far as legal dramas go, Just Mercy is about as conventional as you can get. That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t a compassionate narrative at the heart of it that does more right than wrong. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12), the film stars Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) as Bryan Stevenson, a Harvard Law School graduate and civil rights defense attorney who gives hope to a community in small-town Alabama when he takes on the case of a man wrongly convicted of murder and placed on death row. The evidence against Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) is extremely weak, but through police corruption and racial discrimination, law enforcement put him behind bars for six years before he was finally given a new trial and exonerated in 1993. The true story is adapted for the big screen from Stevenson’s 2015 memoir “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.” Slated to become a feel-good crowd-pleaser, Just Mercy offers audiences a pair of strong performances by Jordan and Foxx and some stable albeit safe decision making by Cretton from behind the camera. When you’re dealing with themes as familiar as truth and justice, it’s difficult not to hit some of the same beats as films that have come before. But in doing so, Just Mercy doesn’t allow itself room to be extraordinary. At the end, it will probably end up getting thrown into a category with films like Brian Banks by mainstream audiences looking for inspiring, easily digestible storytelling. Just Mercy opens nationwide January 10. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)

Viewers will be hard-pressed to find a single unique idea anywhere in the 95-minute runtime of Underwater, but the creature feature is brisk and adequate enough, especially for a horror movie released in January. Director William Eubank (The Signal) and screenwriters Brad Duffield (The Babysitter) and Adam Cozad (The Legend of Tarzan) do the bare minimum to keep everyone’s head above water. If that sounds a bit like an unearned pass, it really isn’t. Underrated actress Kristen Stewart (Personal Shopper) leads the cast as Norah, an engineer who gets trapped at the bottom of the ocean with her team of researchers after a seismic shift destroys their subaquatic laboratory. In a fight for survival, the crew decides the best course of action is to walk across the seafloor to another station a couple of miles away where escape pods might be waiting for them. Little do they know, however, that there is something dire lurking in the abyss. Taking cues from films like Alien, Cloverfield, The Descent and Leviathan, among others, Underwater would have easily drowned if it hadn’t borrowed some of the best elements from the aquatic horror movies it hoped to emulate. The action starts quickly and the tension is palpable. Duffield and Cozad attempt to give Norah some backstory, but it comes too late in the film to make an impact on her as a character. By the third act, all you want to know is if Norah will become a tasty piece of human sushi or if she’ll live to swim another day. Underwater opens nationwide January 10. 3 out of 5 stars (recommended)

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